What you eat and when and how you eat it will assume prime importance now that you are pregnant; you have to fulfil the nutritional demands of both you and your baby. Eating may be the last thing on your mind if the very sight of food makes you want to puke, but try to take in a lot of fluids and small meals often. This should help with the symptoms of morning sickness and prevent any nutritional deficiencies. These are a few of the ingredients you just cannot afford to miss once you’re pregnant:
Folic acid prevents neural tube defects or malformation of the spine in the developing baby, hence it is essential that you have an adequate amount of folate in your system. Folate is also important for the development of blood cells and to prevent anaemia in the prospective mother. It is recommended that you take 400 mcg of folic acid during the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy. Given below are some excellent dietary sources of folic acid:
- Dry fruits and nuts like walnuts (akhrot), peanuts (moongphali) and almonds (badaam).
- Vegetables like bitter gourd (karela), bottle gourd (lauki), apple gourd (tinda), lady’s finger (bhindi), carrot (gajar), cauliflower (phool gobhi), beetroot (chukandar), capsicum (simla mirch), French beans (faras bean), peas (matar), corn (makai), cabbage (patta gobhi) and brussels sprouts (chhoti gobhi).
- Fruits like muskmelon (kharbuja), avocado or butter fruit (makhanphal), pomegranate (anaar), guava (amrood), oranges (narangi/santra), sweet lime (mausambi, kinnow) and strawberries.
- Fortified breakfast cereal like whole wheat flakes, oats, cornflakes, wheat germ and wheat bran, whole meal bread, whole wheat flour and whole wheat pasta.
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach (palak), fenugreek leaves (methi), lamb’s quarters (bathua), mustard greens (sarson), radish (mooli) leaves, coriander (hara dhania), mint (pudina) and lettuce (salad patta).
- Pulses and lentils like black-eyed beans (lobhia), bengal gram (chana), soya beans, chickpeas (kabuli chana) and kidney beans (rajma).
Iron along with folate is necessary to prevent anaemia as well as to manufacture enough red cells for your baby. Non-vegetarian sources such as lean red meat, poultry and fish are excellent sources of iron as well as vegetarian sources such as lentils, pulses, spinach and iron-fortified breakfast cereals. Your body absorbs more iron from non-vegetarian foods than vegetarian sources. A glass of orange juice or lemon juice (a source of vitamin C) will help your body absorb the iron better if you drink it along with vegetarian food.
Your doctor may advise you to take iron supplements (1 every day if your haemoglobin levels are adequate or 2-3/day depending on your anaemic status as guided by your doctor). Cooking in iron utensils can also contribute to improving the iron content of the food.
- Iron supplements are generally started during the second trimester when morning sickness subsides.
- Black tea and coffee can interfere with the absorption of iron, so it’s best not to have these with or soon after your meals. Caffeinated drinks can have that effect as well, so avoid them too.
- People taking iron supplements are prone to have dark coloured stools, which is normal.
Vitamin A is essential for night vision, cell growth, healthy skin and red blood cell production, both for you and your baby. Here are some excellent sources of vitamin A:
- Green vegetables like broccoli (hari gobhi) and spinach (paalak)
- Carrots (gajar)
- Oranges (santra/narangi)
- Sweet potatoes (shakarkandi)
- Papaya (eat only ripe ones)
The fact to remember is that too much of a good thing can be harmful too. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid liver products which contain extremely high doses of retinol (a form of vitamin A), which can be dangerous for your pregnancy.
Your body uses the stored energy obtained from your food with the help of vitamin B6. B6 plays a vital role in the production of red blood cells and also helps reduce morning sickness. Brown rice, whole grains, corn, lean meats, poultry, fish, avocados, bananas and nuts are rich sources of vitamin B6.
Vitamin B12 is another important nutrient in pregnancy as its deficiency may cause anaemia or even damage your nervous system. Make sure to get a lab test done to check your Vitamin B12 levels. Meat and dairy products are rich in vitamin B12. If you are a vegetarian, consume foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 or take a supplement. You can also buy brands of soya milk, breakfast cereals and yeast extract fortified with vitamin B12.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium plays a big role in the healthy development of your baby’s bones, teeth, nervous system, heart and muscles. Dairy products, green vegetables such as spinach (palak) and green beans (faras bean), pulses like soya bean and kidney beans (rajma), sesame (til) seeds, almonds (badam) are all excellent sources of calcium.
Vitamin D is necessary to help your body absorb the calcium. It can be obtained naturally from sunlight, so just be out in the sun for half an hour a day early in the morning. You can also get vitamin D from foods such as oily fish, eggs and milk. If you do not have enough vitamin D, your doctor will prescribe a daily supplement.
Deficiency of vitamin K could cause bruising and bleeding in your baby. Therefore, it is good to have an intake of vitamin K throughout your pregnancy and also during initial weeks after the birth of your baby, especially if you are breastfeeding. The first breastfeeds of colostrum are rich in vitamin K. Sources of vitamin K include:
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, fenugreek and mustard greens
- Cantaloupe melon
- Green beans
- Whole meal bread
Magnesium ensures the proper growth of your baby’s bones and healthy muscles for you. It also helps repair tissue in your body. The amount of magnesium that reaches your baby is regulated by the placenta. Dairy products, fish meat and poultry, soya beans, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, non-refined cereals, nuts, pulses, pumpkin seeds, melon, sunflower and dried fruits are the natural sources of magnesium.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are very essential during pregnancy for your baby’s brain and eye development. Oily fish is a very good source of omega-3 fatty acid, though more than two portions a week is not recommended. If you’re a vegetarian, you can get omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as tofu, soya beans, walnuts, leafy green vegetables, eggs, milk, sesame seeds and fish oil derived supplements.
Iodine plays an important role in ensuring your baby’s thyroid gland functions properly, which will happen by around week 14. Meat, eggs and seafood such as fish, shellfish and seaweed are the richest sources of iodine. Vegetarian sources of iodine include iodised salt, cereals, pulses and fresh foods, dairy products such as cheese, paneer, butter and curd/yoghurt and vegetables like mushrooms, onions and spinach.
Eight glasses of fluid or 1.5 litres is the ideal amount you should be drinking daily once you are pregnant. Water should form the main part of your daily fluid intake as it keeps you hydrated and more importantly helps carry nutrients to your baby through blood. You can also prevent common problems such as urinary tract infections (UTI), constipation and piles by drinking enough water. The more water you drink, the less water your body will retain, thus preventing water retention. If you are dehydrated, you might experience contractions and premature labour, especially in the third trimester.
Food to be Avoided during Pregnancy:
- Caffeine: Too much caffeine intake, especially during the first trimester, might lead to miscarriages or other health-related issues in your baby.
- Raw poultry and fish: Consumption of raw eggs or meat can make an expectant mum susceptible to certain parasitic diseases. Eating uncooked seafood can also result in infections. These infections can cross the placenta and reach the foetus, which could lead to premature birth or mental retardation in the baby.
- Unpasteurized cheese or milk: The chances of a miscarriage are increased if bacteria cross the placental barrier and infect the baby; unpasteurized cheese and milk can be a reservoir for many organisms.
- Street foods: The water used to prepare street food is usually not clean and hence should be avoided. Also, the conditions in which they are prepared and served are mostly quite unhygienic. Though not all food available on the street can be classified as unsafe, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Alcohol: Alcohol intake during pregnancy can result in poor growth and improper brain development in the baby. It can also result in abnormal facial features and mental retardation.
- Cigarettes: Your baby is exposed to nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar within the womb if you smoke. This will decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the baby, resulting in birth defects, low birth weight or even a cleft palate.
- Green tea: One reason why you should not have green tea during pregnancy is that it increases your metabolic rate. Since you already have a high metabolism during pregnancy, increasing it further wouldn’t be wise. Also, excessive consumption of green tea can lead to less absorption of folic acid making you and your baby susceptible to folic acid deficiency diseases.