Eating healthy is an essential part of being pregnant and ensuring your baby grows as it should. While being pregnant does not really mean eating for two, your calorie intake should go up as you need to ensure you provide enough nutrients and energy for your baby to grow healthy and develop properly, as well as to keep your body strong enough to endure the changes that are taking place inside of you.
Many women worry about how much weight they’ll gain during pregnancy and the thought of losing the “baby weight” after giving birth is a real concern, but the first thing you should be concerned about is having a healthy diet. What you eat and drink during pregnancy is your baby’s main source of nourishment and will directly impact your unborn baby’s health and reduce the risk of complications both during pregnancy and delivery, as well as his or her cognitive development, heart and vascular health, immune system, and even their tendency to become obese in life, so a balanced and nutritious diet that includes the right amount of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fruits and vegetables is key. Your doctor should help keep your weight gain adequate, which can vary vastly from one woman to another. An underweight woman may be recommended to gain more weight than an overweight one, so while your friends are a great source of support, take advice from your doctor on this one.
Pregnancy comes with its own set of dietary requirements, so in this article, we will go over the foods you should eat during pregnancy, those you should limit, and those pregnancy foods to avoid entirely.
What should you eat?
- During pregnancy, your body absorbs more iron and your blood volume increases, so upping your iron intake is recommended to ensure that both you and your baby have an adequate oxygen supply.
- According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, you’ll also need to watch your intake of folic acid, fibre, Omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, vitamin D and choline.]
- Fruits and vegetables: five portions of fruit a day, whether fresh, dried, canned or in juice form, are recommended. Keep in mind that fruit juices have higher natural sugar levels than the fresh fruit itself, so limiting consumption is best.
- Carbs: During pregnancy, carbs are not the enemy. In fact, starchy carbs such as potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread are high in energy and are important for a good pregnancy diet.
- Protein: animal-sourced proteins such as fish, lean meat and chicken, as well as eggs are important sources of energy. If you are vegan, consider quinoa, which contains all the essential amino-acids, tofu, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
- Pregnancy superfoods: Spinach which contains loads of calcium, vitamin A and C, fiber, iron and folic acid, bananas, carrots, avocados, popcorn, broccoli, and nuts are packed with nutrients and ideal for an on-the-go snack.
What should you reduce or limit in your diet?
- Fats: A high-fat diet may genetically program your baby for future diabetes according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s PubMed so fats should make up no more than 30% of your diet and you should opt for healthy fats such as avocados and nuts.
- Caffeine: Moderate caffeine consumption is considered safe according to a 2010 ACOG committee opinion, so one 12-ounce cup of coffee which typically contains 200 mg of caffeine per day is ok, but keep it to no more than that.
- Fish: Fish such as sardines and salmon can be a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which are good for your heart, while albacore white tuna, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, and tilefish have high levels of methyl-mercury, which can be harmful to your baby’s developing brain, kidneys and nervous system as it passes through the placenta. It is recommended to eat no more than 8 to 12 ounces of cooked salmon or sardines per week and no more than 6 ounces of tuna and other fish with high mercury levels. Canned tuna has lower levels of mercury than albacore white tuna, so it is safer to eat.
What should you remove from your diet?
- Alcohol: Alcohol in your blood can pass directly to your baby through the umbilical cord and its heavy use during pregnancy has been linked with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, a group of conditions that include physical problems, as well as learning and behavioral difficulties in children.
- Unpasteurized and uncooked foods: As your body goes through a natural hormonal transformation, your immune system may be altered, increasing your risk and your baby’s risk for food poisoning whether from listeria, a bacteria that may lead to abortion, premature delivery or stillborn delivery; toxoplasmosis, a parasite found in undercooked meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables and may lead to deafness, retardation or blindness of the fetus; or salmonella, a bacteria that may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and headaches. This is why avoiding uncooked or only partially cooked food is recommended. Some examples of unpasteurized or uncooked food you should avoid include:
- Smoked and preserved fish such as lox, herring, and ceviche.
- Fish spread in cream or mayo.
- Sushi, carpaccio, steak tartare, crab and oysters. Keep in mind that some bacteria can be transferred through the equipment used to prepare food, so eating veggie sushi that was cut with the same knife used for raw fish sushi is a risk.
- Uncooked eggs including those used in foods, such as custard, creams, sauces (aioli, béarnaise, homemade mayonnaise, Cesar salad, hollandaise), homemade ice creams, tiramisu and egg white mousse. Sauces produced in licensed factories use pasteurized eggs, so store-bought is fine.
The above recommendations are for a healthy pregnant woman, however, it is always a good idea to consult with your doctor or a nutritionist to make sure you are eating what you and your baby need for a healthy pregnancy, especially if you have any particular eating habits (vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, etc.), suffer from allergies or digestive issues or if you have a medical condition such as diabetes.