Healthy eating during pregnancy is vital, say dieticians

Posted on Feb 15th, 2019

Two dieticians weigh in on the importance of following a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy.

Healthy eating during pregnancy is vital, say dieticians

Congratulations, you’re pregnant! Now that you’re “eating for two”, it’s vital to follow a healthy, balanced diet. We know what you’re thinking – how much will that cost? And what about the Cheese Curls I’m craving? Rest assured you’ll still be able to buy cute outfits for your little one while still making sure you get the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy and baby by following a healthier diet.

“A healthy diet during pregnancy is made up of foods we commonly encounter when grocery shopping.  A variety of fruit and veg, whole grains, legumes and lentils, dairy, plant fats and lean meats, fish and eggs can all be enjoyed while you’re pregnant and will provide the nutrients you need,” says Nazeeia Sayed, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa).

ALSO SEE: 25 foods you should include in your pregnancy diet

What nutrients should moms-to-be focus on?

Following a balanced diet, according to the accepted healthy eating guidelines, is the optimum nutritional route to support a healthy pregnancy.  Pregnancy isn’t the time for weight loss or fad diets that focus on particular nutrients at the expense of others.

“Energy (kilojoule) restriction during pregnancy is not recommended. High-protein diets that increase ketone production are also not recommended as the foetus has a limited ability to metabolise ketones.  It’s much healthier for you to adopt a balanced diet with a good variety of foods,” says registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, Cath Day.

ALSO SEE: Vegetarian diet tips for a safe and healthy pregnancy

Nutrients such as folic acid, calcium, iron and protein are all important to your developing baby. However, a balanced diet will, in most cases, meet these needs.

ALSO SEE: Prenatal vitamins – what you really need

Cath says meeting protein requirements during pregnancy is as simple as ensuring you eat roughly six servings, or between 180g to 210g, of protein each day (size of two palms or two decks of cards). One serving equates to 30g lean meat or fish, 1/2 cup of legumes, 15g nuts or one egg. “These are also the best sources of iron, which is needed to prevent anaemia,” she says. “By eating fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C at the same time as eggs, nuts and pulses, you can enhance iron absorption from these foods.”

Focusing on a variety of healthy foods for each meal or snack, rather than the particular nutrients, is what helps to ensure you and your baby get what you need. “Choose nutrient-dense meals or snacks like an omelette with vegetables, a fruit and yoghurt smoothie, a salad with raw vegetables, nuts or lean meat or a cooked lentil dish with green leafy vegetables and rice,” recommends Nazeeia.

ALSO SEE: First trimester sample meal plan

What should moms-to-be avoid?

Smoking tops the list, and while there’s debate about whether drinking one glass of wine is safe for a growing baby, many experts and governments around the world advise a complete avoidance of alcohol during pregnancy. Pregnant women should avoid foods with a greater risk for contamination with listeria, or other bacteria or parasites, including under-cooked meat and eggs, raw fish, processed meats and unpasteurised dairy and soft cheeses.

Dietitians also advise avoiding fish that may contain high levels of mercury such as swordfish, shark, tuna steaks and canned fish brands that are not tested.

Caffeine intake should be limited, and rather swopped out for decaf options, with water as your best beverage of choice.

Foods that are high in salt, sugar and other refined carbohydrates should be limited as they crowd out the opportunity for you to eat healthy foods that provide your vitamin, mineral and fibre needs. They can also lead to excessive weight gain, which increases your risks of developing high blood pressure issues and gestational diabetes.

ALSO SEE: 10 things to avoid during pregnancy

Reach out and get help when you need it

Healthy eating during pregnancy doesn’t have to be complicated, but it may be more challenging for moms-to-be who need to make big changes, or who are overweight, or managing other health conditions. A registered dietitian can be an important ally to come up with a healthy eating plan that suits your food preferences, your budget and your lifestyle. “The big advantage of using your pregnancy as the inspiration to eat well is that you can go on to become a role model for your precious child, instilling healthy eating habits that can last them a lifetime,” says Nazeeia.

To find a registered dietitian in your area visit www.adsa.org.za.

Pregnancy Awareness Week 2019

The aim of Pregnancy Awareness Week this month is to help moms access the information they need to support a healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood. The Department of Health urges pregnant South African women to access antenatal care as early as possible in their pregnancies. This provides the opportunity to understand and manage any health issues, as well as get information on important factors like self-care and nutrition. Moms-to-be can register for MomConnect, a free cellphone-based resource to access pregnancy-related health information.

About Xanet Scheepers

Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day.