Pregnancy is undoubtedly one of the most treasured times in a woman’s life and for her partner too. Whilst healthy dietary practices are important at all stages in life, pregnancy is one stage where it becomes paramount. To help support optimal nutritional wellbeing during pregnancy we have some top tips to be mindful of.
It goes without saying, adequate protein intake during pregnancy is essential. Protein is needed to repair and maintain maternal tissue and also for fetal development. If morning sickness has stolen your pregnancy glow, a high-protein breakfast is the key to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce morning sickness throughout the day: try a breakfast of poached eggs on sourdough toast or oat porridge with yoghurt, nuts and seeds. The recommended dietary intake (RDI) of protein during pregnancy is 1g/kg body weight, on average 3 meals containing 20g protein and 2-3 snacks containing 10-15g protein daily should see you achieving this target.
Carbohydrates are important as fuel to support the development, growth and metabolism of maternal and fetal tissue. Opting for healthy low-glycaemic choices at each meal will help keep blood sugar levels in check and provide a good supply of fibre. Great options include; quinoa, brown basmati rice, spelt pasta, brown rice noodles, buckwheat and rye bread.
Healthy Fats – Omega-3 fatty Acids
We all know omega-3 fatty acids are critical for the healthy neural, visual and cognitive development of a growing fetus. More recently research has focused on the benefits of these essential fatty acids to reduce postnatal depression. A 2013 study showed women with the lowest intake of omega-3 fatty acids were at the highest risk of depressive symptoms post-partum. The RDI of omega-3 during pregnancy is 120mg daily. The best source is oily fish (salmon and sardines) but supplementation with fish oil can help boost intake. If fish is off the menu, vegetarian sources include chia seeds, flaxseed and walnuts.
Love thy liver
The dreaded morning sickness can be increased by hormonal imbalance stemming from poor liver detoxification. Ensuring you have an adequate protein intake will provide the liver with the amino acids it requires to detoxify. Additionally, brassica vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts) and turmeric on your plate will assist the liver in clearing any unwanted toxins.
Liver clearance is not the sole step of detoxification for healthy hormone function and feeling good overall. We also need to release wastes from the body through regular bowel motions. Constipation is common during pregnancy so ensuring a diet high in a variety of fibres including whole grains, oat bran, psyllium, legumes and vegetables can assist with regularity.
Adequate nutritional status during pregnancy is essential to reduce risk of poor fetal cognitive and behavioural development, low-birth weight, neural tube defects and to support fetal bone, nerve and muscle development. Make sure you fill your plate with foods rich in the key nutrients and minerals outlined below:
- Folic acid – the RDI during pregnancy is 600ug, to top up your levels try barley, beans, green leafy vegetables, lentils and sprouts daily.
- Iodine – the RDI during pregnancy is 200ug, to boost iodine intake try snacking on roasted seaweed or sprinkle kelp flakes on salads, stir-frys and steamed vegetables.
- Calcium – aim to consume 1000-1300mg of calcium daily during pregnancy. Try a milk-based smoothie for breakfast, snack on yoghurt and fruit or if dairy-free use tahini as a dip and snack on dried figs and almonds.
- Vitamin D – the famous sunshine vitamin is rightfully essential during pregnancy as the primary source of vitamin D for infants being exclusively breastfed is through breastmilk. Dietary intake of vitamin D is limited but regular sun exposure can help boost levels. Stepping outside into nature has the added bonus of reducing stress levels.
- Iron – the RDI during pregnancy is 27mg. Iron rich foods include red meat, dried apricots, wheat germ, lentils, sunflower seeds and spinach. Consuming iron rich foods alongside vitamin C rich foods (citrus fruit, tomato, capsicum, cauliflower) will help increase absorption.
Drinking enough fluids daily to keep hydrated will support fetal circulation, amniotic fluid, higher blood volume and reduce constipation. If increased water intake is difficult to manage, especially as the cooler weather blows in, try sipping on coconut water, vegetable juice or herbal tea between meals.
Pregnancy can be a time of increased stress for some as much needs to be achieved by a tight deadline (9 months to be exact!). To assist with keeping calm and carrying on, research has proven the benefits of slow breathing at a rate of 5.5 breaths per minute to induce a state of relaxation. It’s a great technique which can be applied anywhere at anytime if pregnancy panic sets in.
Cravings are the talking point of pregnancy and it is important not to deny yourself. However, make cravings work for you, not against you:
- If fat cravings strike, drop the sausage roll and opt for avocado or nut butter with brown rice crackers;
- If salt cravings appear, swap chips for miso soup or homemade kale chips sprinkled with sea salt; and
- If sugar cravings emerge put down the chocolate and try a banana smoothie, yoghurt with fruit and honey or 1-2 dried figs.
Remember don’t be too hard on yourself if you find yourself making poor food choices. Morning sickness, low energy and hormonal imbalances can make healthy food choices more difficult. Just like any other time in life, moderation is the key and if you can eat well most of the time during your pregnancy it will set you up for a happy healthy pregnancy and provide the best start for your newborn.
Please note: for any individual dietary or nutrition advice during pregnancy please seek professional advice.
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