Pregnancy diet: dos and don'ts
Pondering what to snack on next causing you indigestion? Lisa Buckingham and Rachel Price offer a dos and don’ts guide for hungry mums-to-be
Obviously, when you’re pregnant, you’re aiming for a balanced and healthy diet: good for you, good for baby – right? But it’s not so easy making sure every single meal is chock- full of nutrition, especially if you’re busy at work, rushing around after a toddler or just too exhausted to make the effort. Added to that are the ‘rules’ for pregnancy eating – so many foods you should eat, and quite a few you shouldn’t. So in a bid to make things easier for all the new mums-to-be out there, here’s a quick round-up of what’s in, what’s out, and why.
FILL YOUR BOOTS
LEAN MEAT It’s iron-rich – your iron intake needs to double in pregnancy as it’s vital to help your baby develop red blood cells, and to support yours. It also strengthens baby’s nerve connections. ‘Haem iron in red meat is the most easily absorbed but plant sources are important if you don’t eat meat,’ says Victoria Wells, nutritionist at Emma Cannon’s The Fertility Rooms. That means dark green veg such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens; eggs and pulses are good too. To make it more effective, eat lean meat with something high in vitamin C (citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes and so on), as that helps your body to absorb iron.
LENTILS Vitamin B9 (also known as folate or, as a supplement, folic acid) is essential for your baby’s brain and nervous system and reduces the risk of neural-tube defects such as spina bifida. A 400μg daily supplement of folic acid is recommended from starting to try for a baby until the twelfth week of pregnancy and no foods are a substitute for this. But you should ensure you eat a diet rich in folate and lentils supply a good amount, as well as iron and protein. Other folate-rich foods include leafy greens, peas, beans and fortified foods.
WILD SALMON We’re always being told about omega-3 – these healthy fats not only help metabolise fat-soluble vitamins such as A and E, but they may also help reduce the risk of prenatal depression. And for your growing baby? ‘They’re essential for brain, eye and heart development,’ says nutritionist Rosie Letts, director of Bump & Beyond Nutrition. Wild salmon is also one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D.
CAFFEINE Ok, you do have to watch how much of this you have as high levels can cause low birthweight (so drop the hourly double espresso habit), but the good news if you love your coffee is that you don’t have to cut it out completely. Just make sure you stick to 200mg a day (that’s about two mugs of instant coffee). And remember, caffeine is not only found in coffee – it’s also in tea, cola and energy drinks, and chocolate.
DIET DRINKS While these are considered safe during pregnancy (at least, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that they cause any harm), at least one artificial sweetener (saccharin) has been proved to cross the placenta – so you might want to limit your intake.
SOFT CHEESES Steer clear of cheese with a white rind (such as Camembert or Brie) or with blue veins (such as Stilton), because all these have a mould which could contain listeria. Although it’s rare, listeriosis in pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and serious illness in newborns.
UNDERCOOKED EGGS AND MEATS While the risk is small, undercooked eggs could land you with a dose of salmonella poisoning, so always make sure they are cooked right through. The Department of Health advises that pregnant women should not eat rare meat either, because there is a small risk it could lead to toxoplasmosis, an infection which could harm your baby.