We are what we eat. This saying didn’t really mean much to me until I fell pregnant and the idea of eating to nourish took on a whole new significance. Suddenly it wasn’t all about me. My wants and needs although still very present (I mean what pregnant woman doesn’t have strong feelings towards food) were no longer my priority. All that mattered was nurturing this new little life growing inside me.
The problem was I found pregnancy nutrition to be a mine field. My doctor told me one thing, my midwife another and the books something else. Then there was my mother who didn’t abide by any of the new ‘pregnancy food rules’ telling me that a little of everything is perfectly ok. I felt stressed out, confused and non the wiser.
To clear up any confusion surrounding pregnancy nutrition, I got in touch with Nutritional Therapist to the stars Gabriela Peacock (who recently helped Katherine Jenkins in her pregnancy) to find out what we should eat through pregnancy and how we can shift the extra pounds afterwards.
DURING YOUR PREGNANCY
Hi Gabriela, a lot of women get confused about how much extra they should eat when pregnant, can you shed some light on this?
Its not about ‘eating for two’ it’s more important to choose wisely! Consider the following:
- Eat wholegrain, starchy carbohydrates at each meal. Choose slow release varieties such as porridge oats, rye bread, brown basmati rice and pearl barley. They keep you feeling fuller for longer, less likely to snack and provide energy when levels are flagging.
- Eat natural, fresh, whole foods. Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, yoghurt, eggs, beans, legumes, nuts, purified water and seeds should be the mainstay of a pregnancy diet. These foods provide the highest nutritional value for you and for your baby.
- Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout are some of the best foods while you’re pregnant. The benefits of these fats extend to mother and baby’s development. Current guidelines encourage all expectant mothers to eat no more than two portions a week. Omega-3 fats can contribute towards shiny hair and glowing skin and the development of a healthy brain and nervous system in baby. Be careful of the mercury content in certain fish (and stick to the guidelines of 2 portions a week)
- Eat your greens. Bursting with folate, green leafy vegetables are a rich source of vitamins and minerals including iron, magnesium and folate. Folate is probably the vitamin whose essential role in pregnancy is most widely known. It is necessary for the production of new DNA, and new cells. The foetus engages in constant cell division, and the mother must expand her blood supply with the production of new red blood cells as well—these activities demand a generous supply of folate. Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate – often taken as a supplement during pregnancy.
- Snack sensibly. Being pregnant is not the green light to eat whatever, whenever. Snack on nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and natural yoghurt. Limit refined sugars, nonorganic dairy and meats and artificial sweeteners. Foods that should be avoided all together during pregnancy include non-pasteurized dairy products, soft cheese, undercooked or processed meats and poultry and undercooked eggs.
- Fibre rich foods. Pineapple is a nutrient-rich fruit that is low in saturated fat and contains fibre which can help to ease constipation, a common complaint during pregnancy. Other suggestions include soaking or stewing fruit, steamed vegetables and lentils.
That’s great advice, how about portion size during pregnancy, how do we know if we are eating the right amount?
Energy demands are likely to increase as baby grows but being properly nourished during pregnancy is one of the best ways to stay healthy and not put on extra weight. Ensuring a balanced diet will allow expectant mothers to feel better during the 40 weeks and it will go a very long way towards ensuring the health of the child. Portions don’t need to be bigger than normal, but you might find you need to have some nutritious snacks during the day (see above)
Pregnancy can often cause skin issues such as acne and dry flaky skin, are there any foods we can eat to ease these conditions?
Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables to at least 5 portions a day. Shop for foods that contain super skin nutrients vitamin A, C and E. For a golden glow (and to keep deep wrinkles at bay) vitamin A is the ticket. You’ll get plenty of it in both orange and green foods like carrots, spinach, broccoli, and kale. Omega-3 fats from oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel are also important for healthy skin. The omega-3 fats form part of the cell membrane that helps to hold the skin cell together. A healthy cell membrane translates into a healthy skin cell. And stay hydrated by drinking lots of water.
Should we take any extra supplements during pregnancy?
Pregnant women are advised to take a supplement that contains folic acid. This is essential. Extra suggestions include vitamin D, iodine, calcium, iron and omega–3 fats. A specific pregnancy multi vitamin is probably the best ‘catch all’ option to ensure everything is covered.
Post pregnancy there are suitable supplements to carry on taking while you breastfeed. Iron is very important to support energy levels.
Shifting the baby weight is just one of the many challenges we face post birth. Can you advise us on how many calories we should be consuming and what we should be eating to loose the weight healthily and safely?
It depends on activity but typically it’s about 1500kcal per day to lose weight although do watch energy levels as new mums need lots of energy! When breastfeeding it is important to have about 500kcal extra to meet the demand for milk production. Breastfeeding mums also need to eat extra protein and vitamin B-12. Lean beef is an excellent source for both as are legumes, beans and leafy greens
It is important to stay nourished, so choose your foods wisely. Opt for those which are filling/nutrient dense not just energy/calories.
- Natural yoghurt which is full of protein and calcium is a great snack.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables – these are the best foods to carry in your handbag. Cut vegetables up into sticks to make them portable and even bring little snack pots of dips such as hummus for the extra protein.
- Avocado – mashed up on rice cakes/oatcakes/crackers.
- If you have the time, make a sweet treat from fresh fruit – like mashed banana, apple and oats and create your own little sugar free flapjack.
- Nuts are great to snack on – just make sure they are sugar and salt free.
- Try to avoid salty, sugary artificial snacks and stick to whole foods as much as possible.
Can you give an example of a days healthy menu plan?
Eggs for breakfast – bursting with protein and served with a nutritious, filling slice or two of rye bread and slices of avocado. If you don’t have time for this, have a wholegrain, sugar free cereal such as oats with yoghurt and chopped fruit or toast with nut butter.
Lunch of a good portion of vegetables – either a fresh colourful salad, soup, or steamed veg with protein such as salmon fillet, mixed beans, eggs, or meat (chicken, ham, turkey) sandwich or salad with a wholegrain such as barley, rice or brown pasta.
Dinner can be similar to lunch just make sure you get lots of vegetables in at both meals for all the vital antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
I noticed that following the birth of my son my skin really suffered, are there any foods we can eat to get our skin glowing again?
The cruciferous family of vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli) contains numerous antioxidant compounds and helps the liver break down excess hormones.
Lemons contain high amounts of vitamin C, a vitamin needed by the body to make an important substance called glutathione. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (not the bottled variety) to pure water to support your cleansing efforts on a daily basis.
Omega-3 fats from oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel are important for healthy skin and hair. The omega-3 fats form part of the cell membrane that helps to hold the skin cell together. A healthy cell membrane translates into a healthy skin cell.
Berries – such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries – are packed full of the potent water-soluble antioxidant vitamin C, which is a critical nutrient for hair growth and skin health.
Fibre rich foods: the number one nutrient for maintaining proper digestive function, plus fibre is a fantastic natural cleanser. Eating more fibre helps the body to rid itself of the toxins and helps to cleanse your body by stimulating regular bowel movements which is good for the skin too.
The best natural sources of fibre include whole-grain cereals, pasta and rice, fresh fruit and vegetables (especially with the skins left on), beans, lentils and almonds.
Lastly, a bad nights sleep seems to go hand in hand with being a new mum, are there any foods that can aid a good nights sleep?
Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps to make the neurotransmitter serotonin – the brains ‘feel good’ hormone that also aids sleep. Foods high in tryptophan include turkey, seafood, bananas and cottage cheese.
Vitamin B6 is helps the body convert tryptophan to niacin and serotonin which can help produce serotonin and another neurotransmitter melatonin which aids relaxation.
Magnesium rich foods can help with relaxation too – so include dark leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach and swiss chard.
Natural herbs such as camomile and passion fruit are used in herbal teas for their natural sleep inducing properties.
Avoid caffeine (and remember it is also found in chocolate!) after 4pm if you want to have a good night’s sleep. Caffeine disrupts blood sugar levels by stimulating the adrenal gland which can interfere with sleep even if you have consumed it hours before bed time.
Try to avoid large meals and excess alcohol before bedtime as it demands a lot from your digestive system at a time when it’s trying to rest and repair.
Did you find knowing what you can and can’t eat in pregnancy confusing? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.