Pregnant and confused about what to eat? Consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh gives us the lowdown on your prenatal diet necessities.
One of the most confusing topics for pregnant women is the question of what to eat. There are more old wives’ tales, myths, dos, don’ts and conflicting advice here than in almost any other area of diet.
We take a look at what you need to eat, what you need to avoid and some of the supplements that are worth taking while you are pregnant.
To start with, you don’t really need to start eating for two, although you do need to make sure you eat enough to gain the right amount of weight. Most women need to gain between one and a half and two stones (9-12kg) over the nine months. But, don’t worry, your body can usually manage this without you having to do anything special!
What to include?
- Carbs are foods like bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and breakfast cereals. These are foods that your body likes to use for fuel and if you choose the wholegrain or high fibre varieties, they are a great source of fibre as well. Try to have some carbs at every meal although they should not be more than about one third of your plate – even foods like pasta and rice.
- Protein foods help your baby to grow strong healthy muscles and we need a little more of these foods especially in the last few months of pregnancy. Protein is found in all types of meat, chicken and turkey, fish, beans , eggs and nuts. You need protein foods twice a day.
- Fruit and vegetables. These are rich in vitamin C as well as fibre and antioxidants. You and your baby need five servings of fruit and vegetables every day or more (that’s five altogether not five of each!). One serving of fruit is one apple or orange, two plums or kiwis, one cup of berries. One serving of vegetables is three dessertspoons of cooked vegetables or salad.
- Milk, cheese and yoghurt are all good places to get calcium. Your growing baby needs lots of calcium to help their bones to be strong and healthy. You need to have three servings of milk cheese or yoghurt every day. One serving is 200ml of milk, one pot of yoghurt or about 30g of hard (not soft) cheese. Try milk over your breakfast cereal, a yoghurt at lunchtime and a glass of milk with dinner.
- Fats. Our bodies do need some fat but we need to choose healthy types and too many fatty foods can lead to a lot of extra weight by the end of your pregnancy. Try olive oil or rapeseed oil for cooking or if you like salads. Nuts, seeds and oil-rich fish like salmon are other places to get healthy fats. Try to use less butter and cream and be careful of foods that are high in fat like biscuits, cakes and fried foods. Try to grill, bake or boil foods instead of using the frying pan.
Foods and supplements to include
- Folic acid: You need to continue to take 400mcg of folic acid every day until you are three months pregnant. This helps to prevent problems like spina bifida.
- Fish: Oil-rich fish is very good for your baby. It is a source of DHA, an important omega-3 fat that your baby’s brain needs. Try to have oil-rich fish at least once a week. Go for salmon, trout, mackerel, herring or sardines.
- Iron-rich foods: You need lots of iron during pregnancy and it is best to get this from food if you can. Red meat is a great source of iron and you will also find iron in chickpeas, lentils, chicken and turkey legs, and eggs. Lots of breakfast cereals are fortified with iron and green vegetables like spinach are also a good place to pick up iron. Think about having foods that are high in iron at least twice a day.
Foods to avoid
- Vitamin A: Too much vitamin A can be harmful to your baby, especially in the first few months. This is why you need to avoid foods like liver and paté as well as supplements that contain vitamin A.
- Undercooked foods: Food poisoning during pregnancy can harm your baby so you need to be very careful about the foods you eat. Avoid foods that are undercooked like raw fish (sushi), rare steaks, eggs with a runny yolk and chicken that is even a little pink in the middle. If you eat shellfish, make sure it is very well cooked and from a reputable supplier. Homemade mayonnaise has raw egg so it is best to choose a bought mayonnaise instead.
- Swordfish, shark and marlin: These are three fish that have large amounts of mercury. Too much mercury can harm your baby’s nervous system so you need to avoid these fish during pregnancy. You also need to limit tuna to one fresh tuna steak or two tins of tuna per week. All other fish are safe to eat and enjoy!
- Alcohol: It is best to stop drinking alcohol altogether as soon as you know or suspect you might be pregnant.
- Caffeine: Too much caffeine can affect how your baby grows so you need to limit coffee and tea. Try to stay under 200mg of caffeine per day. One cup (½ a mug) of tea has between 40mg and 110mg of caffeine depending on how strong you like your tea. Instant coffee can have up to 120mg of caffeine in one small cup. Remember there is also caffeine in cola drinks, chocolate and energy drinks. Try using decaffeinated tea and coffee instead.
Don’t worry about trying to get everything right straight away, but if you do need to make some changes, start to work on one thing and go from there. You will often find that you appetite increases by the end of your pregnancy so it will be easier to fit in all the food you need! For more information check out the Best Practice for Infant Feeding Guidelines from the FSAI.
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