Mum-to-be? Congratulations! Learn more about the foods that pack the best nutritional punch for you and your baby.
Give your unborn baby the chance to develop to his or her fullest potential by consuming enough of the right foods and nutrients. By following a healthy, nutritious diet, you’re also giving your health the essential boost it now needs. The reality is that if your diet doesn’t supply enough of the good stuff, the nutrients will first go to nourish the developing foetus, and your health may suffer…
Did you know that a pregnant woman needs to add about 1,050 kilojoules (250 calories) to her daily diet from the second trimester onwards? This should be sufficient to feed both of you. But simply adding more kilojoules to your diet isn’t enough: you need to be very specific in terms of the kinds of foods you add. Yes, the quality of the food you eat is more important than the quantity, according to the Dietitians Association of Australia.
Most of the extra kilojoules in your second and third trimester should come from protein foods, according to the Merck Manuals. Protein foods help your breast and uterine tissue grow, and assist to increase your blood supply. Iron, folate, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C and iodine are all also essential nutrients for the development of a healthy baby – and are nutrients that you should focus on getting more of.
Lycopene and magnesium are important too, says Kath Megaw, a paediatric dietician from Cape Town, South Africa, and co-author of the book Feeding Sense.
Also keep in mind that your nutritional needs change from the first to the third trimester, and that it’s best to discuss your specific needs during the course of your pregnancy with your GP or dietician. Every pregnant woman’s situation is different, based on her health status, weight and age.
Megaw mentions that women in the first trimester of pregnancy often find it difficult to eat protein, as they feel nauseous. Later on, they tend to avoid fatty foods in order to prevent weight gain. This could have a negative impact on the baby’s development – and the mother’s health. If you’re struggling to eat certain healthy foods, it’s best to also discuss this with your GP and/or dietician.
Healthiest foods for pregnant mums
So, which foods are your best bet to ensure a healthy pregnancy? We take a look at the foods that will provide the important nutrients mentioned above:
- Eggs, chicken, lean beef, lamb, pork and tofu are all rich in protein – an important pregnancy nutrient.
- Split peas, chick peas and beans are also good sources of this macro-nutrient, so be sure to also include these healthy foods in your diet. Lean beef contains not only protein, but also zinc and iron, choline (necessary for brain development), and vitamins B6 and B12.
- Whole-grain foods such as whole oats, brown rice, whole rye and whole-wheat bread are rich in fibre, the B vitamins, iron, magnesium and other important minerals and trace elements. These are all good for you and your unborn baby.
- Fruits such as oranges, guavas, strawberries and grapefruit are high in vitamin C, which boosts your immunity and helps with the absorption of iron. Research by the University of Copenhagen also shows that a vitamin C deficiency during pregnancy can have a negative impact on the development of the foetus’s brain.
- Dark leafy vegetables, such as spinach and cabbage, are good sources of folate (folic acid) – an important B vitamin that prevents birth defects.
- Fatty fish. According to Megaw, fatty fish is high in protein and omega-3 essential fatty acids, both of which are necessary for your baby’s brain development. These fats are also better than saturated fats in terms of pregnancy weight management.
- Green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach, are high in lycopene. This antioxidant, says Megaw, is essential for the functioning of the immune system of both mum and baby.
- Tree nuts, such as almonds, are a great addition to your diet during pregnancy, as they’re high in calcium and magnesium. According to Megaw, these minerals promote bone growth and help to keep the pregnant mum’s teeth strong.
- Low-fat/fat-free plain yoghurt is high in protein, higher in calcium than milk, and does not have the added sugar found in sweetened, flavoured yoghurt. The calcium, phosphorus and magnesium are good for bone development. Cheese, in small quantities, can be healthy too. But remember that it’s high in saturated fat and kilojoules.
- Sweet potatoes are high in folate, fibre, potassium, vitamin C and carotenoids, which your body uses to make vitamin A.
- Avocados are high in folate in its natural form and are also rich in healthy mono-unsaturated fats, carnitine and potassium. But don’t eat too much of this fruit as it’s quite high in kilojoules.
- Berries. Raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are all high in potassium, folate and fibre.
- Hummus. This high-protein, low-fat spread has a very low glycaemic index (GI) and can be of great help to pregnant women needing to control their blood-sugar levels.
- Pumpkin seeds are packed with magnesium and iron, and are high in omega-3 fatty acids.