Advice on the foods you should be eating for a healthy pregnancy diet, including information on food safety recommendations and essential pregnancy vitamins.
Foods to enjoy
When you are pregnant you should ensure you eat five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables each day. Whether fresh, chilled, frozen, canned or dried, fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. A piece of fruit, a portion of vegetables (not including potatoes), a glass of fruit or vegetable juice, and even a 'smoothie', will all count towards one of your five a day goal. However it is important that you keep the five items varied, so five of the same thing does not count!
Starchy foods including bread, rice, pasta and potatoes are carbohydrates and are satisfying, making you feel fuller for longer and providing you with energy. However, if you eat too many of these you may put on excess weight during your pregnancy. Wholegrain versions are especially nutritious and the fibre helps to prevent constipation.
Protein based foods are an important part of your daily diet. Lean meat, fish (twice a week, including oily fish once), eggs, cheese, beans and pulses give you protein and important minerals like iron and zinc.
Dairy foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese contain calcium but can be high in fat, so it is worth considering lower-fat varieties if you are concerned about excess weight gain, as they are just as nourishing.
Sugary and fatty foods are more likely to add excess weight because they are high in calories and have very little nutritional value, but they will add pleasure and choice to your diet as long as they are eaten in sensible amounts.
Your baby should have the best of starts if you are not over or underweight when you get pregnant. Cutting down the calories that you eat while you are pregnant in order to control your weight should only be done under the guidance of a general practitioner (GP) or dietician, as unsupervised dieting will not help your baby. If you think you are overweight or underweight, mention it to your midwife. What is certain is that dieting, often going hungry or eating mostly junk food will not help your baby and might even be harmful. Pregnant women who diet excessively or who live through famines tend to have difficult pregnancies, problems in labour and small babies. Even women who are overweight or who put on a lot of weight early in pregnancy do not benefit from dieting and nor do their babies.
You may find that your GP or midwife no longer take regular recordings of your weight during pregnancy, as the evidence about this suggests that this may not be helpful.
You need vitamin D from sunlight or your food to absorb calcium effectively. Some women may not have enough exposure to sunlight either because of their natural skin colouring or because their culture or religion requires them to keep their skin covered. If you are a vegetarian you may also have a low intake of the foods that contain a lot of vitamin D, such as eggs, margarine or enriched spreads and oily fish like salmon. In this case, you can choose to eat more of the foods that are vitamin D rich, ensure you have some exposure to sunlight or you can take vitamin D as a supplement. If you feel you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, discuss this with your midwife.
Foods to avoid
When you are pregnant, you will come across a lot of advice about what you should or shouldn't eat. Although this advice is usually research based, you may not be able to follow it either because of your personal tastes and preferences, or perhaps because of the cost. Other information about diet may catch the attention of the media although the evidence to support this may not always be authoritative. Women frequently have to decide which advice they can follow and it may be that their personal circumstances will impact on these decisions. For example, a woman who eats a vegetarian diet will have to find alternative sources of iron, as she cannot obtain this from eating red meat. Where this is the case, a woman can be left feeling guilty and anxious that she has not done the best for her baby.
There is now reliable information about foods to avoid when you are pregnant and breastfeeding.
Liver and vitamin A supplements. Very high intakes of one form of vitamin A (retinol, found in liver, liver pate and sausage, fish liver oils and some supplements) have been linked with the baby being born with birth defects. The other form of vitamin A is called 'beta carotene' and this is safe to take in pregnancy, but always check with your doctor or midwife before taking any vitamin A supplements.
The Department of Health suggests that you may choose not to eat peanuts or peanut products while you are pregnant, especially if you or your baby's father or any brothers or sisters have a history of allergies. Studies suggest that a baby can develop peanut allergy before birth or while breastfeeding, but the evidence is uncertain.
A survey by the Food Standards Agency has found high levels of mercury in some fish. As mercury can affect the developing nervous system of the unborn baby, it is advised to limit the amount of tuna you eat to two medium cans or a single fresh steak a week and to completely avoid swordfish, marl in and shark This applies when you are planning a pregnancy, actually pregnant or breastfeeding.
Listeria is a bacteria that grows in some specific foods and can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or serious illness in the newborn baby. Other bacteria such as salmonella can also cause serious illness to you and your baby. While hard cheeses are mostly safe to eat in pregnancy, it is advised to avoid soft mould-ripened cheeses like Camembert, Brie and all blue-veined cheeses. You should also avoid eating all types of pate and oven-ready meals that are uncooked or undercooked as well as raw or part-cooked eggs.
Studies show that high levels of caffeine are linked with miscarriage and stillbirth. It is better to choose decaffeinated drinks or keep to no more three cups of brewed coffee or four cups/three mugs of instant coffee.
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