Pregnancy and motherhood are the happiest moments of any woman’s life, and each woman deserves to enjoy and celebrate it to the fullest by being in the pink of health. And this is possible only through a well-balanced and healthy diet that includes all the important nutrients in optimum quantity along with pre and post natal yoga that helps in improving core strength and preparing the body for the big change. A well-planned pregnancy diet is important for proper growth and development of the baby and although the most common diet suggestion is to include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins and healthy fats in the daily diet, it is important to include certain nutrients for benefits of both the mother and the baby.
Before discussing the essential nutrients that should be included in the daily diet during pregnancy it is important to know a few things about pregnancy itself.
Indian foods are rich in grains, pulses and vegetables and dairy and therefore it is easy to plan out a healthy Indian pregnancy diet that includes all the necessary nutrients. Some of the most important vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are to be included in a pregnancy diet, and their natural sources are as follows:
Folate or folic acid is one of the most important nutrients that are required during and after pregnancy in order to prevent miscarriage, preterm delivery and birth defects. It is a vital prenatal vitamin and daily intake of folic acid before and during pregnancy helps in development of the neural tube of the baby into the brain and spinal cord and prevents neural tube defects such as spina bifida. It also reduces the risk of cleft palate and nerve damage. In new mothers, it works with vitamin B12 to improve the count of healthy red blood cell and reduce the risk of anemia.
Food sources of Folic Acid: The most important source of folic acid is 100% fortified cereals. Half cup of fortified cereals can supply 133 mcg of folic acid. Other sources include dark leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, mustard greens, lentils, beans, peas, citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, papaya and strawberries, seeds and nuts such as sunflower seeds, flax seeds, almonds, etc.
It is important to include calcium in your diet during pregnancy because the growing baby draws it from the mother’s body for the growth and development of bones and teeth along with healthy development of the heart, nerves, muscles and improving blood clotting abilities. In the mother, it prevents bone erosion, improves bone density and keeps blood pressure under control throughout pregnancy.
Food Sources of Calcium: Milk and dairy products such as yogurt, cheddar cheese and cottage cheese are the best sources of calcium. But remember to choose the low-fat varieties so that you don’t pile on unwanted calories. Some other vegetables rich in calcium are spinach, kale, okra, collards, and fishes such as trout, salmon and sardine. Soy beverages and tofu are also good sources of calcium.
The list of pregnancy nutrients will remain incomplete without the mention of vitamin D. It plays an important role in the absorption of calcium from foods for the growth and development of the baby’s bones and teeth. Even if you take in optimum amount of calcium through diet, it will be of no use to the body if it is deficient in vitamin D. Deficiency of vitamin D during pregnancy can lead to growth retardation, skeletal deformities and low birth weight. Vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk of rickets and abnormal bone growth in infants.
Food Sources of Vitamin D: Oily fishes such as salmon, mackerel and tuna are the richest source of vitamin D. Other natural food sources of vitamin D include mushrooms, fortified milk, orange juice, eggs, beef liver, pork, tofu and dairy products such as butter, ricotta cheese, yogurt and buttermilk.
Iron is one of the most important minerals for the body. This mineral is one of the most important nutrients when it comes to pregnancy as well, and almost all women are deficient in it. Iron is used by the body to produce hemoglobin which helps in supplying oxygen throughout the body and during pregnancy the body produces more blood that usual (almost 50% more than usual) and therefore it required more iron in order to produce hemoglobin. It is important for the baby’s placenta and for minimizing the risk of anemia in the mother that might lead to preterm delivery and low birth weight.
Food Sources of Iron: Some of the most effective food sources of iron are Lean red meat, poultry such as chicken and turkey and fish. Other sources include iron-fortified cereals, kidney beans, spinach, turnip greens, beet greens, kale, quinoa, lentils, raisins and apricots.
Proteins are essential for promoting growth of the baby, especially during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. The amino acids present in proteins form the basis of the cells that makes up our bodies, and it is important for better growth and brain development of the baby. It is ideal to have 2 to 3 servings of protein throughout the day during pregnancy. In mothers, it helps in stabilizing the blood glucose levels and keeps her fuller for longer thereby relieving hunger pangs.
The most effective food sources of protein are non-vegetarian foods such as lean meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, fish and eggs. Vegetarian sources of protein include milk, cheese, low-fat yogurt, nuts, beans, chickpeas, tofu, chia seeds and leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin A is extremely essential for embryonic growth of the baby. It helps in the development of various organs like eyes, kidneys, heart, lungs along with circulatory, respiratory and nervous system. It also improves bone strength and increases the capacity of fighting infections in both the mother and the baby. For the mother, it also helps in quick recovery of the tissues post-delivery.
Brightly colored and leafy green vegetables are the best sources of vitamin A. The list includes sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, winter squash, red bell peppers, romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, and beet and turnip greens. Dried apricots, melons and cantaloupes are also rich in vitamin A.
Making smart food choices and following a few simple tips can help in a healthy pregnancy and safe child birth.
Enjoy this special experience with all your heart and make your pregnancy a safe and happy one by incorporating these nutrients in your pregnancy diet.
Devi Gajendran is a Post Graduate in Nutrition (University of Madras, Tamil Nadu) and has tons of experience in Fitness and Nutrition. She is the chief advisor and full time contributor at the Fit Indian and has the final say on all the segments under the Fit Indian paradigm, such as beauty, fitness, home remedies, diseases, diet tips, weight loss, weight gain and so on. A foodie herself, she believes in the Hippocrates quote,” Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” A fitness enthusiast, she believes that the combination of diet and exercise can work wonders. When she is not sharing her valuable knowledge about food and fitness, she likes to spend quality time with her family members, do some healthy baking and listen to soft soulful music.
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