Will your child be healthy when he grows up? Good health for mother and baby begins before conception and continues well after the arrival of the infant. A study by the Harvard Institute of Public Health found that 95% of women who consumed a nutritious diet had healthy babies. Current research shows that what a child eats today as a toddler, school-aged child or even teenager is strongly influenced by those first flavours introduced to him in the womb through the amniotic fluid. At just 15 weeks, your baby is developing sensory nerves where the brain is designating special areas for smell, taste, hearing, vision, and touch and even taste buds are fully developed by the fifth month of pregnancy.
Many pregnant women believe they are eating healthy, however, unless they are reading labels and understand the risks of certain ingredients and additives they could be consuming harmful foods. When it comes to processed foods, expecting mums should educate themselves and understand what to avoid, protecting their baby while in the womb and as they grow.
When you are pregnant your body becomes very efficient making better use of the energy you get from your food. This means you don’t actually need any extra calories for the first five months of pregnancy. After that, you only need about 300 extra calories per day for the last four months. Three hundred calories is equivalent to:
- a slice of wholemeal toast with a 150g of baked beans
- a toasted pitta bread with two tablespoons of hummus
- one slice of cheese on toast
Eating for two can be daunting and carries a big responsibility. Here is my tried and tested top ten list of healthy ‘fast foods’ and also some other foods that are highly nutritious and safe during pregnancy to boost your vitamin and mineral level.
Of course, always consult your own doctor or health centre first as everyone’s body reacts in different ways so listen to your body and avoid any food that disagree with your bio chemistry.
Healthy “Fast Foods” for Pregnancy
- Fruit – grab an apple, banana, pear, orange, or another favourite fruit. But be aware not to eat overly-sweet fruit as you may encourage pregnancy diabetes.
- Raisins – a small box provides a little boost of fibre, iron and potassium, especially if your blood sugar levels drop. Always keep a pack handy in your bag.
- Yogurt – one small 120g pack is nutritious and convenient and can provide 25% of your daily calcium requirement, as well as protein and several necessary vitamins and minerals. If the label says “live and active cultures,” you’ll also get the benefit of pro-biotics – helpful bacteria that aid digestion and protect your digestive tract.
- Home-made bag of dried fruit and nuts. Just like the raisins they are a quick and easy snack that is filling but highly beneficial. Particularly almonds and walnuts, great for brain and high in omega 3 Keep in a resealable bag.
- Leafy greens are high in folate as well as iron, eat plenty of greens, kale, spinach, pak choi, broccoli, cabbage etc. If you’re eating out check out the salad bar menu for a side salad and add kidney beans to your diet for a burst of proteins.
- Baby carrots – Carrots are full of vitamin A and fibre, they are portable and easy to carry as a lunch or snack. Vitamin A is important during pregnancy. It is a fat-soluble vitamin stored in the liver, is important for your baby’s embryonic growth including the development of the heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, and bones, and the circulatory, respiratory, and central nervous systems. It also helps with infection resistance and fat metabolism. Vitamin A is particularly essential for women who are about to give birth, because it helps with postpartum tissue repair. It also helps maintain normal vision and fight infections.
- Convenience cheese – String cheese/dairylea cheese triangles. These sticks and triangle can provide as much calcium as a glass of milk. When you’re pregnant, your baby needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth; to grow a healthy heart, nerves, and muscles; and to develop a normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting abilities. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet when you’re pregnant, your baby will draw it from your bones, which may impair your own health later on (particular calcium from your teeth) so make sure you have plenty in your diet to not compromise your own levels.
- Orange juice fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. 200ml provides half the daily requirement of vitamin C and about 15 percent of your calcium needs. Grab a juice box, fresh of course – or juice your own, you could add carrots to this to up the intake level. If you’re making carrot juice add a tiny knob of ginger, it’s delicious.
- Whole grain cereal or oatmeal. Stash a few single-serving packages in your desk at work for a quick, filling snack. Or better still make your own granola which you can pack with all the nuts and seeds for a healthy diet. You could also turn your granola recipe into a granola bar for a midday snack.
- Cottage cheese is a good source of protein and a fair source of calcium. Look for single-serving containers in the dairy section of most supermarkets. Top with fruit or throw in a handful of nuts and dried fruit to make things more interesting.
Remember the key things during pregnancy is to make sure you provide everything your baby needs without sacrificing your own health and nutrition. Taking in plenty of calcium-rich foods will ensure you keep your own bones intact while laying down a healthy skeleton for your baby. Also, by exposing your baby to many different types of tastes and flavours throughout his time in the womb, you’ll certainly increase the chance that your baby will recognise and accept those flavours later on.
Here are some other very important foods to your diet throughout your pregnancy:
Eggs: 1 medium egg contains just 90 calories yet is very densely packed with over 12 vitamins and minerals, eggs contain lots of quality protein, which is essential for pregnancy. Your baby’s cells are growing at an exponential rate, and every cell is made of protein, so you need plenty of it. Eggs are also rich in choline, which promotes your baby’s overall growth and brain health, while helping prevent neural tube defects. Forget about the cholesterol argument – eggs are not high in saturated fat: just about 1.5g per egg. A healthy woman with normal blood cholesterol can consume one to two eggs a day as part of a balanced diet low in saturated fat.
Salmon: is full of high quality proteins and a good source of Omega 3 fats. Salmon is not high in mercury.
Beans: There is such a large choice of various lentils that you couldn’t get bored and they are an excellent source of fibre and protein. Fibre is quite critical during pregnancy to avoid putting undue strain on your gastrointestinal tract which slows down, putting you at risk for constipation and hemorrhoids. Beans also contain iron, folate, calcium, and zinc.
Sweet potatoes: They get their orange colour from carotenoids, plant pigments that are converted to vitamin A in our bodies. Although consuming too much “preformed” vitamin A (found in animal sources, such as liver, milk, and eggs) can be dangerous, carotenoids are a different story. They’re converted to vitamin A only as needed, so there’s no need to restrict your consumption of vitamin A-rich fruits and veggies. Sweet potatoes are also a great source of vitamin C, folate, and fibre, and like beans, they’re inexpensive and versatile.
Whole grains: They’re important in pregnancy because they’re high in fibre and nutrients, including vitamin E, selenium, and phytonutrients – plant compounds that protect cells. Fluffy, nutty-tasting quinoa is one of my favourites. Whole grain quinoa is easy to make and is very high in nutrients, particularly protein, making it a super food in and of itself.
Walnuts: If you don’t like fish or eggs but you still want to get those Omega-3s which are so important for your baby’s brain growth, you might wish to try walnuts as they are one of the richest sources of plant-based Omega-3s.
Eating a variety of green, red, orange, yellow, purple, and white fruits and vegetables will ensure that you and your baby get a variety of nutrients but also a wide range of tastes and flavours through the the amniotic fluid.
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Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.