Although pregnancy is exciting it can also a stressful and anxious time for many women, which is why when it comes to your nutrition, we want to make it as simple as possible to get all of the essential nutrients and energy required to keep you and your baby healthy.
What should a healthy diet during pregnancy consist of?
5-a-day (or more!) – Ideally we should be eating 5 to 9 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with a portion being around a handful or 80g. Green vegetables and fruit are also a great source of folate, which is important to obtain through the diet, as well as within supplement form (see below for more information!). Aim to fill around a third of your meal plate with vegetables or salad and if you’re hungry between meals have a piece of fruit; to jazz it up, you could have a banana with nut butter or an apple with cheese.
Wholegrains & fibre – Wholegrain or slow release starchy carbohydrates such as sweet potato, oats, wholemeal pasta, basmati rice or granary bread provide your body and growing baby with B vitamins, energy and fibre. Aim to fill another third of your plate with these to keep you fuelled for the entire day.
Animal and/or plant-based protein – Protein sources such as cooked meat and fish, eggs, dairy or tofu, beans, lentils should also take up another third of your plate or bowl, as our bodies and babies need protein on a daily basis to grow and also repair. Sources such as red meat and beans provide a source of iron too, which is important for baby’s development.
Healthy fats – Unsaturated fats from avocados, olive and rapeseed oil, nuts and seeds, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and pilchards are important to help absorption of fat soluble vitamins and provide heart healthy essential omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish should be limited to 2 portions a week when you’re pregnant and you should avoid eating shark, marlin or swordfish.
Dairy/Fortified dairy – Dairy sources such as pasteurised milk, yogurt and hard cheese are one of the richest sources of calcium and iodine within the diet. We should be aiming to eat at least 2-3 sources a day, or a vegan friendly alternative which should be fortified with Vitamin B12, calcium and iodine (check the label!).
Hydration – Keeping hydrated is essential throughout pregnancy as it will help to keep your digestive system moving and gut healthy, we should be aiming for at least 6-8 cups of fluid a day. Aim for your urine to be a pale straw colour! Avoid drinking more than 2 cups of caffeinated tea or instant coffee a day though, as well as abstaining from alcohol.
If you’re focusing on what you should be eating more of, you’ll naturally eat less of the foods high in sugar and fat and low in nutrients, such as cake and biscuits; these can however be enjoyed in moderation!
Key Nutrients & Supplements to Consider:
Folic Acid – Folic acid, which is the man-made version of folate, is a key nutrient not only during pregnancy but when trying to conceive too. When trying for a baby, and up to the 12th week of pregnancy, a 400mcg* supplement of folic acid is required for the formulation of healthy red blood cells, in addition to eating a diet that is rich in folate. Folate is found in fruit and vegetables – especially dark green leafy veg, beans and legumes, poultry, yeast and beef extracts as well as some fortified cereals and breads. Low levels of folate can increase the risk of complications, such as neural tube defects.
*5mg of folic acid, which is prescribed by your doctor, is needed if you have diabetes, your BMI is over 30, you take anti-epileptic medication or you have a history of neural tube defects in your family.
Vitamin D – In the U.K, we often don’t get enough sunlight in order to synthesise Vitamin D within our skin, and it’s also difficult to obtain sufficient qualities through our daily diet on a daily basis. This is why everyone should take a 10mcg supplement from October- April, however during pregnancy and breastfeeding it is especially important to take all year round as it helps your baby’s bones, teeth, kidneys, heart and nervous system to develop.
Iodine – During pregnancy we need 200mcg of iodine a day via dietary sources, which is an extra 50mcg on top of the general population’s recommended daily amount. Iodine is used by the thyroid gland which produces vital hormones for growth and health. It’s very important for healthy development and growth of the baby’s brain during pregnancy. White fish such as haddock and cod is a rich source of iodine – containing 200-400mcg/120g portion. Milk and dairy products are the main sources of iodine for most people and smaller amounts are found in cheese, eggs, meat and poultry.
Of course, it can be difficult to ensure you’re hitting all the requirements everyday through your diet, if you’re feeling anxious about this – multivitamins can act as a ‘safety blanket’, but it’s advisable to opt for a pregnancy specific vitamin, which does not include the retinol form of Vitamin A.
By Nichola Ludlam-Raine, Registered Dietitian @mummynutrition