8 top pregnancy nutrition tips from a dietician

PLUS a handy guide to all the nutrients you should be including in your diet during the next 9 months!

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Pregnancy is a time when you need to be extra careful to get the balance of nutrients you are taking in, to ensure that both you and your baby are getting everything you need.

Registered dietician Lila Bruk shares the following pregnancy nutrition tips for moms-to-be:

Don’t eat for two

It can be tempting to use your pregnancy as an excuse to eat all those foods you’ve deprived yourself of for so long. However, before you tuck into the caramel cheesecake, consider that you don’t need all that many extra calories now that you’re pregnant. In fact, the additional calories you need are equivalent to an extra peanut butter sandwich, a banana and a glass of milk. Assuming you are at a healthy weight to start, you shouldn’t gain more than 12 to 16kg during your pregnancy. Excessive weight gain can predispose you to conditions such as pre-eclampsia, as well as leave you with more weight to lose after the baby is born. So, it is definitely advisable to keep your weight in check and avoid unnecessary calories.

ALSO SEE: Here’s how much weight you should be gaining during pregnancy

Make space for milk

Calcium is essential for your baby’s growth and if you don’t get enough calcium through your diet then your body will have to rely on your own stores to compensate for these needs. You can get calcium from dairy products (for example, yoghurt, cheese, milk), but also in tofu, and fish with edible bones (e.g. kipper, sardines, pilchards). If you struggle to get enough calcium intake, you can take a supplement, but be sure to not take it with fibre (for example, your bran flakes), caffeine (for example, your morning cup of tea) or your iron supplement – all of which can interfere with its absorption.

Stock up on healthy fats 

Although fat is usually a “dirty word”, the right balance of healthy fats is essential for your growing baby’s health. Healthy fats include those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and olive oil. It is especially important to ensure that you eat enough omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for your baby’s brain development. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish (for example, sardines, pilchards and trout), walnuts and flaxseed.

Fill up on fibre

Many women find they struggle with constipation during pregnancy. As a result, it is a good idea to increase your fibre intake to improve digestion and to prevent constipation. You can get your fibre from oats, bran flakes, fruits, veggies, wholegrain starches (such as brown rice) and legumes.

Hydrating when you’re gestating

It is essential to increase your fluid intake when you’re pregnant to allow for your increased blood volume during this time. Aim for at least 10 glasses per day to meet your fluid needs. Water, herbal tea and vegetable soups will count towards your fluid intake, but anything with caffeine (such as coffee) will not. In addition, caffeine has been linked to adverse birth outcomes, so if you must have tea or coffee or other caffeine-containing drinks, keep it to a maximum of about 2 to 3 cups per day.

Pump up the protein

Protein is the building block of muscles, enzymes and other components within the body. Therefore, when you’re building a whole new (little) person you need to make sure that you’re eating enough protein. In addition, protein helps balance blood sugar, so getting enough protein can help to prevent cravings. Try to increase your protein by eating more fish, meat, eggs, poultry, cheese, legumes and dairy.

ALSO SEE: Healthy alternatives for unhealthy pregnancy cravings

Don’t forget the folic acid

Folic acid is important for the development of your baby’s nervous system and is necessary to prevent neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida). Ideally, you should start taking a folic acid supplement 3 months before conception and continue through to at least the end of the first trimester. In addition, you should try to eat more foods that contain folic acid, such as green leafy veggies (e.g. spinach) and wholegrains.

Get enough iron

Your iron needs increase during pregnancy. If you don’t get enough iron, you can develop anaemia and you may start to feel extremely fatigued, pale and lethargic. Although you will generally get most, if not all, of your iron needs from your prenatal vitamin, it is a good idea to focus on eating more iron-rich foods, such as red meat.

Which nutrients are most important and how much do you need?

Nutrient Function Recommended daily intake Food Sources
Folic acid Folic acid is extremely important for your baby’s nervous system development. The first trimester is the time when the baby’s neural tube develops, which is the precursor to the baby’s nervous system. It is for this reason that having sufficient folic acid is particularly important during the first trimester, as well as prior to conception. 600 micrograms Egg yolk, spinach, beans, lentils
Zinc Zinc is essential for the development of your baby’s brain – specifically for the brain’s structure and function. <age 18: 12 mg

>age 18: 11 mg

Seafood, meat, seeds and legumes
Omega 3 fatty acids Omega 3 fatty acids perform many important roles within both your body and your baby’s. The fatty acid DHA is particularly important for your baby’s brain development and vision. 300mg of the omega 3 fatty acid DHA Fatty fish (e.g. salmon, trout mackerel, pilchards, sardines), walnuts and flaxseed
Iron Many women find that they develop iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy, which in turn can compound the fatigue that most pregnant women face. Therefore, sufficient iron is essential during pregnancy to prevent iron deficiency anaemia. In addition, there is some research to suggest that taking in sufficient iron may also help to prevent premature delivery. 27 mg Red meat, pumpkin seeds
Protein Protein is the building block in the body as it is the main constituent of muscle, enzymes, blood, etc. As a result, during pregnancy your protein needs will increase to support both you and your baby’s needs. Approximately 70g depending on weight, activity level, etc. Meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes
Calcium Calcium during pregnancy is important for both you and your baby. If you don’t have enough calcium, your body will take calcium from your own stores to accommodate the baby’s needs, which in turn couls increase your odds of developing osteopaenia or osteoporosis in later life. Similarly, a sufficient calcium intake is essential for your baby’s health too as the calcium is necessary to build your baby’s bones. >age 18: 1000 mg

<age 18: 1300 mg

 

Dairy products, tofu and fish with edible bones (e.g. kippers)
Beta-carotene Vitamin A is essential for the development of the baby’s nervous system. However, high levels of Vitamin A are known to be toxic to the baby during pregnancy. As a result, it is essential to avoid foods that are high in Vitamin A foods such as chicken livers. Therefore, it is generally recommended that pregnant women have Beta-carotene, which is the precursor to Vitamin A and is considered much safer for pregnancy. 700 micrograms Orange fruits and vegetables (e.g. mangoes, butternut), green leafy vegetables (e.g. broccoli)
Fibre Constipation during pregnancy is common due various factors, such as hormonal changes and the position of the baby. In severe cases, many women find they develop haemorrhoids. Therefore, it is very important to ensure that one includes enough fibre in one’s daily diet to prevent constipation and to allow for optimum digestive function. 25-35g Wholegrain starches (e.g. bran flakes, brown rice and seed bread), fruits, vegetables, legumes (e.g. beans, lentils, chickpeas)
Vitamin D Vitamin D is required to be able to absorb calcium. As a result, like calcium, Vitamin D is extremely important for both you and your baby’s bone health. 600 IU Sunlight, dairy products, fish with edible bones (sardines)
Choline Like Folic Acid, Choline plays a role in preventing neural tube defects. 450 mg Eggs, meat, poultry and peanuts
Magnesium Severe magnesium deficiency may lead to poor fetal growth in the baby and pre-eclampsia. There is also some research to suggest that magnesium may help to prevent premature labour by helping to prevent the uterus from contracting prematurely. <age 18: 400mg

Age 19-30: 350mg

>age 31: 360mg

Beans, nuts, wholegrain starches, green leafy vegetables

More about the expert:

Lila Bruk is a registered dietician and nutritional consultant based in Illovo and Morningside, Johannesburg and has been in private practice since 2006. She graduated from UCT with a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry in 2002, followed by a Bachelor of Science Medical (Honours) degree in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2004 also from UCT. In 2010 she completed a Masters in Nutritional Sciences through the University of Stellenbosch in the fields of body image in pre-adolescent girls, digestive disorders (e.g. IBS), sports nutrition and food allergies. Learn more about Lila Bruk here.

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