A balanced diet
During your pregnancy it’s important that you eat a healthy, balanced diet to ensure the optimal development and growth of your baby. Make sure that you wash your hands before and after preparing food and use different chopping boards for vegetables / fruit and meat. Your daily meal plan should include the following food groups:
Grains (complex carbohydrates)
Examples of complex carbohydrates are wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta, cereals, rice, oats, quinoa, corn and whole potatoes. A pregnant woman needs around 2500 calories a day and 55% of these calories should come from complex carbohydrates. Not only do these provide slow release energy which is essential during pregnancy, but they also provide an important source of fibre, which helps to combat constipation and haemorrhoids, a common problem during pregnancy.
Fruit & Vegetables
You should aim to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. These can be fresh, frozen, dried, tinned or consumed in the form of unsweetened juice or smoothies (150 ml per portion). Try to eat a variety of different colours of fruits and vegetables as they each provide you with different essential minerals and vitamins. Fruit and vegetables also contribute to your daily fibre intake.
Roughly 10% of your daily calorie intake during pregnancy should be made up by protein, which is found in foods such as meat, fish, beans, poultry, eggs, soya and tofu.
Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, are a great source of calcium for both you and your developing baby, as well as a source of Vitamin A, D and E. Try to stick to low fat varieties of dairy products as excess dairy fat can contribute to cholesterol problems.
Foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy
The following foods could potentially be harmful to you and your unborn baby:
Refined carbohydrates are contained in foods such as white bread, white rice, chips, biscuits and many processed foods. They can cause elevated blood sugar levels which can increase your chances of developing complications like pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes and so should be limited during pregnancy. Try to choose whole grain carbs instead of refined ones.
Unwashed fruit and vegetables
Pay particular attention to washing your fruit and vegetables during pregnancy as they can carry harmful bacteria such as Listeria. You are advised not to eat raw bean sprouts (such as alfalfa, clover, and radish) for the same reason.
Avoid eating peanuts during pregnancy to decrease the chances of your baby developing an allergy to nuts.
- Types of fish that contain high levels of mercury should be totally avoided during pregnancy. These include shark, swordfish, albacore ‘white’ tuna and king mackerel.
- Types of fish containing lower levels of mercury such as canned tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish are fine to eat, but should make up no more than two average size meal portions per week.
- Sushi should also definitely be avoided as all fish needs to be cooked before being eaten to ensure any bacteria are killed. Raw fish could also contain potentially harmful parasites.
- Shell fish is fine to eat as long as it is properly cooked.
- Meat must be cooked very well and not eaten if it is pink.
- Processed meats such as salami and refrigerated pates should be avoided (although shelf versions are safe) as they may contain harmful bacteria such as listeria. If you really do need to eat these, ensure that they are heated thoroughly first to kill any bacteria.
- Eggs need to be well cooked (not runny) before eating and you need to stay away from any sauces that contain raw egg like hollandaise or homemade mayonnaise. This will reduce your chances of catching salmonella.
Unpasteurised milk and juices
- Unpasteurized milk and juices need to be avoided as they can contain dangerous bacteria such as salmonella, E.coli and listeria.
- Any soft cheese that is made from unpasteurized milk needs to be avoided too. This includes feta, brie and blue cheeses.
- Any hard cheeses such as cheddar are safe to eat however, as are processed cheeses like cream cheese and cottage cheese.
Saturated fats found in high-fat meats, whole milk, tropical oils (such as palm kernel and coconut), butter and lard, are best avoided during pregnancy as they can raise cholesterol levels and potentially put you at risk for heart disease. Monounsaturated fats which are found in olives, avocado, and nuts are considered “good” fats because they’re effective at lowering cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats are beneficial too as they contain the omega-3 fatty acids (found in some cold water fish, flax seed oil, and canola oil) and omega-6 fatty acids (found in sunflower, cottonseed, corn, and soybean oils) which are crucial for the healthy brain development of your baby.
Refined sugar, found in soft drinks, sweets, chocolate, cakes and biscuits, can cause elevated blood sugar levels which can increase your chances of developing complications like pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and cause excessive weight gain. This means that your intake of sweet treats needs to be limited during pregnancy.
Excessive salt intake should be limited during pregnancy as it is linked to high blood pressure. Add herbs and spices to food to add flavour instead.
The amount of alcohol that can safely be consumed during pregnancy is debatable. Many experts advise you not to drink alcohol for at least the first three months of pregnancy and thereafter to limit your intake to one or two units a week. If you drink too much alcohol during pregnancy it can permanently damage your developing baby’s cells.
Excess caffeine consumption slightly increases your risk of having a miscarriage or a baby with a low birth weight. It is recommended that you do not have more than 200 mg caffeine in any one day if you are pregnant, which amounts to roughly two cups of tea or coffee. Remember that some soft drinks also contain caffeine, so include these in your daily allowance. Try sticking to water and herbal teas to keep yourself hydrated, though do read the labels on herbal teas first to ensure they are safe to drink during pregnancy.
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