Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough, but not baked in the same oven.’ (Yiddish Proverb)
Our most intensive period of growth is the nine months before we’re born when we need optimum nutrition for development and health. Read on for top tips on keeping you and baby nourished along the way…
Nausea, vomiting and tiredness are just some of the reasons why women struggle to eat healthily when pregnant. Rather than feel guilty about it, try to focus on nutrient-dense foods when you can to get as much nutrition into you and your baby as possible.
Little changes can make a difference – for instance, swap white bread for wholegrain; jam for almond butter and biscuits for fresh fruit or hummus. Going fresh, colourful and where possible free range or organic will also help to give you the most nutrition per mouthful. If you’re really struggling, a pregnancy-safe protein powder blended with fresh fruit, juice or milk and ground nuts or seeds can be a great way of getting easily digestible nutrients into you. Recommended product: Biotics Research Whey Protein Isolate.
Oxidative stress… what’s that?
Pregnancy can be very tiring – unsurprisingly. After all, creating a whole new person requires a lot of energy. But this increased energy production also results in more free radicals, causing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is when there are not enough antioxidants to counteract free radical damage and studies have shown that excess oxidative stress during pregnancy can increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Eating plenty of antioxidant-rich fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, raw nuts and seeds is recommended, in particular beetroot, berries, walnuts, Brazil nuts, kiwi, pineapple, red cabbage, sweet potatoes, brown rice, carrots, avocados, citrus fruits, tomatoes, fresh herbs (especially oregano), sesame and sunflower seeds. Go for as much variety in colour as possible and wash all fruit and vegetables well before eating.
Here comes the sun
If you’re lucky enough to escape to some sunshine when you’re pregnant then you’ll get a good dose of vitamin D, but for the rest of us a vitamin D supplement is needed. The NHS recommends all pregnant women take 10 micrograms / 400 IU of vitamin D to meet their needs during pregnancy. Vitamin D is mostly known for its crucial role in supporting calcium levels for bone health, but it also plays a part in regulating immune function, reducing the risk of bacterial infections and supporting mental wellbeing. In pregnancy, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes.
There are few foods that are a good source of vitamin D (salmon, sardines, eggs, milk) so it is important that you take a supplement. Choose a vitamin D3 supplement (not D2) as the body is able to use it more easily. Recommended product: Lamberts Vitamin D3 400IU.
Good fat not naughty fat
The omega 3 fat Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is the most abundant fat in the brain and is especially important for brain and retinal development in the baby. The best dietary source of DHA however is oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) and because most oily fish contain toxins, pregnant women are advised to limit their intake. So to make sure you have a good supply of DHA, taking a pregnancy-safe DHA supplement may be a good idea to meet the increased need. Recommended product: Zita West Vital DHA.
Tips for levelling blood sugar
If you’ve been feeling especially tired, nauseous or craving sugary snacks, addressing your blood sugar levels could help. Your baby prefers glucose for energy and as the pregnancy progresses your body becomes more insulin resistant, ensuring a continued supply of glucose for your baby. You may find the following tips helpful:
- Always eat breakfast – skipping breakfast unbalances blood sugar levels for day. If you can, go for protein-based foods as these take longer to digest than carbohydrates, keeping your energy levels topped up for longer. Such as well-cooked eggs on wholegrain toast; raw seeds and plain yoghurt on your muesli; almond butter on your toast; a pregnancy-safe protein powder blended with fresh fruit and milk.
- Eat a little and often – especially if you’re working or busy, it can be easy to miss a meal or eat later than normal. Avoid doing this and keep some nutrient-dense snacks to hand such as low-sugar flapjacks; rice cakes and hummus; low-sugar fruit such as apples, oranges and berries and some raw nuts.
- Go easy on the fruit juice as it still contains sugar and can affect blood sugar levels. Always dilute juice as much as you can and go for freshly squeezed when possible to get a good dose of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Good hydrating alternatives to juice include a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime in water and unsweetened coconut water.
During pregnancy the digestive system cleverly slows down so your body can absorb more nutrients, but the downside is that it puts mums-to-be at greater risk of constipation. You can help to avoid this by eating fibre-rich foods and keeping hydrated. Fibre also helps to clear toxins from the gut, preventing them from being reabsorbed. Fibre-rich foods include fruit, vegetables, whole grains (e.g. brown rice, rye bread), pulses (e.g. hummus, lentils) and raw nuts.
Many women become iron-deficient during pregnancy – iron is an important component of blood and blood volume increases by about 20% during pregnancy. Eating foods rich in iron can help to keep your iron stores topped up – red meat, white fish, sardines, chicken, spinach, beans, lentils and dried apricots. You can help to absorb iron from non-animal sources by having some vitamin C-rich food at the same time, for example, lentils and spinach with a tomato salad and a glass of fresh orange juice. Product recommendation: your midwife will keep an eye on your iron levels – if you are found to be deficient, SpaTone is a great iron supplement as, unlike many other iron supplements on the market, it is easily absorbed and doesn’t leave you constipated.
For more advice on prenatal, postnatal and family nutrition visit Nourish To Flourish.
Note: Always get your GP to approve any supplements before you begin taking them, especially if you are on medication as they may be contraindicative.