healthy eating during pregnancy
A well balanced diet, with plenty of vegetables and fruit is important for both you and your baby’s long-term health.
There are lots of foods you are told to be careful about while pregnant, but that still leaves many foods to enjoy and it’s a chance to look after yourself – or encourage someone else to cook for you!
Check out our guide to what to eat and what to avoid. Although your baby will take most of what it needs from you, whether it is in your diet or not, you need to remain strong by eating healthy. Some foods can have a lasting effect on your baby – both good & bad – so more about these later.
It can be hard when sickness strikes in the early weeks. Nibbling carbohydrates can help – bread (wholemeal is best), crackers or biscuits. Or if you want something hot, open a tin of nourishing lentil soup for protein and iron, pop a potato into the microwave or make beans on toast. Eat what you can for the moment, the nausea normally passes at around 14 weeks, very few women carry on being sick for 9 months. Until then your baby is so small that your body’s reserves of vitamins and minerals are enough for both of you. When you’re ready, you can start to think more carefully about a balanced diet.
Get your fruit and veg – try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day – fresh fruit is the easiest instant munch around and raw vegetables are good to snacking.
Keep a bowlful of washed and cut up carrot and celery sticks, broccoli florets and tomatoes to dip in houmus or yoghurt – both good sources of vital calcium. Eat something dark green and leafy every day – sprouts or broccoli for folic acid and iron. Include a daily citrus fruit in your diet for the vitamin C, and don’t forget dried fruit when you crave instant energy. Dried apricots are particularly good for iron, anti-oxidant beta carotene and fibre.
Plenty of protein – there is evidence that too much protein, out of proportion with the rest of the diet, is unhelpful. Most people in this country get enough anyway and the Atkins diet is not recommended in pregnancy. All dairy products are good sources of protein, calcium and vitamin B12, but nuts, such as almonds, provide the first two if you can’t eat dairy foods. If you are vegan, you will need a supplement of vitamin B12.
Drink up – it’s important to try and drink a least two litres of fluid every day. This can help with the dehydration of pregnancy sickness, and will also help to prevent constipation, especially if you also eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Prune juice helps too. By far the easiest drink is plain water, or try fresh fruit juice diluted using fizzy water. Too many caffeine-rich drinks such as tea and coffee are not good in pregnancy – in fact, it is recommended that you don’t take more than four cups of instant coffee or six cups of trea per day, due to the caffeine content. Any women go off then completely – if you used to drink a lot of tea and coffee then try to alternate with a glass of water. There’s no strong scientific evidence that light of occasional drinking will harm your baby. This means no more than one or two units o alcohol once or twice a week. But there’s no evidence that it’s completely safe either. Some women prefer to cut out all alcohol. And stopping smoking is the best gift you can give your baby.
Every drop counts – one unit of alcohol is:
- half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider
- quarter of a pint strong beer or cider
- 1 small glass (100ml) of wine
- 1 measure (25ml) spirits
- 1 small sherry glass (55ml) of sherry, port or vermouth
Supplementary benefits – its wise not to take any vitamin or mineral supplements in tablet or medicine form without first checking them with your midwife or doctor. The exception is folic acid, which you should start taking as soon as you realise you are pregnant – or before, if you’re planning for a baby – as this B vitamin helps to protect against spinal cord defects. Supplements work best when they are taken with foods which are themselves rich in folic acid – Brussel sprouts, spinach, oranges, fortified breakfast cereals, or baked beans.
Fish – there are some evidence that long chain, omega 3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, are beneficial during pregnancy.
They are also involved in the baby’s rapid brain development. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends we should all eat two portions of fish a week, including on of oily fish. Oily fish include mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, salmon and trout. However, oily fish contain higher levels of some persistent pollutants than other foods so, although there are benefits from eating oily fish regularly, its probably best not to eat more than two portions a week. The FSA also recommends that pregnant or breastfeeding women, women planning a pregnancy, and children should avoid eating shark, swordfish, marlin and more than one fresh tuna steak or two (140g) tins of tuna a week, due to the mercury content.
Good Foods to Eat:
Oranges, kiwi and other fruits
Dark green leafy vegetables
Cheese, milk, yoghurt
Lean meat, nuts or pulses
Pasta, rice or potatoes
Oily fish once a week
Plenty of fluids
|Foods to Avoid:
Soft, mould-ripened or blue-veined cheeses
(eg brie, camembert, Danish blue, stilton)
Unpasteurised goats, cows’ or sheep’s milk
Raw eggs (in Mayonnaise, mousses, cake icing, cheesecake)
Pate (any type, except tinned)
Raw or undercooked meat
(such as steak tartare or rare beef)
Liver – it contains unacceptably high levels of vitamin A
Peanuts or peanut butter if there’s a family tendency to allergies
- Heat food thoroughly, especially ready meals
- Avoid soft, undercooked eggs
- Check that your fridge is cool enough: below 39 Degrees F or 5 Degrees C (worth buying a fridge thermometer)
- Store raw meat separately from other foods
- Wash all fruit and veg before eating, even pre-washed salad from your supermarket.
Healthy Eating During Pregnancy