With the many myths associated with pregnancy, what to eat and what not to…the basic principles of a healthy diet remain the same – get plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and lean proteins and healthy fats.
However, a few nutrients and minerals need special attention during pregnancy;
- Folate and folic acid — Prevent birth defects
Folate is a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects, serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. The synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods is known as folic acid.
How much you need: 800 micrograms of folate or folic acid a day before conception and throughout pregnancy.
Good sources: Fortified cereals are great sources of folic acid. Leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and dried beans and peas are good sources of naturally occurring folate.
- Calcium — Strengthen bones
You and your baby need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps your circulatory, muscular and nervous systems run normally.
How much you need: 1,000 milligrams a day; pregnant healthy teenagers need 1,300 milligrams a day.
Good sources: Dairy products are good sources of calcium. Non-dairy sources include bone soup, broccoli and kale. Many fruit juices and breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium.
- Vitamin D — Promote bone strength
Vitamin D also helps build your baby’s bones and teeth.
How much you need: 600 international units (IU) a day
Good sources: Fatty fish, such as salmon, is a great source of vitamin D. Other options include fortified milk and orange juice.
- Protein — Promote growth
Protein is crucial for your baby’s growth, especially during the second and third trimesters.
How much you need: 71 grams a day
Good sources: Lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs are great sources of protein. Other options include dried beans and peas, tofu, dairy products, and peanut butter.
- Iron — Prevents anemia
Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy, your blood volume expands to accommodate changes in your body and help your baby make his or her entire blood supply — doubling your need for iron.
If you don’t get enough iron, you might become fatigued and more susceptible to infections. The risk of pre-term delivery and low birth weight also might be higher. Spirulina, Moringa and similar powdered supplements are excellent sources of easily-absorbable iron, especially for those who do not consume much red meat.
How much you need: 27 milligrams a day
Good sources: Lean red meat, poultry and fish are good sources of iron. Other options include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, beans and vegetables.
Below is a sample meal plan you can play around with during pregnancy to achieve optimal health for you and your unborn baby.
During your first trimester, you need lots of foods rich in folate, in addition to your folic acid supplement. If you are having morning sickness, foods rich in vitamin B6 may help to ease the nausea. Ginger is also a tested favourite to alleviate nausea.
NB: Don’t drink tea or coffee with a meal as it hinders the absorption of Iron in the body. Drink it 30 minutes before or after your main meal. When you cross over to the second trimester, eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids. These will help your baby’s brain development. Foods rich in calcium and vitamin D will produce strong bones and teeth.
Lastly during the final stretch – the third trimester, Vitamin K-rich foods are important as it aids your blood to clot during birth.
Tip: Bananas are a good snack for early labour, as they release energy slowly.
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