Food is hot topic during pregnancy. Protein, healthy fats, calcium, folic acid and iron are all key nutrients needed to help support a healthy pregnancy and your babies growth and are best taken from a wide variety of sources. Since everything we eat and drink crosses the placenta, quality is key. For optimum pregnancy nutrition aim for a diet high in fresh, whole and unprocessed foods. (see below for quick pregnancy nutrition guidelines) An added bonus to eating nutrient dense foods vs empty calories is that it can also go a long way to help manage pregnancy related disorders such as gestational diabetes, anemia and reduce excessive weight gain.
Meal Balancing for Optimum Energy Levels
According to nutrition studies, complex carbohydrates (vegetables, whole grains and whole fruits) lean proteins and healthy fats are all digested at different rates. One approach by nutritionists to manage energy levels is to combine these food groups at each meal. This has the effect of slowing digestion and releasing energy from our food over a longer period of time, potentially balancing blood sugar levels better and leaving us feeling fuller for longer.
What does it look like?
The recommendation for a well-balanced bowl or plate (or smoothie or snack) is roughly 50% non- starchy vegetables, 30% protein, 15% complex carbohydrates and 15% Healthy fats. Eating this way also ensures you are getting a good amount of dietary fibre which is also important during pregnancy due to rising progesterone levels often linked to constipation and other pregnancy related digestive complaints.
How to make your balanced bowl:
- Begin with a bed of greens (think folic acid and iron) – arugula, baby kale, romaine, spinach, mixed greens, red or green leaf lettuce. Add in Cucumbers, shredded carrots, red cabbage, peppers, sprouts, shredded beets, radishes, tomatoes, scallions, onions, broccoli.
- Add Protein 30% – chickpeas, black beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, edamame, white beans, kidney beans, hard-boiled eggs, chicken, fish or low fat diary such as cottage cheese.
- Add Complex Carbohydrates 15% – quinoa, brown rice, roasted sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, wholegrain sourdough rye (or other whole meal bread) farro, barley
- Include 1 tbl spoon Healthy Fat 15% – avocado, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, olive oil, hummus, hemp seeds, coconut flakes, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds. Include 1 Table spoon of dressing as your total 15% healthy fat. Good examples of this are cold presseed olive, coconut, seasame or avocado oil plus your own preferred type of seasoning and herbs.
A Note on Healthy Fats: Healthy fats are important in a balanced diet. There are many studies that link their consumption to healthy weight maintenance and improved cognitive skills. They have also shown to have a positive impact on the management of management of mood related disorders including depression and anxiety. Including a wide variety of healthy fats in your diet can help to support you and baby during your pregnancy.
Foods to avoid: Processed and high sugar foods. Saturated, fried and damaged fats: these can cause weight gain, high blood pressure and have been linked to gestational diabetes. They include margarines, baked goods, processed snacks, potato chips, some dips, sauces, packaged and frozen foods.
For the purposes of this article we consulted with obstetrician Dr Lai at A Company for Women. With over 20 years of training and experience with high-risk pregnancies, deliveries and key-hole surgery Dr Lai gives women much reassurance in their pregnancy or gynaecological issues. A Company for Women is pro choice and an active supporter of natural birthing options, a great option for expectant mothers looking for a natural and / or home delivery here in Singapore. Below are some some additional quick nutritional guidelines for pregnancy by his team:
During pregnancy the focus should be on fresh whole foods including:
High quality protein, free-range poultry, eggs and grass fed beef when possible.
5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
A variety of grains
Healthy fats including coconut, cold pressed olive oil and flax oil
High antioxidant foods;
- Fruits: A variety of Organic Berries, Apples, Pears and Oranges
- Vegetables: Kale, Spinach, Broccoli, Beets, Red and Yellow Peppers, Pumpkin or Squash
Soaked, sprouted or baked nuts and seeds (EFA’S)
Use high quality, pure and professional grade prenatal supplements only
Drink 2 / 2.5 litres of filtered water / day including herbal teas.
Avoid refined sugar, white flour, artificial sweeteners and alcohol.
Reduce caffeine to 200mg a day. This translates to about 2 cups of instant coffee, 1 .5 cups of fresh filter coffee, 4 /4 cups of green tea and 4 50gram bars of plain chocolate.
What About Pregnancy Weight Gain?
Pregnancy weight gain is about 8-15kg (20-35lbs) on average, which can be attributed to
- Baby: 3-4kg
- Placenta: 2.5kg
- Amniotic fluid: 2kg
- Uterine / breast tissue 2-4kgs when milk comes in
- Maternal blood volume: 1kg
- Extracellular fluid 2kg
- Fat 2kg
You need weight in all these areas in order to have a healthy baby and to get your body ready for motherhood (including preparing your body for nursing).
Most mothers loose approx. 5kg (13lbs) on delivery then about 2.5kg the following week.