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Hilal Her

Balanced Diet in Pregnancy

March 2024

A healthy and nutritious diet is important during pregnancy to ensure that you are receiving adequate nutrients for the health of you and your baby. As maternal instincts kick in, women feel a necessary requirement to nourish their bodies with food that will support the growth of their babies perfectly. Healthy eating during pregnancy is critical to your baby’s growth and development because it can have a lasting impact on the health of your child in later years of his/her life. In order to get the nutrients that you need, you must eat from a variety of food groups, including fruits and vegetables, bread and grains, protein sources and dairy products. Typically, you will need to consume an extra 300 calories a day.

Good nutrition during pregnancy can help to keep you and your developing baby healthy. Your need for certain nutrients (such as iron, iodine and folate) increases when you are pregnant. A balanced meal plate that includes the right amount of healthy foods from the food groups generally provides our bodies with the vitamins and minerals it needs each day. However, pregnant women may need to take vitamin or mineral supplements during pregnancy to cope with additional nutritional requirements.
Nutritional Needs According to Trimesters
First Trimester (4-13 Weeks)
The first trimester ideally must contain food rich in folate. Folic acid is vital in neural development of the fetus as well as in preventing any neurological birth defects. A daily folic acid supplement of 500 micrograms is recommended if you are trying to conceive or are already pregnant. Folate can be found in a lot of leafy greens, e.g., spinach, broccoli and asparagus, eggs, nuts, citrus fruits, legumes, etc. Care should be taken, however, to avoid overcooking the vegetables as folate is easily destroyed by heat. In addition to folic acid, other nutrients like Vitamin B6 and iron are also crucial during this time.
During pregnancy, a woman’s requirement for iron increases. This is because the developing fetus draws iron from the mother to last it through the first 5 or 6 months after birth. Animal sources of iron are readily absorbed by the body. Iron from plant sources is not absorbed as easily, but absorption is helped when these foods are eaten together with foods that contain vitamin C. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron during pregnancy is 27 mg a day (9 mg a day more than for non-pregnant women). Iron deficiency during pregnancy is common and iron supplements may be needed by some women. 
The function of vitamin A is to promote the growth of cells and tissues, and prevent night blindness. The intake of vitamin A should be 10,000 IU daily in the first trimester. Excess amounts can cause birth defects. Hence, in the first trimester, pregnant women should try to obtain the vitamin A from food rather than from intake of supplements. Good sources include eggs, milk, deep-red and yellow fruits and vegetables e.g. papaya, mango, pumpkin, carrots, etc., and dark-green leafy vegetables.
Second Trimester (14-27 Weeks)
The majority of women find the first trimester difficult due to nausea and morning sickness. Due to this, it may get difficult to eat well. However, these symptoms start to go away during the second trimester and it becomes easier to maintain a healthy diet. Iron continues to be an essential nutrient during this semester as well. You can get iron from lean meat, cooked seafood, leafy green vegetables, nuts, fortified cereals, etc. 
In addition, since the child begins to develop the skeletal system during this semester, calcium intake must be increased. At least 1000 mg of calcium is needed daily. Dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt are good sources of calcium along with nuts. Other important nutrients include omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and vitamin D, which can be found in fatty fish, nuts, bananas, and yoghurt.
Vitamin D is essential for your baby’s growth and development and your own health during pregnancy. It is also important for bone health and optimal pregnancy outcomes for you and your baby. We get most of our vitamin D from the sun. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun produces vitamin D in the skin and is the best natural source of vitamin D. Spending 10 to 15 minutes twice a week outdoors is sufficient for our bodies to synthesize enough vitamin D to meet our requirements. Only a small amount of our vitamin D intake comes from our diet, from foods such as eggs, oily fish, margarine and milks fortified with vitamin D.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), one of the omega-3 fatty acids is important for brain and eye development. Studies have shown that pregnant women who eat cold water fish have babies with higher IQ and better vision than pregnant women who do not.
Third Trimester (28-40 Weeks)
In addition to all the nutrients mentioned above, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin B1 (Thiamine), and fiber are important additions to your diet from 28 weeks of your pregnancy. Fruits like kiwis, raspberries, strawberries, tomato, papaya, and melon are good sources of vitamin C and fiber. Sweet potatoes are a good source of Thiamine. Spinach, chicken, broccoli, prunes, green beans, avocado, and cooked kale are all good sources of vitamin K. Vitamin K is essential for blood coagulation. This is especially essential for post-birth to avoid any complications.
What to Include in Your Pregnancy Diet
•    A variety of fruits and vegetables of different types and colors. Ideally 2 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables every day. Pregnant women need at least 70 mg of vitamin C daily, which is contained in fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and honeydew.
•    In order to prevent neural tube defects, 0.4 mg of folic acid per day is recommended. A good source of folic acid can be found in dark green leafy vegetables (other sources of folic acid include legumes, such as black beans, black-eyed peas, and veal).
•    The body’s main source of energy during pregnancy comes from the essential carbohydrates found in breads and grains. Increase your intake of grain and cereal foods to 6 to 11 servings per day. Choose mostly wholegrain and high fiber options.
•    Select foods high in iron (such as lean red meat or tofu). Iron-rich foods are important for pregnant women. 3 to 4 servings of meat are recommended. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and beans also contain the protein, B vitamins and iron needed in pregnancy. 
•    Make a habit of consuming milk and yogurt, or calcium-enriched alternatives. 2 to 3 servings per day are recommended. At least 1000 mg of calcium is needed daily to support pregnancy. Calcium is essential for building strong teeth and bones. Since your developing baby requires a considerable amount of calcium, your body will take calcium from your bones, if you do not consume enough through your diet.
•    Drink plenty of water.
Foods to Avoid during Pregnancy
There are a few foods that you should limit or avoid eating while you’re pregnant, including raw meat, eggs, and certain types of fish.
Avoid eating large fish, such as swordfish, shark, and king mackerel. These fish are known to contain high amounts of mercury, a chemical element that can harm your baby. Try to limit your intake of other seafood to 8 to 12 ounces per week, which is considered to be two to three average meal portions per week. 
Unpasteurized Products
Avoid consuming any unpasteurized products during pregnancy, as these may have bacteria that can cause infections. This includes unpasteurized milk, milk products, and juices.
It’s okay to drink coffee or other drinks with caffeine while you’re pregnant, but try to limit your consumption to 200 milligrams (one or two cups) per day.
Artificial Sweeteners
You may use artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, as long as you consume them in moderation. Some studies have shown that the consumption of artificial sweeteners during pregnancy may increase the child’s risk of obesity later in life.
Herbal Teas
Herbal products have not been studied enough to be recommended during pregnancy. Do consult your doctor if you are planning to take these.

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