Ensure you get all the nutrients you need during pregnancy and give your baby the best head start in life with these pregnancy power foods.
WORDS JOANNA ONG
Whatever you eat during pregnancy is your baby’s main source of nourishment. Therefore, you need to choose a variety of healthy foods to provide the important nutrients your baby needs for growth and development.
Meave Graham, a paediatric registered dietitian with Child Nutrition Singapore mentions that despite the media hype, the reality is there is no such thing as a superfood. It is wrong to focus on single nutrients or single foods. It is more important to consider the overall dietary pattern. The following are foods and nutrients which are recommended during pregnancy.
1. Whole Grains
Starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, quinoa, and cereals should be included at each meal to maintain energy levels. Graham advises to choose whole grain and not highly processed versions where possible. Examples of whole grain foods include brown rice, wholemeal pasta and wholemeal bread. Whole grains, or foods made from them, contain all of the naturally-occurring parts and nutrients of the entire grain (germ, endosperm and bran). Whole grains are packed with nutrients including fibre, B vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals. A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and contributes to bowel health. According to Afrose Parveen, a nutritionist at Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy, pregnant women should try to consume three servings of whole grains a day. Those with gestational diabetes are able to control their blood sugar level better when they eat whole grains regularly.
This is a vital nutrient for the baby’s cell division, organ development and to prevent neural tube defects, highlights Parveen. She adds that most pregnant women are advised to consume folate or folic acid when they try for a baby. Folate is highly present in lentils, broccoli, spinach and other dark green vegetables. When eating vegetables, a rule of thumb is not to overheat the vegetables else the nutrients will be destroyed. A quick steam or sauté will be sufficient. It is very important for pregnant mothers to consume enough folate (800mcg a day), especially in the first trimester. Since it’s difficult to consume that amount in natural foods, a supplement of folic acid is recommended during pregnancy.
3. Dairy Foods
Dairy foods provide calcium which is essential for healthy bones and teeth for both mother and baby. This is especially important in the second and third trimester when the baby’s bones are forming. Graham states that pregnant women require three servings of dairy foods daily to get an adequate amount of calcium. A serving equates to 200ml of milk, 125g of yoghurt, or 30g of hard cheese. For individuals who are lactose intolerant, lactose-free milk can be used.
For those avoiding dairy for medical or personal reasons, you can use non-dairy milk substitutes especially those that are unsweetened and fortified with calcium (look for 12Omg calcium per 1OOml).
4. Vitamin D
For the first six months after your baby is born, he or she will be relying entirely on milk for nutrition. Therefore, your baby needs to have enough storage of Vitamin D for better calcium absorption, Parveen advises. Vitamin D not only helps calcium to work effectively but is an essential nutrient for bone health and prevention of chronic diseases. Some foods such as oily fish, eggs, some fortified margarine, dairy products and breakfast cereals, contain vitamin D. Graham adds that it can be difficult to meet requirements from these foods alone. Our skin can make vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. Exposing your skin to direct sunlight without sunscreen for short periods regularly can ensure normal vitamin D levels. If you are not having regular sunlight exposure, a daily supplement of 10mcg of vitamin D (vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol) should be considered.
Iron is highly important because it helps in the formation of red blood cells in the baby and a pregnant mother’s volume of blood increases during pregnancy. Parveen points out that a baby needs an adequate storage of iron for the first six months after birth before starting to consume solid food. Sources of iron are mainly red meat (beef and mutton) and green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. Iron from red meat is more readily absorbed by the body compared to iron from vegetables. Guess this is good news for the meat lovers. You will need 19mg of iron each day so besides having a healthy dose of vegetables every day, it’s good to eat red meat at least twice a week. She cautions not to take calcium and iron together because calcium blocks the absorption of iron in the body.