Eating healthily when pregnant

November 12, 2012

Eating healthily when pregnant

If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy then you must start considering your eating habits and how your food intake will impact on your baby’s development and wellbeing. Being pregnant does not mean that you must go on a special diet but by eating healthily your baby will grow and develop healthily. It also means that you will remain fit and well throughout the pregnancy.

Your body requires the correct balance of nutrients for you and your baby. To get these nutrients you must consume a variety of foods but it’s also important to avoid some other foods. Being pregnant can make some women feel the need to eat more. There is an old wives’ tale about eating for two. This is a fallacy, if mum is eating well and healthily then baby is eating well too.

Avoid foods with high fat or sugar content and by eating a healthy breakfast daily can be helpful if you are trying to stop ‘snacking’. For many people eating healthily means eating the same things, except that it’s the amounts that change. Keep your diet varied and remember that we all like our favourites. Just don’t binge on them!

If you develop gestational diabetes during your pregnancy then dietary considerations will become much more important but your doctor or midwife can help you.

Types of Food

The different types of food all have varying attributes which have to be considered when compiling a diet. Eating enough fruit and vegetables is important because of the vitamins and minerals and fibre they provide. When pregnant it is even more important to have fibre because it helps digestion and prevents constipation. The government advises all people to eat “5 A Day” this means that you should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. These can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced but with no added sugar. Normal hygiene arrangements should be adhered to and always wash them thoroughly, especially if you are going to eat them raw. To get all of the benefits of the nutrients do not overcook them.

Another source of vitamins and fibre without adding too many calories is starchy food. Bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, noodles, breakfast cereals and oats are a few of the most common starchy foods. Every meal should have some starchy foods and wholemeal bread is another good source of starch. Meat, poultry, eggs, beans, fish and nuts are common sources of protein. You should eat at least one portion of protein daily but remember to use lean meat and try to avoid cooking it in fat. When a woman is pregnant it is even more important to check that all eggs and meat products are fully cooked and ensure that no pink or red is present in the juice from the cooking. Eat fish twice weekly with one meal being an oily fish, such as mackerel, sardines or herring.

A pregnant woman must eat dairy foods because the calcium present is very good for the baby. It is important to remember that a lot of dairy food has a very high fat content. However there is now a vast selection of low fat options available such as low fat yoghurt, skimmed milk and ‘virtually’ zero fat milk. Try to take two to three portions a day.

Foods that are very high in fats and sugar should be eaten in moderation if you do not have the willpower to abstain. Things like spreads, butter, cream, chocolate, biscuits, crisps, salad dressing, cakes or fizzy drinks should all be cut out from your diet, or only a very small amount eaten. This is because when foods are made with high amounts of sugar and do not provide any nutrients then they can lead to dental problems and obesity. Eating too many fatty foods increases your weight because fat is exceptionally high in calories. Using saturated fat can cause cholesterol levels to rise which raises the risk of heart disease.

Healthy snacks

Snacks containing sugar and fats are very unhealthy and should be avoided. These include things like sweets, biscuits, chocolate or crisps. But you are still hungry and want a snack. What can you do? Go for a healthy option, there are many nutritious snacks which are also delicious. How about sandwiches or pitta bread filled with a small amount of grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna or sardines and salad, but no salad cream. A plate of salad vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrot, celery or cucumber can be filling. Perhaps you could put a low-fat yoghurt or fromage frais as a side dish with the salad. Other options like ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes or fresh fruit can help. Vegetable soup or breakfast cereals with no sugar and skimmed milk can also hold the hunger at bay but still remain healthy.

Food preparation

Always wash all fruit, vegetables and salads thoroughly. If you are pregnant then it is even more important that you do this properly because a parasite known as toxoplasma can be present. Toxoplasma can cause toxoplasmosis which can be harmful to your unborn baby.

Ensure that all surfaces and utensils, and your hands are clean whenever you are preparing food. If you are preparing meat always use a separate chopping board for raw meats. Store raw foods separately from ready-to-eat foods. This limits the risk of contamination, thus avoiding food poisoning from salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli. Always ensure that ready meals are really hot all the way through, and foods like eggs and sausages, must be cooked very thoroughly too.

Healthy Start

The government has implemented an initiative to help ensure that all pregnant ladies have access to a proper healthy diet. The initiative is called Healthy Start and it works by giving vouchers for certain foods and vitamins. Local shops will give foods like milk, fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables in return for vouchers. The vouchers can’t be used to buy foods like vegetables with added fat, sugar, salt and flavourings. Oven chips and seasoned stir fries are also excluded.

The government states that you qualify for Healthy Start if;

you are at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old, have a family income of less than f16,190 a year (for the year 2011/12), and you or your family get:

  • Income Support, or

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, or

  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, or

  • Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit unless your family is receiving Working Tax Credit run-on only, which is the Working Tax Credit you get in the four weeks immediately after you have stopped working for 16 hours or more per week)

If you are pregnant and under 18 years old, you qualify for Healthy Start vouchers regardless of your income.

Food preparation

Always wash all fruit, vegetables and salads thoroughly. If you are pregnant then it is even more important that you do this properly because a parasite known as toxoplasma can be present. Toxoplasma can cause toxoplasmosis which can be harmful to your unborn baby.

Ensure that all surfaces and utensils, and your hands are clean whenever you are preparing food. If you are preparing meat always use a separate chopping board for raw meats. Store raw foods separately from ready-to-eat foods. This limits the risk of contamination, thus avoiding food poisoning from salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli. Always ensure that ready meals are really hot all the way through, and foods like eggs and sausages, must be cooked very thoroughly too.

Healthy Start

The government has implemented an initiative to help ensure that all pregnant ladies have access to a proper healthy diet. The initiative is called Healthy Start and it works by giving vouchers for certain foods and vitamins. Local shops will give foods like milk, fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables in return for vouchers. The vouchers can’t be used to buy foods like vegetables with added fat, sugar, salt and flavourings. Oven chips and seasoned stir fries are also excluded.

The government states that you qualify for Healthy Start if:

you are at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old, have a family income of less than f16,190 a year (for the year 2011/12), and you or your family get:

  • Income Support, or

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, or

  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, or

  • Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit unless your family is receiving Working Tax Credit run-on only, which is the Working Tax Credit you get in the four weeks immediately after you have stopped working for 16 hours or more per week)

If you are pregnant and under 18 years old, you qualify for Healthy Start vouchers regardless of your income.

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