A healthy diet during pregnancy should contain the right balance and combination of nutrients. If you are eating a balanced diet comprising of various food groups, you get the benefit of the various nutrients that are necessary for you due to their increased need during pregnancy.
The development of baby in the womb is accompanied by extensive changes in the body and there is a considerable increase in the nutritional needs of the mother. There are certain nutrients that play a vital role in pregnancy and you must be particular about their intake.
Energy: Energy is required by various bodily functions like functioning of heart, breathing, brain functioning, digesting food, physical activity, growth and development. Energy is derived primarily from carbohydrates, proteins and fats, which are found in easily accessible cereals, pulses, dairy, fats and oils. Pregnancy imposes an additional energy requirement of about 350 Kcal per day. Getting 55-60% energy from carbohydrates, 15-20% energy from proteins, less than 25% energy from fats is considered to be the optimum range.
Proteins: Proteins perform various maintenance functions in the body and help in repairing tissues, serve as enzymes, lubricants and helps in building immunity. They are also called the tissue builders of the body. During pregnancy, the requirement of proteins increases to 78 g/day. Deficiency of proteins can lead to impaired growth and cause protein energy malnutrition among babies, therefore a diet rich in good quality protein should be consumed throughout pregnancy. Consuming milk and milk products, egg white, soy, pulses, meat poultry and fish etc provide us with proteins.
Fibre: During pregnancy, the digestive system slows down so as to increase the absorptive capacity of the body for various nutrients. Also, the pressure of the growing uterus puts pressure on the intestines due to which pregnant women may suffer from constipation. Fibre is required to maintain normal bowel movements and alleviate constipation as it provides roughage to the stool. High intake of fibre is thus recommended, whole grains, pulses, soya, oats, fruits, leafy vegetables etc. are excellent sources of fibre. The water intake should be increased along with fibre to ease out your bowels. Experts recommend taking about 8-10 glasses (2- 3 litres) of water daily to stay healthy.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is vital for normal visual perception, growth, development and maintenance of cells and tissues, immune response, preventing infections and reproduction. Beta carotene also has powerful antioxidant properties. Vitamin A deficiency is manifested as problems in vision, skin dryness, dryness of salivary glands and cracking of skin. About 800 mcg/ day of vitamin A is needed during pregnancy. Sources include green leafy vegetables, yellow/orange fruits and vegetables, milk and milk products etc.
Folic Acid: It is a vitamin that is largely stressed upon during pregnancy. During pregnancy, increased intake of folic acid helps in the development of brain and spinal cord in the growing baby, aids in the formation of blood cells (thus preventing anemia) and digestion of protein in the body. A pregnant woman needs about 500 mcg of folic acid per day. Doctor generally recommends folic acid supplements to provide up to 400 mcg of folic acid. Dietary sources of folic acid are fresh green vegetables like spinach, lettuce, cabbage, green beans, pulses, citrus fruits , fortified cereals etc
Iron: During pregnancy, the blood volumes double and large amount of iron is required to produce haemoglobin (which is required by the RBCs to carry oxygen), proportionately so as to prevent anemia. Moreover iron is flushed from the system very quickly so you need to consume a lot of iron rich foods to prevent any deficiency in you or your baby and to build the iron stores of the liver of the baby to last 4-6 months after birth as breast milk is deficit in iron.
A pregnant woman requires 35 mg of iron per day. Consume foods rich in vitamin C along with iron rich foods as Vitamin C helps in absorption of iron. Good sources of iron include jaggery, bajra, ragi, pulses and green leafy vegetables. Iron content of the food can be increased by cooking in iron utensils.
Calcium: The growing baby requires a lot of calcium to build up its bones and skeletal structure. These foetal requirements are met by drawing calcium from your body reserves of calcium ie bones and teeth. So, ideally you should take a calcium rich diet, before and throughout pregnancy. Calcium requirements during pregnancy are high (1200 mg daily) and the absorption efficiency is as high as 50%, therefore, the body absorbs a calcium rich diet better. Calcium rich sources are milk and milk products, vegetables like broccoli and green leafy vegetables.
Zinc: Zinc has an important role during pregnancy. It helps to facilitate the growth process by helping in tissue building. It is important for the immune system, wound healing and digestion. The recommended daily intake of zinc in pregnant women is 12 mg daily. Include red meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products, nuts, bananas, whole grains as good sources of zinc.
Choline: Choline is of significant importance during pregnancy as it is required for optimal development of the brain. It is transferred into the baby in the womb via blood circulation. Although your liver is capable of synthesizing choline, but the amount produced is not sufficient enough to meet its increased requirements during pregnancy. Incorporate external sources of choline in your diet like eggs, chicken, fish, legumes, cruciferous vegetables, milk and soya products.
The best way to get all the required nutrients during pregnancy is to eat a balanced diet that includes all kinds of foods. The key nutrients highlighted above are very important. However other nutrients are equally important and should be consumed in their recommended dosages. Your doctor may give you supplements of folic acid, iron and calcium to bridge the gap between your intake and the requirements, but try to take as much of these nutrients from a balanced diet, as possible.