By Julie Clark, registered Nutritionist specialising in family health and is also the author of Baby Led Weaning Step by Step.
Many studies have confirmed that what you eat during pregnancy has an impact on the future health of both you and your baby. Having said that, you may find it hard to eat the perfect diet when you are struggling with nausea or strange cravings. Even the smell and look of some of your favourite foods, may prove to be hard to stomach at times. You may even find that food you would never normally eat suddenly becomes an absolute daily must!
Your body is very clever and by listening to its signals you can really help yourself and your baby. For example; it is very common to crave sweets during pregnancy but what is your body really telling you? It maybe that you haven’t eaten enough calories, or you’ve gone too long between each meal or snack and your blood sugars are too low. Instead of grabbing that bag of sugar, E numbers and goodness knows what else, try eating a banana and see how your body responds to the natural sugar. A craving for meat could be your body asking for more zinc or protein. When you crave a food, try to think what your body is really asking for or seeking out.
Try not to go more than 3 hours between meals and snacks. As your baby grows you will find eating a large meal more difficult. By eating frequently you will be keeping your blood sugar levels balanced. You do not need to eat for two! Gaining too much weight in pregnancy can increase your chances of complications. Most women typically need just the equivalent of an extra snack during pregnancy (around an additional 200 calories)
When you are pregnant your blood volume increases and you have a lot more fluid on board. Drinking water is extremely important for helping your body cope with the demands of pregnancy. You should not get to the point of thirst and your urine should be a clear straw colour.
Here are my top 10 foods for a healthy pregnancy:
- 1. Dried Apricots – a good source of iron is needed for the production of red blood cells, iron is a vulnerable nutrient during pregnancy so try adding some chopped apricots to your breakfast or have a couple as a snack.
- 2. Spinach – high in folic acid to help keep the genetic codes intact. Add some baby spinach leaves to your salad or try some steamed with your main meal.
- 3. Brazil Nuts – but only 2 or 3 a day as these contain high levels of selenium needed to protect against birth defects.
- 4. Sweet Potato – an excellent source of beta-carotene essential for a healthy pregnancy. Try it mashed, baked, chipped or roasted.
- 5. Salmon – contains essential fats which are vital for the development of your baby’s brain and vision. You can grill, steam or oven bake your salmon for best results.
- 6. Eggs – contain all essential amino acids meaning they contain plenty of protein, this is important for the growth and development of your baby.
- 7. Beans & Pulses – high in fibre and nutrients but low in fat, this food group will help to keep your digestive system in good working order helping to alleviate constipation. Try adding a tin of mixed bean salad to your lunch, some kidney beans to spaghetti bolognaise or have some hummus with rice cakes.
- 8. Live Natural Yoghurt – these contain important ‘friendly’ bacteria essential for your immune system and digestion combined with a good shot of calcium. There is some evidence to suggest that having good levels of ‘friendly’ bacteria during pregnancy help to reduce allergic conditions such as eczema in babies.
- 9. Ginger – to help reduce nausea and sickness, add grated fresh ginger to stir fry’s or with a slice of lemon in hot water. You can also add ground ginger to porridge or baking.
- 10. Brown Rice – simply replace any white grains with wholegrains to increase your nutrient intake. Brown rice is great for energy as it contains many minerals including manganese, potassium, magnesium and B-vitamins.
The perfect pregnancy snack recipe (taken from my book Baby Led Weaning Step by Step)
Soft Almond & Apricot Flapjacks
- 250g raisins
- 50g dried apricots
- 75ml olive oil
- 250g porridge oats
- 50g ground almonds
- 1. Set the oven to 180 degrees C/gas 4/350 degree Fahrenheit.
- 2. Place raisins and apricots in a small pan and just cover with water. Heat gently to soften.
- 3. Place contents of pan in a food processor/liquidiser and blitz. Transfer to a bowl.
- 4. Add the olive oil, oats and almonds and mix together.
- 5. Place mixture into a shallow cake tin (approx 27x18cm) and press down. Mixture should be about 2-3cm thick.
- 6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned on top. Allow to cool in the tin.