A healthy diet comprising of proper vitamins and minerals during pregnancy is vital for the baby's growth and development. The growing foetus in the mother's womb is directly dependent on the mother's dietary habits for its nutritional requirement. It is advised to follow a diet that includes food from different variety of food groups. One must include varieties of fruits and vegetables, meat products, protein sources, dairy products, breads and grains etc. during pregnancy. Typically it is recommended to consume 300 calorie daily in addition to the usual calorie intake. It is important to take additional vitamin and minerals during pregnancy to cover up the nutritional gaps that may arise.
In addition to nutrients from dietary sources, additional supplementary prenatal vitamins must be taken. It is recommended to start taking prenatal vitamins 3 months prior to planning the pregnancy for maximum benefit.
What Vitamins and Minerals to take During Pregnancy?
- Folic Acid (Folate): It is a vitamin that is required for neurological development of the foetus and for preventing neurological birth defects and neural tube defects. Folic acid from diet is not enough. Hence, it is recommended to take additional supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid every day for at least one month prior to the pregnancy. During the gestation period, the amount of folic acid should be increased to 600 micrograms a day. Folic acid in found in green leafy vegetables, breads, pastas, fortified breakfast cereals etc.
- Calcium Intake: Calcium as a mineral is vital for bone and teeth formation of the growing baby. Lack of calcium in diet can cause absorption of calcium by the foetus from the mother's bones. It is therefore very important to include additional calcium in the diet. There are special dietary products available in the market especially formulated for pregnant ladies. These are dairy products with additional calcium content and fortified vitamin D. Women over the age of 19 years require over 1000 mg of calcium per day during pregnancy; whereas in cases of teenage pregnancies, about 1300 mg of calcium is needed per day. Calcium can be obtained from dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese and other dietary sources such as calcium fortified juices, sardines, salmon and certain green leafy vegetables.
- Intake of Iron: Iron is an important mineral to take during pregnancy. The requirement of iron in the body doubles up with pregnancy. Pregnant women require about 27 mg of iron a day. Iron is required for maintaining adequate blood supply and oxygenation for the baby's development. Lack of iron can lead to anaemia, which in turn can lead to fatigue and increased risk of infections. It is also advised to have adequate amount of vitamin C with iron for better absorption of iron. Common sources of iron include red meat, poultry products, fish, iron fortified cereals and drinks, beans, peas etc.
- Protein Diet During Pregnancy: Women should increase intake of protein during pregnancy to aid in proper development of the organs in the baby. It is important for the formation of brain and heart in addition to other vital organs. It is also known as the builder nutrient of the body. Women usually do not have difficulty in adding protein in diet as it is readily available in normal diet. The most common sources of protein are meat, fish, beans, peas, poultry products, eggs, nuts, tofu etc.
- Iodine Intake during Pregnancy: Iodine is a mineral required for adequate production of thyroid hormones, which is required for proper growth and development. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can lead to mental disorders and cretinism in the new born. It is recommended to have 150 micro grams of iodine a day during pregnancy. Iodine can be obtained from seafood, eggs, and meat and dairy products.
Vitamins and Mineral Rich Foods Recommended During Pregnancy
It is advised to include the following four food groups in daily diet: Fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and dairy products.
- Fruits and Vegetables: It is advised to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in diet during pregnancy predominantly during the second and the third trimesters. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Consumption of Lean Protein During Pregnancy: Though protein is easily obtained from normal diet, it should not be ignored as it can affect the normal development of organs of the foetus.
- Whole Grain Intake: Besides being an important source of energy, whole grain products are rich in fibres, iron and vitamins. It is recommended that 50% of the diet should comprise of whole grains such as whole wheat pasta, breads, oatmeal etc.
- Dairy Products in Diet During Pregnancy: 3 to 4 servings of dairy products a day should be included in pregnancy diet. These include milk, yogurt, cheese, etc. Dairy products are a rich source of minerals like calcium and potassium and vitamin D.
Food to Avoid During Pregnancy
- Alcohol Must be Avoided During Pregnancy: Alcohol can pass from the mother's blood to the foetus through the umbilical cord. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause physical deformities as well as mental deformities in the baby and is associated with conditions such as foetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Fish with High Levels of Mercury Must be Avoided During Pregnancy: Pregnant women should avoid intake of seafood such as shark, swordfish etc. as they have high levels of methyl mercury which is toxic to the baby. It can cause underdevelopment of the brain, kidney and nervous system.
- Avoid Consumption of Unpasteurized Food During Pregnancy: Consumption of unpasteurized food such as raw milk, canned food, unpasteurized meat products etc. can cause stillbirth, miscarriage, premature labour etc. and hence must be avoided at all given circumstances.
- Raw Meat Should Be Avoided During Pregnancy: Raw meat such as undercooked meat, poultry, sushi etc. can cause harmful effect to the growing baby. It can lead to a condition called as toxoplasmosis and can lead to blindness and mental disability in the child.
Following a healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals is very important during pregnancy not only for the growth and development of the baby, but also for maintaining the health of the mother. It aids in maintaining adequate energy level, improving immunity, reducing the risk of infection and other illness and maintaining the overall wellbeing of the mother which directly affects the development of the foetus. It is advised to increase the intake of certain vitamin and minerals during pregnancy. Though a major chunk of the nutrient can be obtained from diet, additional supplements are recommended to prevent any deficiencies. It is very important to obtain folic acid, iron, calcium, protein and iodine as per the standard recommendation. One can consult an experienced nutritionist or a dietician for planning a balanced diet during pregnancy as required. It is important to ensure that the diet includes food from the four major food groups that is fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grain and dairy products.