Healthy diet during pregnancy
A balanced meal plan that meets your changing needs is one of the best gifts you can give your baby and yourself.
Ideally, you should start following the basic principles of a healthy diet before pregnancy, but it's never too late to start - even if you have only a few weeks left on your pregnancy calendar.
By taking everything necessary for you and the fetus, you will not only provide essential basic elements of your child's growth and general health, but you will also maintain your health better during pregnancy and the birth itself will be easier.
Pregnancy is the time in your life when your eating habits directly affect not only you, but also your child.
Weight changes and calories
During pregnancy, your body weight will increase because, in addition to the weight of the fetus (about 3 to 3.6 kg):
- Your total blood volume may increase by as much as 60% (1.4 to 1.8 kg on average) before delivery;
- Your breasts will increase (about 0.5 to 1.4 kg) in preparation for feeding your baby;
- To accommodate your growing baby, your uterus will expand (about 0.9 kg) and fill with amniotic fluid (about 0.9 kg);
- The total amount of fluid in your body will also increase (about 0.9 to 1.4 kg);
- Fat stores will increase (about 2.7 to 3.6 kg);
- Plus the weight of the placenta (about 0.7 kg).
To make all these productive changes, your body needs about 300 extra calories a day during the 2nd and 3rd trimester of pregnancy.
A healthy weight gain during pregnancy will also help you avoid pregnancy complications such as – gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and caesarean section.
Weight changes during pregnancy depend on how healthy your weight is in relation to your height before pregnancy - Your body mass index (BMI).
Body mass index before pregnancy
Healthy weight gain
BMI below 18.5
About 13 to 18 kg
BMI 18.5 to 24.9
About 11 to 16 kg
BMI 25 to 29.9
About 7 to 11 kg
BMI of 30 or more
About 5 to 9 kg
Source: Institute of Medicine and National Research Council
You can determine your body mass index HERE.
For a woman with a normal weight before pregnancy (BMI 18.5 to 24.9), the average weight gain could be as follows:
- In the first trimester – 0.5 to 2 kg;
- In the second trimester – 0.5 to 1 kg per week;
- In the third trimester – 0.5 to 1 kg per week;
Remember that these are only averages. Your weight may vary - only your doctor can determine whether your weight gain is healthy or not.
Myths about eating during pregnancy
Myth: When you are pregnant, you have to eat for two.
True, but partially. The amount of nutrients your body needs definitely increases, but your energy needs only increase by about 300 calories per day during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy:
- By about 300 calories per day in the second trimester (compared to the optimal calorie intake before pregnancy);
- By about 600 calories per day in the third trimester (compared to the optimal calorie intake before pregnancy).
Myth: The less weight you gain during pregnancy, the easier the birth will be.
Complete nonsense! Mothers who don't get all the nutrients they and their baby need during pregnancy and don't gain enough weight put their baby at risk of serious complications, such as premature birth, which can cause lung and heart problems for the baby.
Myth: During pregnancy, you can eat in such a way (following the "correct" menu) that the amount of body fat does not increase.
Nonsense. A healthy pregnancy includes fat storage. Your body will use this excess fat as energy during labor and breastfeeding.
Myth: Pregnant women crave only those foods that contain the nutrients their bodies need.
Nonsense. Pregnant women can crave any type of food. These cravings should not become an indicator of nutritional needs.
Myth: Healthy pregnant women do not feel discomfort.
True, but partially. Nausea, heartburn and constipation during pregnancy will affect all women, regardless of their health status, dietary habits and lifestyle. However, women who regularly eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly and avoid excess sugar and fat can significantly reduce these unpleasant symptoms.
What to eat during pregnancy
The basic principles of a healthy diet do not change significantly during pregnancy - the diet should include enough vegetables, fruits, whole grain products, lean proteins and healthy fats.
Of course, some nutrients should be increased and some foods should be avoided.
To give you an idea of the amount of nutrients needed during pregnancy (the amount of nutrients per 100 g of the product is always indicated on the label), let's look at each group separately.
Protein (OB) is the raw material from which our body is built, so it should never be lacking. This is especially important during pregnancy, as they are necessary for the growth of fetal tissues, including the brain, as well as for the growth of your breasts and uterus, the increase of your blood volume, and many other processes.
The recommended amount of protein during pregnancy is:
- In the early stage of pregnancy (~16 weeks) – 1.2 g per kilogram of body weight per day;
- In late pregnancy – 1.52 g per kilogram of body weight per day;
Which is ∼14 – 18 percent of the total daily energy consumption (calories).
There are also sources that recommend a protein intake ranging from 0.88g to 1.1g per kilogram of body weight per day. In others, this amount is considered insufficient to meet all the needs of the pregnant woman's body. In any case, taking into account the importance of protein, it is better to take more than not enough.
Best Daily Protein Sources:
- Lean meat (chicken, turkey, lamb, beef);
- Fully cooked fish (such as tuna) or seafood;
- Liver (but in moderation because they contain a lot of vitamin A);
- Legumes (peas, chickpeas, red, white and black beans);
Read more about proteins HERE.
Read about protein sources for vegetarians, vegans and vegetarians HERE.
Carbohydrates provides both you and your baby with energy. Carbohydrates in food are broken down into simple sugars, mainly glucose, which is carried throughout your body by blood.
Glucose moves easily across the placenta and is necessary for the development, growth and metabolism of maternal and fetal tissues. Glucose is the optimal "fuel" for the maintenance of maternal and fetal brain activity. In addition, many sources of carbohydrates are also sources of folate (Vitamin B9), which is essential for the healthy development of babies during pregnancy, for example - whole grain bread, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables...
Available research suggests that the optimal amount of carbohydrates to support normal fetal growth is between 47 and 70 percent of total daily energy intake (calories).
To ensure a steady supply of energy, include in your diet:
- Whole grain products, for example – whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, bulgur, millet, whole-wheat oatmeal...
- Brown rice;
Fat are important during pregnancy not only as a source of energy, but also for many other functions, for example, as structural components of cell membranes.
Fats and ultra-long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) are very important for fetal tissue development and for organogenesis, and they can also affect the future health of the infant (neurological development of the child, risk of developing various diseases, such as the development of allergies).
During pregnancy, your body needs more fat - about 25 to 35 percent of your daily energy intake (calories).
It is recommended to focus more on monounsaturated fats (for example - unrefined olive, peanut and canola oil, avocado, nuts, seeds) and avoid saturated fats (for example - butter, etc.).
Good sources of healthy fats are also fish, for example - salmon, trout, herring, sardines, anchovies.
Fiber is an important part of maintaining a healthy digestive system, especially during pregnancy.
This may sound strange because fiber has no nutrients and cannot actually be digested by our digestive tract. However, fiber is very essential for our body because:
- Fiber helps to control weight gain during pregnancy, because it helps to keep the feeling of satiety longer and you eat less;
- Fiber helps prevent constipation and is one of the most common digestive disorders during pregnancy;
- Fibers help regulate blood sugar levels, as they slow down the absorption of food - helping to prevent blood sugar levels from rising too quickly;
- Fiber helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease during pregnancy. Certain types of fiber help lower low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol levels by trapping the substances it contains in the digestive system and thus reducing cholesterol absorption.
During pregnancy, it is recommended to take at least 28 g of fiber per day.
Fiber intake should be increased gradually - so that the body can adapt. If until now there was not enough fiber in your diet and you start removing it more - the body may react contrary to what was expected.
Fiber is best obtained from natural foods - fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Minerals and vitamins
In order for your baby to be born healthy, you need to take in not only the basic nutrients (Proteins, Carbohydrates, Fats and Fibers), but also all the minerals and vitamins necessary for the development of the fetus during pregnancy.
Some vitamins and minerals are particularly important for fetal development. We will also look at them.
Calcium helps your body regulate fluids and build your baby's bones and teeth.
The amount of calcium needed during pregnancy is:
- At the age of 14 to 18 years – 1300 milligrams/day;
- At the age of 19 to 50 years – 1000 milligrams/day.
Best daily sources of calcium:
- Natural yogurt;
- White beans;
- Salmon, sardines;
- Cabbage and other dark green leafy vegetables.
In combination with sodium, potassium and water, iron helps increase blood volume (supply the fetus with oxygen) and prevents anemia.
The amount of calcium needed during pregnancy is 27 milligrams/day.
Best sources of daily iron:
- Green leafy vegetables and salads;
- Cereals and whole grain products;
- Oat flakes.
- Maize flour;
- Lean red meat;
- Fish and other seafood;
- Peas and beans.
Iodine is necessary for healthy brain development.
The amount of iodine required during pregnancy is 220 micrograms (μg or mcg)//day.
Best daily sources of iodine:
- Iodized table salt;
- Dairy products;
Choline is needed for fetal brain development and to form the membranes that surround the body's cells. Your brain and nervous system also need it to regulate memory, mood, muscle control and other functions.
The amount of choline needed during pregnancy is 450 milligrams/day.
Best Daily Sources of Choline:
- Dairy products;
- Nuts and seeds;
- Potatoes and cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower.
Builds healthy skin and vision, helps bone growth.
The amount of vitamin A needed during pregnancy is:
- At the age of 14 to 18 years – 750 micrograms (μg)/day;
- At the age of 19 to 50 years – 770 micrograms (μg)/day.
Best Daily Sources of Vitamin A:
- Fish oil;
- Green leafy vegetables;
- Sweet potatoes;
Vitamin C promotes healthy gums, teeth and bones.
The amount of vitamin C needed during pregnancy is:
- At the age of 14 to 18 years – 80 milligrams/day;
- At the age of 19 to 50 years – 85 milligrams/day.
Best Daily Sources of Vitamin C:
- Citrus fruits (oranges, kiwis, lemons, grapefruits);
- Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower;
- White potatoes.
Necessary for the formation of bones and teeth of your fetus. Also helps build healthy vision and skin.
The amount of vitamin D required during pregnancy is 600 international units (IU)/day.
Best Daily Sources of Vitamin D:
- Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines;
- Cod liver oil;
- Beef liver.
Helps the body use proteins, fats and carbohydrates and make red blood cells.
The amount of vitamin B6 needed during pregnancy is 1.9 milligrams/day.
Best Daily Sources of Vitamin B6:
- Beef and liver;
- Tuna, salmon;
- Whole grain products;
- Bananas, papayas, oranges and cantaloupe.
Helps make DNA and red blood cells and is necessary for the functioning of the nervous system (brain).
The required amount of vitamin B12 during pregnancy is 2.6 micrograms (μg)/day.
Best Daily Sources of Vitamin B12:
Vegetarians and vegans should take synthetic B12 vitamins (nutritional supplements).
Folic acid (vitamin B9)
Supports the overall growth and development of the fetus and placenta. Sufficient folic acid (also known as Folate or vitamin B9) is especially important in early pregnancy to reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine.
The amount of vitamin B9 needed during pregnancy is 600-800 micrograms (μg)/day.
Women planning to become pregnant are advised to get 400 to 1,000 micrograms of folic acid per day (usually through supplements/prenatal vitamins).
Best Daily Sources of Vitamin B9:
- Beef liver;
- Sunflower seeds;
- Dark green leafy vegetables;
- Orange juice;
- Whole grain products.
What not to eat during pregnancy?
Knowing what foods to avoid during pregnancy is just as important as eating a healthy and balanced diet.
During pregnancy, it is recommended to avoid foods that could cause food poisoning, as food poisoning can increase the risk of premature birth, miscarriage and infections. Also the risk that your child may be stillborn.
Therefore, it is very important to pay special attention to your diet during pregnancy - especially to cooking and avoiding foods that may be associated with the risk of listeriosis. Listeriosis caused by bacteria that are widely found in nature - in water, soil, on vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy products and also in industrially processed food products, such as soft cheeses.
Of course, this does not mean that you have to avoid vegetables, fruits, dairy products, etc.
It just means that more attention should be paid to cleanliness, product storage and preparation:
- Rinse all raw produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating, cutting or cooking;
- Wash hands, knives, work surfaces and cutting boards after handling and cooking raw products;
- When cooking beef, pork, poultry or fish, follow these product heat treatment guidelines;
- Refrigerate perishable foods immediately.
It is clear that alcoholic beverages, coffee and other caffeinated products and smoking are incompatible with pregnancy.
Here are some more high-risk foods to avoid during pregnancy:
- Unpasteurized yogurt, milk and cheese;
- Soft and semi-soft pasteurized cheeses, such as Camembert and Brie;
- Raw eggs;
- Undercooked meat;
- Processed meat, unless it is heated to at least 70 °C degrees before eating;
- Purchased cakes or other pastries with cream;
- Raw fish and crustaceans;
- Smoked fish;
- Shop bought sushi;
- Unwashed fruits and vegetables;
- Prepared salads from supermarkets;
- Hummus and tahini;
- Food that has been stored for more than 2 days and has not been reheated to at least 70 °C degrees.
Cravings and aversions to certain foods
It is not clear why women develop cravings or aversions to certain foods during pregnancy. Hormones are believed to be “to blame”.
Sometimes food combinations can be quite strange, for example - pickles and ice cream.
If you are craving for food that is healthy - feel free to indulge in these cravings.
If you crave junk and ultra-processed foods – a healthier alternative is usually possible. For example, if you really want french fries, it is better to choose oven-baked sweet potato wedges, which are just as filling and contain a lot of nutrients you need.
On the other hand, aversion to food can be problematic only if it is related to foods that are important for the growth and development of the baby.
During pregnancy, your body goes through many physical and hormonal changes. Respectively, nutrition is of great importance both in terms of your state of health and well-being.
A healthy, balanced diet will help you feel good and provide yourself and your baby with everything you need. Remember - your baby's only source of nutrition is what you eat.
The best way to provide yourself and the fetus with everything you need is to eat a variety of foods - including various food products in your menu.
In addition to eating healthy, it is very important to drink every day enough water.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it will be difficult for you to get all the necessary nutrients from food alone. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what vitamins/supplements you should be taking.
About calculating the amount of nutrients:
- Suppose you need 1600 Kcal/day;
- Your doctor's recommended nutrient ratio is 18% of protein, 30% of fat and 52% of carbohydrates;
- 1 g of fat contains 9 calories, 1 g of protein - 4 calories, 1 g of carbohydrates - 4 calories;
- Calculate how many calories you need to take from proteins (1600/100×18= 288), how many from fats (1600/100×30=480), how many from carbohydrates (1600/100×52=832);
- Calculate how many grams of proteins, fats and carbohydrates you need to take in every day - proteins (288/4=72), fats (480/9= 53.3), carbohydrates (832/4=208);
- Read product labels and combine.
Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy
Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation
Protein Requirements of Healthy Pregnant Women during Early and Late Gestation Are Higher than Current Recommendations
The Carbohydrate Threshold in Pregnancy and Gestational Diabetes
Types of Carbohydrates Intake during Pregnancy and Frequency of a Small for Gestational Age Newborn
Maternal dietary fat intake during pregnancy and newborn body composition
Making Sense of Vitamins and Minerals
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