What to eat (and what not to eat) when you're pregnant 

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Contrary to popular belief, a mum-to-be doesn't need to eat for two.  Actually, during the first trimester you don't need to eat any more than you would normally. And even by the third trimester you only need to eat additional calories equivalent to a glass of milk and half a sandwich! 

 

In our article Nutritionist and wellbeing coach Monica Durigon gives her top tips for what (and what not) to eat when you're pregnant.

Concentrate on quality over quantity

 

Really what you should focus on is quality and variety over quantity. Choose minimally processed, fresh, home-cooked and organic foods as much as possible. Eating whole organic foods means you will get the nutrients you need while avoiding those nasty additives and chemicals that can be found in products such as ready meals and processed food. 

 

Get the right vitamins and minerals

 

Getting the right vitamins, minerals, and essential fats is one of the most important things during pregnancy. Folic acid, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, selenium and choline are all must-haves to support yours and your baby's health. And the good news is, a lot of these can be obtained through a varied diet!

 

However, even with the healthiest of diets, when you're pregnant it's impossible to get the ideal amount needed. Fortunately it's easy to find good quality multivitamin and multimineral supplements specially formulated for pregnancy. 

 

Folic acid - vital during pregnancy

 

It's especially important to increase folate, the natural form of folic acid, during all stages of pregnancy. Beans, lentils, broccoli, spinach, collard greens, Brussels sprouts and asparagus are all good natural sources of folate. Folate must be supplemented during pregnancy and the best type to have is methylfolate.

 

Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin 

 

What your diet can't give you is Vitamin D. This is because your body needs exposure to the sun to produce it. And that can be a problem for anyone who lives in Northern Europe! During your pregnancy, even in the summer months, it is essential to make sure that you have adequate levels of vitamin D. If you can, speak to your GP to find out your current levels of vitamin D, they can advise you regarding supplements and how to top up accordingly. 

 

DHA - an essential omega 3 

 

DHA is an essential nutrient in pregnancy which is not talked about as much as it should be. It's important to support the development of your baby's brain, eyes and nervous system.

 

You can only get DHA (a type of omega 3) from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and some algae. However, because oily fish can accumulate mercury (and other pollutants), which can affect the development of your baby's nervous system, it's wise to avoid larger fish like tuna and swordfish, and only have fish up to twice a week. 

 

Since oily fish consumption is limited during pregnancy, supplementing with a DHA pregnancy formula is necessary to obtain the adequate amount of this type of omega 3. 

 

So what food and drink should you avoid?

 

Most people will be aware that there is no known level or type of safe alcohol intake through pregnancy. Alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord and should be avoided.

 

But caffeine is also a no-no. Mums-to-be should avoid drinking coffees and teas and substitute them with decaffeinated versions if needed. The healthiest decaffeinated drinks are those obtained by the Swiss Water Method of decaffeination for coffee and the CO2 method for tea, which, unlike other processes, do not use chemicals to extract the caffeine. 

 

It's also best to steer clear of raw fish (including sushi), raw eggs and unpasteurised dairy products because they might carry bacteria, viruses or parasites. 

 

Managing those cravings

 

You will find that your energy levels fluctuate all the time while you're pregnant. But eating at regular times will help avoid your blood sugar level dropping. And this will help control your cravings and keep your energy levels balanced. 

 

Each meal must be a combination of protein, carbs and healthy fats. An easy way of doing this is to think of your plate in quarters:

  • A quarter of your plate should be a protein (meat, eggs, pulses, beans, fish)
  • Half your plate should be covered with a variety of vegetables 
  • A quarter should contain starchy carbs (whole grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes)

 

In addition, don't forget the healthy fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds and oily fish, in the quantities and type discussed earlier. 

 

Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables with each meal is also a good idea. It can help to supply your body with vitamins, minerals and micronutrients (also known as phytochemicals) which all are great for your health!

 

A healthy gut is a happy gut

 

One health topic you don't hear much about is your microbiome…which is another name for the vast number of bacteria you find in your gut. 

 

Having a healthy microbiome is so important, not just for your digestion, but also for your moods and your immune system. And research shows that the quality of a mothers' gut flora determines the gut flora of her future baby. A healthy gut flora may mean the baby is less likely to develop certain health conditions later in life. These conditions could include things as diverse as allergic rhinitis, anxiety, depression, asthma, autoimmune disease, coeliac disease, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), nutritional deficiencies and obesity.1

 

Eating a wide selection of vegetables and some whole grains will help develop a healthy variety of gut bacteria. However, during the third trimester, you should also consider taking a probiotic formula that includes the Bifido and Lactobacillus strains. Overall research suggests that as pregnancy progresses towards the third trimester, there are significant changes to the bacteria in your gut. 

 

In summary...

 

  • The key is to eat as close to nature as possible, choosing food which is nutrient-dense, unrefined and unprocessed. 
  • Take the supplements which are essential during pregnancy. 
  • Choose organic fruit and vegetables and animals raised in a healthy environment. 
  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to possible infections from unpasteurised dairy and raw meat, fish and eggs. 
  • And lastly, always aim for variety in your food choices and a rainbow of food colours on your plate!

 

 

References:

1. Milani C, Duranti S, Bottacini F, Casey E, Turroni F, Mahony J, Belzer C, Delgado Palacio S, Arboleya Montes S, Mancabelli L, Lugli GA, Rodriguez JM, Bode L, de Vos W, Gueimonde M, Margolles A, van Sinderen D, Ventura M. 2017. The first microbial colonizers of the human gut: composition, activities, and health implications of the infant gut microbiota. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev 81:e00036-17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5706746/

Our expert

 

Monica Durigon - Nutritional Therapist

Meet our expert Monica Durigon who is a qualified Nutritional Therapist, member of BANT (British Association of Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine), CNCH (Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council), IFM (Institute of Functional Medicine) and BSLM (British Society of Lifestyle Medicine).
 

She strongly believes that the dietary and lifestyle choices we make every day not only shape our body and influence our physical and mental health, but they ultimately affect our whole life. 
 

Monica has a particular interest in brain health and healthy ageing. She works in London and internationally and creates and delivers bespoke nutritional programmes, and wellbeing coaching to optimize health and performance one to one and to corporate teams.


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