Pregnancy Diet Plan 101: Importance of Different Nutrients
Pregnancy is one of the most emotional and deeply personal journeys a woman embarks on. As a miracle unfurls inside you in these nine months, your body changes and so does your body’s dietary requirements! Following a healthy pregnancy diet plan fulfills the growing energy demands of your body and also supports the nutritional needs of the baby. Different nutrients support the different needs of the mother and the baby. Here we talk about what specific nutrients are vital during pregnancy!
The energy requirements of women increase significantly during pregnancy to meet the energy requirements of the growing fetus. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for a human body. Thus, it is one of the essential nutrients during pregnancy.
Let’s understand the importance of carbs during pregnancy!
Just like the device you’re using right now requires a steady supply of electricity to function properly, our bodies require a regular supply of carbohydrates for good health. Without enough carbohydrates, the body has to break down other nutrients like proteins and fats, to produce energy.
Proteins and fats have more specialized roles in the body. So, using them for energy production is not efficient for the body in the long run. This is particularly concerning for pregnant women as the developing baby requires significant quantities of proteins and fats for its healthy development.
In the body, carbohydrates break down into simple sugars such as glucose which pass easily across the placenta and provide energy to support the growing baby during pregnancy.
How many grams of carbs should you eat when pregnant?
The daily intake of carbs during pregnancy should ideally be around 60 to 70% of the total energy intake. According to the National Institute of Nutrition, the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for energy intake is 2250 kcal for sedentary pregnant women. Therefore, the daily intake of carbohydrates should be around 375 grams per day.
Are all carbohydrates equally healthy?
There’s more to the story than simply carbohydrate intake. Some carbohydrates, especially sugars, break down more quickly in the body. This leads to a rapid increase in blood glucose and insulin levels. These carbohydrates are known as high GI foods. The glycemic index (GI) is a rating system that indicates how quickly a food affects your blood sugar.
High GI foods include many refined foods like white bread, white rice, potatoes and sugary foods such as cakes and biscuits.
Low GI foods are carbohydrates that break down more slowly. These keep blood sugar levels more stable. Thus, low GI foods should be an important part of your pregnancy diet and nutrition. Some examples include:
- sweet potatoes
- chickpeas and other pulses
- wholegrain bread
- cereals and pasta
A diet based on these healthier starches can help you ensure your blood sugar levels remain steady. This reduces your risk of gestational diabetes as well as other pregnancy complications. Thus, the best approach is to eat a wide variety of slow-release, low GI carbohydrates, balanced with some higher GI foods and watch your carbs during pregnancy.
The importance of essential nutrients during pregnancy especially proteins cannot be stated enough. Proteins are the building blocks of every cell in the mother’s as well as the developing baby’s body. They have a crucial role to play in almost every system of the developing fetus. Ranging from the formation of skin, muscles, hair, and fingernails to organ maturation, immune system maturation, and even brain development, proteins do it all. Thus, adding high-quality protein in your pregnancy diet plan is absolutely necessary.
Proteins are a key player in almost every aspect of fetal growth including:
- synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters
- transport of oxygen through the blood
- proper functioning and development of muscles and nerves
- formation of new cells, tissues, and organs
- producing antibodies for a healthy immune system
- brain development and maturation
Protein deficiency during pregnancy can lead to poor fetal growth and other complications at birth. Limited intake of protein and energy usually occur together, making it difficult to separate the effects of energy deficiency from those of protein deficiency.
Excessively low protein intake can have negative effects in terms of weight and height of the baby at birth. According to studies, healthy birth weight has been linked to a reduced risk of developing diabetes or becoming overweight later in life.
How much protein do you need daily?
International guidelines agree in recommending an increased protein intake during pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters. According to the National Institute of Nutrition, the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for pregnant women is 78 grams per day.
However, the protein requirement is higher for women carrying twins. For each additional fetus, at least another 25 g/day of protein is recommended. The total intake of protein can be as high as 175 g/day to support pregnancy diet and nutrition of a normal-weight woman carrying twins.
Women pregnant with twins and women following a strict vegetarian diet should be more careful, as there is a higher risk of protein deficiency for them.
The protein quality of foods is also extremely important. Animal sources of protein provide all essential amino acids compared to plant products. However, consuming two or more vegetable foods with different amino acids can help improve the overall quality of their respective protein components.
The National Institute of Nutrition recommends that the daily diet of a pregnant woman should contain an additional 350 calories, 0.5 gram of protein during the first trimester and 6.9 gram during the second trimester and 22.7 gram during the third trimester of pregnancy.
However, excessively high protein intake is also harmful as it can adversely affect the baby’s development in the womb. For supplementation of proteins, make sure you supplement with foods rather than with protein supplements. Some good sources of proteins are:
- dairy products
- whole grains
Let’s now have a look at the essential minerals your body requires during pregnancy!
One of the most important minerals of any pregnancy diet and nutrition is calcium. Calcium supports and maintains healthy bone development. If there is a lack of calcium in your pregnancy diet, the baby may draw calcium from your bones. This may put you at risk for osteoporosis later in life. Calcium also helps in developing your baby’s heart, nerves, and muscles as well as normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting abilities.
The recommended calcium intake is 1200 milligrams per day. Calcium-rich food sources include milk and milk products such as low-fat yogurt, calcium-fortified soymilk, orange juice, bread, cereals, and nutrition bars.
One of the most essential nutrients during pregnancy is Iron. Your body needs extra iron to support the baby’s growth and development. The National Institute of Nutrition recommends a daily intake of 35 milligrams of iron for a pregnant woman. Iron deficiency during pregnancy can increase your risk for iron deficiency anemia and low birth weight for the infant. Hence, it is important for you to maintain healthy levels of iron both before and during pregnancy.
Iron, especially the form found in vegetable sources, is often not absorbed in high quantities by your body. To help improve absorption, eat foods that are high in vitamin C along with your iron-rich foods. For example, include oranges, tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries, peppers, or broccoli in the same meal as your iron-rich foods. Some iron-rich food sources are –
- meats and poultry
- fish and shellfish
- green leafy vegetables
To keep your immune system strong and sustain cell growth in your baby, zinc consumption is absolutely necessary. Zinc is an essential mineral known to be important for many biological functions including protein synthesis, cellular division, and nucleic acid metabolism. Zinc deficiency may compromise your baby’s development and lead to poor birth outcomes.
Aim to get a minimum of 12 milligrams of zinc per day to make for a healthy pregnancy diet and nutrition. Good sources of zinc include animal proteins as well as fortified grains, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, tofu, and peanuts. You may also be able to meet your daily zinc requirement just by taking your prenatal supplements as prescribed by your gynecologist or dietitian.
Often overlooked in a pregnancy diet plan, iodine helps with brain development and hormone production in your baby. It helps in the production of thyroid hormone, which plays a crucial role in developing the central nervous system and skeletal system of the baby.
So be sure to get 220 micrograms of it daily. Iodine is present in iodized salt, a common staple in our homes, as well as in fish (especially saltwater fish), dairy foods, and some vegetables, like potatoes and beans.
Vitamins are as essential as minerals. The main vitamins needed for pregnancy include the following:
Vitamin D should be an important part of your pregnancy diet plan. it plays an essential role in building bones and protecting the immune system for you and your baby. Low levels of vitamin D increases the risk of cesarean delivery, preeclampsia, preterm delivery, postpartum depression and gestational diabetes for pregnant moms. It also results in weak bones, seizures, respiratory infections, and brain disorders in babies.
The recommended intake of vitamin D is 15 micrograms per day in a pregnancy diet plan. Eat sufficient vitamin D–rich foods along with adequate exposure to sunlight during pregnancy. Vitamin D also helps in effectively absorbing the calcium from the foods you eat. You can take a daily morning walk to fulfill the vitamin D needs of your body.
Vitamin A is a necessary part of your pregnancy diet and nutrition because of its key role in developing the vision and building healthy cells in your baby. It is sufficiently available through the foods you eat and no extra supplementation or diet is required. But, too much vitamin A in the diet can be a problem. Certain studies have connected high levels of vitamin A to birth defects. Make sure you check the levels of vitamin A in your supplements or prenatal vitamins to avoid an overdose.
The recommended intake of vitamin A is 800 micrograms per day. Some Vitamin A – rich sources include:
- sweet potatoes
- green leafy vegetables
- bell peppers
No pregnancy diet plan is complete without folic acid or folate, which is one of the B vitamins. A low folic acid (or folate) status in the early stage of pregnancy increases the risk of neural tube defect (NTD) in the baby. NTDs are a group of serious birth defects that affect the developing nervous system. The precise cause for NTD is still unknown. However, taking folic acid supplements or having a varied diet that contains plenty of folates before and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy can reduce the risk of NTDs for your little one.
The recommended folate intake through diet is 500 micrograms per day. Some sources of folate-rich foods are:
- green leafy vegetables
- brown bread
Although you might not be so familiar, choline is important for your little one. Choline is neither a vitamin nor a mineral. However, it is often grouped with the B vitamins due to its similar structure and properties. Studies suggest that it works along with folate to ensure the proper development of the neural tube and the central nervous system. It also plays a key role in developing hippocampus, which is the memory center of the brain. So, to ensure a healthy brain development and a good memory for your baby, make sure you take plenty of choline in your diet.
The recommended intake of choline is 425 milligrams per day for an ideal pregnancy diet plan. Eggs are one of the best sources of choline. Some other sources include meats such as beef, poultry, pork, and fish. It is also present in vegetarian sources such as wheat germ, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, and nuts.
Thus, to support a healthy pregnancy diet and nutrition include healthy carbs and proteins as well as sufficient vitamins and minerals. Healthy eating in pregnancy supports proper growth and development of the baby. Different nutrients should be a part of your pregnancy diet plan as variety is the key. However, each pregnancy is different so consult a health expert for your individual needs.