Eating well while pregnant and food to avoid
Being pregnant puts extra demands on a woman’s body, says consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh The right food is always important for a healthy body and never more so than when you are pregnant. Did you know it takes about 80,000 calories for a baby to develop and grow over the nine months of pregnancy? Apart from needing calories, the baby also needs protein, fat, vitamins and minerals and all of these have to come from the food the mother eats. Back to basics Protein Protein is found in meat, chicken and turkey, fish, eggs and cheese. It is also found in beans, lentils and nuts. You need to eat some protein foods every day while you are pregnant. Carbohydrates Fats and oils Fruit and vegetables Foods to avoid Caffeine Cup of instant coffee 100mg
Don’t worry, though – you don’t really need to eat for two! Most people already eat enough calories to start them off and your appetite will naturally expand over the course of the pregnancy to allow for any extra calories you need.
We all know that we need a variety of foods to make sure our bodies are getting everything they need. Here are the basic foods our bodies need during pregnancy.
Protein is needed for the baby to grow healthy muscles, skin and organs such as the heart and liver. It helps develop healthy bones and blood. The mother also needs extra protein during pregnancy as she has to make the placenta and she also makes more blood during pregnancy.
Carbohydrates, often called starchy foods, are the food group of bread, cereals, potatoes, pasta and rice. These foods give energy and can be an important source of fibre. Have some starchy foods at every meal, for example, porridge for breakfast, bread at lunchtime and pasta at dinner. Go for high fibre varieties such as wholemeal bread, brown rice and jacket potatoes. These help with problems such as constipation and also give you extra vitamins and minerals.
Fat is a little like a vitamin – we need small amounts of it every day for healthy skin and hair and it is needed to help the baby to develop healthy cells. Don’t avoid fats and oils while you are pregnant but go for healthy oils such as olive oil and rapeseed oil in cooking or on salads. Try to avoid too much saturated fat found in biscuits, sweets and cakes.
Fruit and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins and minerals and you need to eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day. One portion of fruit is one piece of fruit, one small glass of fruit juice or three dessert spoons of cooked fruit. One portion of vegetables is three dessertspoons of cooked vegetables or salad or 1/2 bowl of home-made vegetable soup.
Drinking too much alcohol while pregnant can cause serious damage to an unborn baby. Women who regularly consume alcohol, even in small amounts, while pregnant have a higher risk of miscarriage or of having low birth-weight babies. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to a condition called foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS can lead to babies being born with birth defects, retarded growth, mental impairment or physical problems. It is best to avoid alcohol, if possible, throughout the pregnancy.
Too much caffeine during pregnancy may be linked with development problems for the baby so it is best to keep caffeine foods to a minimum. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland recommends that pregnant women take less than 300mg of caffeine a day, which is about the same as three to four cups of instant coffee. Guarana, which is an ingredient in some herbal remedies, sports drinks and chocolate bars act like caffeine when eaten and are best avoided while pregnant.
Amount of caffeine
Cup of brewed coffee
Cup of tea
Regular cola drink
Regular ‘energy’ drinks
Being pregnant puts extra demands on a woman’s body, says consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh
The right food is always important for a healthy body and never more so than when you are pregnant. Did you know it takes about 80,000 calories for a baby to develop and grow over the nine months of pregnancy? Apart from needing calories, the baby also needs protein, fat, vitamins and minerals and all of these have to come from the food the mother eats.
Back to basics
Protein is found in meat, chicken and turkey, fish, eggs and cheese. It is also found in beans, lentils and nuts. You need to eat some protein foods every day while you are pregnant.
Fats and oils
Fruit and vegetables
Foods to avoid
Cup of instant coffee
If you, your baby’s father or any of your other children have any allergic conditions or food allergies that have been diagnosed by a medical doctor, it is best to avoid peanuts while pregnant or breastfeeding. Watch out for breakfast cereals that may contain nuts, confectionery, cooking oils and Indian or Oriental meals which may all contain nuts.
Food safety is of huge importance at this time to help both you and your baby avoid food poisoning. Some types of food poisoning can be particularly dangerous for an unborn baby and can affect their development.
- Food should always be handled, stored and cooked hygienically. Raw food should be stored away from cooked foods.
- All foods should be eaten before their sell by or best before date and you should follow manufacturers’ instructions about cooking and storage.
- Meat and chicken should be well cooked. Red meat should be ‘well done’ – there should be no trace of pink. Chickens should be cooked until there is no trace of pink and juices run clear.
Important pregnancy nutrients
Calcium is essential for the baby to develop healthy bones and if you don’t eat enough calcium, the baby can take some of the calcium from your own bones. Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium and you need to take five dairy products every day to make sure you are getting enough. One portion of dairy is one glass of milk, two to three glasses of fortified milk such as Supermilk, 1oz of cheese or one pot of yoghurt.
During pregnancy iron is needed to help make new blood cells for both you and your baby. Babies also lay down a store of iron while they are in the womb, and this has to last them for the first six months after birth.
It is important for you to eat enough iron during pregnancy to meet all these needs. Red meat is an excellent source of iron and you will also find iron in chicken, turkey and oil rich fish such as trout and mackerel. Eating food that is high in vitamin C (citrus fruit juice, salad, vegetables) at the same meal boosts iron absorption. If you are vegetarian or vegan you may need to have your iron levels checked to make sure you have enough iron. Ask your doctor or dietitian for advice.
Folic acid is one of the B vitamins and it helps to prevent problems such as spina bifida.
The baby’s neural tube, which eventually becomes the brain and spine, forms very early in the pregnancy, usually before most women know they are pregnant. This is why it is very important that you take a supplement of folic acid before you become pregnant.
Ideally you need to take 400micrograms (mcg) everyday for 12 weeks before you become pregnant and for 12 weeks after. As almost 50% of pregnancies in Ireland are unplanned, it is recommended that women of childbearing years take folic acid every day even if they are not planning to become pregnant.
Fish to eat while pregnant
Fish is a rich source of protein and of many of the vitamins and minerals you need while pregnant, but more importantly, oil-rich fish are a source of Omega 3 fats. Your body cannot make these special fats, so you need to eat them regularly. Omega 3 fats, especially DHA, are essential for the development of the baby’s brain, eyes and nervous system. Also, eating oil-rich fish may reduce your risk of having a pre-term (premature) baby. It is recommended that you eat fish twice a week while pregnant and have oil-rich fish (trout, mackerel and herring) at least once a week.
Fish to avoid while pregnant
Although most fish are very good for you while you are pregnant, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland recommends that you avoid shark, marlin and swordfish. They also recommend that you restrict tuna to not more than one fresh tuna steak or two medium tins of tuna per week. The reason for this is that these fish contain quite high levels of mercury which may be harmful to the developing baby. You should also avoid taking fish oil supplements while pregnant as they tend to contain large amounts of vitamin A. Taking too much vitamin A may be linked with an increased risk of miscarriage.
How much weight should I gain while pregnant?
The amount of weight you should gain while pregnant depends on your starting weight. Women who are a healthy weight for their height are advised to gain between 2 and 2 1/2 stone during pregnancy. Women who are underweight are advised to gain a little more between 2 1/2 and 3 stone. Women who are overweight may be advised to gain less but do need to gain at least 1 stone for a healthy pregnancy. As every woman and every pregnancy is a little different, it is best to check with your doctor about the right weight gain for you.
What about nausea?
Nausea is a common problem early in pregnancy and usually clears up after three months – although this can feel like a lifetime! Try eating some dry toast or a plain biscuit before getting out of bed and try to eat little and often during the day if your ‘morning sickness’ lasts until evening. Some women find taking fluids separately from meals can help. Products containing ginger, such as ginger biscuits, may be helpful.
Towards the middle and end of pregnancy many women find they suffer from constipation.
This is because your body is producing a substance to start relaxing your muscles in preparation for giving birth. The problem is that this substance also relaxes the bowel muscles which slows down the movement of food through the bowel. Make sure you are eating plenty of fibre – wholegrain bread, brown rice, plenty of fruit and vegetables
and high fibre cereals. Fluid is also important. Try to have at least eight drinks every day, not including coffee or alcohol.
Healthy eating for preconception
- If you are thinking about having a baby it is important to have a healthy diet and to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need.
- Being low in some vitamins and minerals can make it harder to conceive – but avoid taking vitamin supplements.
- Follow the healthy eating guidelines and you will be getting everything you need.
- Make sure you are taking a supplement of folic acid – the only supplement you should take – for at least 12 weeks before conceiving.
- Being a healthy weight can also make it easier for you to conceive and if you are over or underweight getting to a healthy weight is always a good idea.
|Foods to Avoid||Why?||What's the Alternative?|
|Liver, pate||These foods may contain too much Vitamin A which may eb harmful to your baby.||Any other thoroughly cooked red meat - there should be no trace of pink in the meat.|
Raw or uncooked foods. Soft-whip ice-cream. All types of pate. Blue veined cheese (blue, stilton, gorgonzola).
|Risk of listeria food pisoning that may cause miscarriage or serious illness in the baby.||Foods that are thoroughly cooked until piping hot.|
|Undercooked poultry. Raw or uncooked eggs or foods containing them (home-made mayonnaise)||Risk of samonella food poisoning which could be particulary unpleasant while pregnant.||Thoroughly cooked poultry and eggs (yolk and white must be solid). Items made with pasteurised eggs. Baked goods containing egges (cakes, biscuits, meringues).|
|Undercooked meat or poultry. Unwashed fruit and vegetables. Unpasteurised milk or products made from them such as raw milk cheese.||Risk of toxolasmosis, a parasite infection that can cuase severe damage to the unborn baby.||Thoroughly cooked meat and poultry. Washed fruit and vegetables. Pasteurised or UHT milk and yogurt. Cheese made from pasteurised milk without veins or a mould rind.|
|Raw or undercooked fish or shellfish. Smoked salmon, sushi or sashimi.||Risk of food poisoning including listeria.||Thoroughly cooked fish and shellfish from a reliable source. You may decide to avoid shellfish during pregnanacy.|
This information has been reproduced with kind permission of Zahra Publishing, publishers of Easy Health and Easy Food www.easyhealth.ie.