Pregnancy is physiologically and nutritionally a highly demanding period. Extra food is required for satisfying the needs of the fetus. It is the time when the organs and systems develop within the faetus. The energy used to create these systems comes from the energy and nutrients in the mother’s circulation and around the lining of the womb essential for the growth of the fetus. Pregnant women need more proteins, more of certain vitamins and minerals such as folic acid and iron and more calories. For that, women need to have different cereals, a lot of pulses, milk and nuts during this period to satisfy the needs for different nutrients. The requirements for all the nutrients vary during different trimesters of pregnancy as well as according to other conditions. If diet is poor to begin with, making transition to eating nutritious meals is one of the best things that can be done for baby’s health. Eating better doesn’t mean eating more; it just means eating right amount of calories and nutrients in the required amounts.
Calories: Additional calories are required during pregnancy. Food and caloric intake must be high enough to ensure that all nutritional needs are met. Additional calorie requirements might vary from individual to individual depending on the woman’s pre pregnancy weight (was she underweight or overweight at the beginning of her pregnancy), the level and type of exercise the woman participates in and her rate of weight gain throughout the pregnancy.
Protein: Extra protein is needed during pregnancy to help with the synthesis of maternal and fetal tissue. Protein positively affects the growth of fetal tissue, including the brain. It also helps breast and uterine tissue to grow during pregnancy. It plays a role in increasing blood supply. Milk and milk products, pulses, legumes, beans, fish, and other lean meats are good sources of proteins.
Iron is needed for hemoglobin synthesis, mental function and body defense. Deficiency of iron leads to anemia. Anemia in pregnancy is a condition that may be dangerous to the mother and the fetus. Iron deficiency during pregnancy increases maternal mortality and low birth weight in infants. Plant foods like legumes, dried fruits and green leafy vegetables like spinach, fenugreek (methi), mustard (sarson), bathua, coriander and mint contain iron and so do jaggery, ragi, bajra, wholegrain flour and sesame seeds. Fruits rich in iron include pomegranates, apricots, (especially when dried or semi dried), plums, bananas, and black grapes. Meat, liver, kidney, fish and poultry are also rich sources of iron with good bioavailability of the mineral as compared to plant foods. Fruits rich in vitamin C like amla, guava and citrus fruits improve iron absorption from plant foods. Beverages like tea bind dietary iron and make it unavailable. Hence they should be avoided before, during or soon after a meal.
Folic Acid is essential for the synthesis of hemoglobin. Pregnant women need more of folic acid that increases birth weight and reduces congenital abnormalities (birth defects). Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and liver are good sources of folic acid.
Calcium is needed in the body to build strong teeth and bones. Calcium also allows blood to clot normally, muscles and nerves to function properly, and the heart to beat normally. Most of the calcium in the body is found inside the bones. So, calcium is necessary for making the baby’s bones and teeth. Major sources of calcium are dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, cream soups, and pudding. Calcium is also found in foods including green vegetables (broccoli, spinach and greens), seafood, dried peas and beans, bajra and sesame seeds.
Vitamin A is essential for the development of baby’s organs, circulatory, respiratory and nervous systems. It also helps to fight infections. Vitamin A from animal foods is called retinol. Eggs and cheese are good sources. Liver should be avoided as it contains retinol levels that are too high to be safe for pregnant women. In plant foods, vitamin A is found as carotenes, especially beta-carotene. Our bodies turn beta-carotene into vitamin A, so we can’t have too much of it. Orange, yellow and red coloured fruits and vegetables contain beta-carotene.
Vitamin D helps body to absorb and use calcium. Adequate amounts of vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to the sun and in fortified milk, eggs, and fish.
Magnesium is another nutrient essential for bones. Magnesium-rich snacks are a glass of milk, a baked potato, or a handful of sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Magnesium also helps body to work more efficiently. It helps you to convert the food we eat into energy and regulate our body temperature.
Vitamin C is essential throughout pregnancy. It plays an important role in protecting cells against damage, keeping immune system in good shape, helping the placenta to develop and work properly and helping gut lining to absorb vital iron from food. Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C, as well as other vitamins and minerals, so they make excellent, handy snacks. Vitamin C can be destroyed by overcooking, so try eating a few raw vegetables, or lightly steam or microwave vegetables to retain nutrients.
Water: While not exactly a nutrient, water is definitely essential for a healthy pregnancy. Due to the increase in blood volume during pregnancy, fluid needs increase dramatically. In addition, extra fluid intake can help prevent constipation, a common problem during pregnancy.
Here are few more guidelines that pregnant women should follow:
- Drink at-least 8-10 glasses of water daily.
- Intake of caffeinated beverages should be limited.
- It is always better to avoid carbonated fluids.
- Fibrous fruits, grains and leafy vegetables should be included in the diet to avoid constipation.
- Tobacco and consumption of alcohol should be avoided entirely during pregnancy.
- Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients required during pregnancy in adequate amounts.