If you are pregnant, you already know that you need to make a number of lifestyle changes to ensure that you remain healthy and you give birth to a healthy child.
One of the main areas where you can and will make a difference is your diet. This is because your energy needs to be increased now – you need an additional of 150 kcal per day during your first trimester and up to 350 kcal during rest of your pregnancy. However, “what you eat” is as much or more important than “how much you eat“. In this article, we try to give you a sense of both “what and how much” of healthy eating.
Why Are Healthy Food Choices Important During Pregnancy?
Your baby’s source of energy comes 100% from you. So it is obvious that you would want to think twice before putting anything in your mouth. However, if you do need more reasons, here they are. Health eating-
- Helps you stay healthy and well
- Helps in curbing morning sickness
- Helps you gain weight in a healthy way
- Helps in baby’s growth
- Helps in building baby’s immunity
Now the next question is what to eat. If you were very health conscious and watched what you ate even before getting pregnant, then good for you. You are probably doing many things right already. However, most of us are victims of the fast-paced modern life and we need to clean up our diet quite a bit. This is where the pregnancy food pyramid comes to aid.
The Pregnancy Food Pyramid
Imagine a triangle / pyramid. Now we will place food items along this triangle, starting from bottom to the top most point. The items at the broader bottom would naturally indicate food that you should consume more often and the items at the top, less often. During pregnancy, the triangle should roughly look like this:
Now let us examine at each of these items for further clarity, starting with the ones a pregnant woman needs to have more often:
- Water: Most probably, you are already experiencing a thirst-drive like never before and your water intake has subsequently increased by default. If it has not, then aim for drinking at least 10-12 glasses of water everyday. Fruit or vegetable juices and other decaffeinated drinks can also be counted towards meeting this target. And if you are wondering as to why is water important – the below pointers should clarify:
- It absorbs nutrients from the food you eat and transport all the essential vitamins and minerals to your blood cells. These blood cells carry these nutrients to your baby through the placenta. So water is what facilitates the transfer of nutrients to the baby
- It can help prevent urinary tract infections
- It can help prevent hemorrhoids/piles
- Carbohydrates (rice, cereals, pasta, bread etc.): We know you want to watch your weight gain. However, pregnancy is the wrong time to go on a low-carb diet. This is because carbohydrates not only provide the required energy for your body, it also gives the required fiber. Half of your calorie intake for a day should ideally come from carbohydrates. However, you need to choose your carbohydrates wisely:
- Carbs to eat: Whole grain cereals contain more fiber than refined cereals. So pick whole grain carbohydrates like brown bread, brown rice and 100% whole-wheat atta. Such food items will also help to keep your blood sugar level optimum as they are “complex carbohydrates” and hence take more time to break down and be absorbed by the body
- Carbs to avoid: Keep all refined food items at bay – cakes, white rice, white bread, white pasta etc. These are simple carbohydrates and are easily and quickly converted into sugar by the body
- Fruits: You do not need us to tell you why fruits are excellent. They are great sources of all kinds of nutrients and help in overall development of your baby. Moreover, they keep you hydrated and take care of your sugar cravings. Try to include at least 3-4 kinds of fruits in your diet daily. Keep changing the fruit choices so that your body gets a wide variety
- Vegetables: Like fruits, we do not need to introduce to you the goodness of veggies. Apart from great nutrients, vegetables are also great source of fiber that helps in keep your digestive system up and running well. Try to include a variety of vegetables in different colors on your daily diet. It is best to have a mixed vegetable salad as a mid afternoon snack daily
- Protein (dal, meat, poultry, fish, nuts): Proteins (specifically the amino acids that are building blocks of protein) are primarily responsible for your baby’s physical growth. Increase your protein intake during your second and third trimester when both you and your baby are growing the fastest.
- If you are vegetarian, have plenty of beans, lentils, pulses, nuts and legumes
- If you are non-vegetarian, include poultry, eggs and fishes (avoid ones that have high mercury content) in your diet
- Diary (milk, dahi, cheese): Diary is synonymous to calcium during your pregnancy. Calcium helps in the growth of your baby’s bones, teeth and muscles. It is also known to help in the development of the fetus’ heart and nervous system.
- Try to have 2 glasses of milk daily. Avoid adding sugar to it. Also, avoid caffeinated drinks as a dairy source
- Fats, sugars, oils: Good fats – like the ones you get in nuts, lentils and vegetables – are essential during your pregnancy. It helps in your baby’s eye development, eye sight and placenta growth. So you need to get your daily fix. However, oily food and sugar do no favors for your body or your baby’s growth. Keep away from them as much as possible
By following this healthy food pyramid, you also get your daily fix of many essential nutrients like phosphorus and omega-3 fatty acids.
With pregnancy comes a galore of well-meaning but unnecessary advises from all and sundry. One of the most often heard about advice is that a pregnant woman needs to eat a “meal for two“. This is true – a pregnant woman needs more food intake than her not-pregnant counterpart. However, you need to remember that the “second person” here, i.e. your child, is very very small. So do not take the “meal for two” literally. Follow the pregnancy food pyramid we explained above religiously to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby.