It’s always important to eat a healthy balanced diet and it’s even more important when you’re pregnant because you need to get all the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about 300 extra calories are needed each day to maintain a healthy pregnancy. These calories should come from a balanced diet of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Sweets and fats should be kept to a minimum. A healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy can also help to reduce some pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea and constipation.
When you’re pregnant, it is essential to ensure that you are getting enough of these important nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy. They include:
Protein plays a key role in the creation and maintenance of every cell in your body. It provides structure to cells and helps them function properly, as well as helping cells repair themselves.
During pregnancy, the protein is needed to help your baby grow normally and helps their rapidly multiplying cells to function normally. With a vital role supporting every cell in the body, protein is essential for you and your baby as part of a healthy pregnancy diet .
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein for women is 0.75 g per kilogram body weight per day, plus an additional 6 g per day for pregnant women. So, for a pregnant woman weighing 60 kg, they will need around 51 g of protein per day. During the second half of pregnancy, this requirement increases by 10 g per day.
Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts, whole grains, and dairy foods.
Note: Fish can be a great source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutritional benefits for you and your baby, but certain kinds of fish may contain high levels of mercury, which can harm your developing baby’s brain and nervous system. Rather than avoiding fish completely, experts recommend that you limit the amount of seafood you consume. Fish you should avoid include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, play an important role in your baby’s development during pregnancy. They support the development of your baby’s brain, eyes and nervous system. Studies have also shown that adequate intake of omega-3s may reduce the risk of preterm delivery and protect babies from developing eczema later in life.
Since DHA is vital for a growing baby’s development, it’s important to pay attention to how much you’re getting. Medical experts suggest 1.4 grams of omega-3s with at least 200 mg of DHA daily during pregnancy. Some studies have shown that higher doses may be even better. Talk to your healthcare provider or practitioner if you aren’t sure how best to meet your daily needs.
Omega-3 fatty acids can only be obtained through diet and are found in both animal and plant-based foods, including cold water fish, omega 3-enriched eggs, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and leafy green vegetables. The richest source of omega-3 is cold water fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends getting at least two-three servings of fish per week during pregnancy. But because some oily fish can contain pollutants or mercury which is toxic, they are one of the foods to limit during pregnancy. If you’re not sure whether a particular fish is safe to consume, talk to your healthcare provider.
Omega-3 supplements are sometimes recommended if your diet doesn’t include fish. Although omega-3 supplements are safe to take during pregnancy, you should avoid taking the supplements that contain fish liver, such as cod liver oil.
Cod liver oil and other liver oils contain vitamin A or retinol, which in high doses, can harm your unborn baby. If you’re having trouble choosing a supplement, remember that your healthcare provider is here to help.
3. Folic acid
Folic acid is a B vitamin, which is essential for healthy cell division and fetal growth. This nutrient helps prevent neural tube defects in your developing baby and anemia in pregnant women.
Normally, you must get at least 400 mcg of folate daily for at least 2 to 3 months before pregnancy and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Some women need higher doses. Talk with your health professional about how much folic acid you need.
You can find folate in leafy green vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, nuts, legumes, eggs, liver, and citrus fruits.
Iron is also very important to support fetal growth and the formation of red blood cells. Inadequate iron intake may lead to anemia, which can increase the risk of early delivery, low birth weight babies, and bleeding during childbirth.
Most pregnant women need 16-20 mg of iron from a supplement each day. Women who are pregnant with twins or more may need more iron. Talk to your doctor about the amount of iron that is right for you.
There are two forms of iron in foods:
This nutrient is necessary for proper brain and nervous system function. During pregnancy, choline supports placenta development by promoting the formation of the cell structure and facilitating nutrient transport across the placenta to the hungry fetus.
Human body can produce a small amount of choline in the liver, but it is not enough to meet daily requirements. So, you must get it from your diet.
Pregnant women are advised to take around 450 mg of choline per day and for breastfeeding mothers is 550 mg daily. Choline can be found in eggs, beef, chicken, fatty fish, broccoli, quinoa, peanuts, potatoes, soybeans, and dairy products.
Although many foods provide some amount of choline, most people, including pregnant women, aren’t getting the recommended daily amount of this important nutrient.
If you’re concerned about meeting your choline requirements, there are supplements available, but talk to your healthcare provider before consuming it.
Calcium is important for the development of the baby’s bones and teeth. Besides building strong bones and teeth, calcium also regulates muscle contractions and helps your nerves to carry messages between your brain and every part of your body.
Your body can’t make calcium, so you need to get it from food or supplements. During your pregnancy, try to get at least 1,000 mg of calcium daily if you’re 19-30 and 1300 mg a day for pregnant women aged 31-50.
Excellent sources of calcium are cheese, milk, and yoghurt. Other foods that contain calcium include green leafy vegetables, tofu, almond, and oranges.
If you’re allergic to milk or are a vegan, getting enough calcium from food can be difficult. If you don’t get enough calcium from food, your doctor may recommend a calcium supplement.
7. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is one of the essential vitamins for pregnant women as it helps your intestines absorb calcium and phosphorus from the food you eat. These nutrients are needed to maintain strong bones and teeth.
Getting enough vitamin D during pregnancy may also lower the risk of complications such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and low birth weight.
Pregnant and lactating women should get about 15 mcg (600 IU) of vitamin D per day. Most prenatal vitamins contain only 10 mcg (400 IU) of vitamin D per tablet, so you should get the additional vitamin D supply from foods or supplement.
Food sources of vitamin D include egg yolk, beef liver, fortified milk, and fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and sardines. Apart from foods, our bodies can also make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Spend about 10 to 15 minutes in direct sunlight (without sunscreen) 3 times a week is enough for your body to make the vitamin D you need.
8. Vitamin A
You need this vitamin for good vision, healthy skin, and bone growth. It also help to build your developing baby’s immune system. But you need to make sure that you don’t have too much or too little, because too much can harm your developing baby and lead to birth defects, while too little carries certain risks to you and your baby’s development.
The Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin A is 700 to 900 mcg a day for adults. Ideally, you should get all the vitamin A you need from your diet and should avoid taking any additional supplements.
Good sources include carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, spinach, egg yolks, dairy products, liver, oily fish, and leafy green vegetables.
Some spices also contain vitamin A. They include chilli powder, red pepper, cayenne, and paprika. It’s also possible to get vitamin A by eating foods that contain beta-carotene, which the body then converts into vitamin A. Foods that contain beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, spinach, and winter squash.
It’s worth noting that certain foods that are high in vitamin A, such as liver and pâte, are on the list of foods to avoid in pregnancy.
9. Vitamin C
Vitamin C plays a vital role in baby’s healthy growth and development. It is needed to make collagen that help support your baby’s skin, tendons, ligaments and bone growth. It also acts as an antioxidant, helping your body fight against infections and protecting cells from the damages caused by free radicals.
Pregnant women should aim for about 85 mg of vitamin C daily and breastfeeding women should aim for 120 mg per day. To get enough vitamin C during pregnancy, try adding vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.
Since it is a water-soluble vitamin, it isn’t stored by your body, which means a daily intake during pregnancy is essential. Fortunately, you can get enough vitamin C during pregnancy by eating vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.