I’m planning to start a family soon and I want to provide the best to my yet-to-be-born child. Can you provide some advice on good nutrition during pregnancy?
Nearly all pregnant women can benefit from a nutritional programme, which ideally should be followed one year before pregnancy, during pregnancy, during labour, delivery and even through breast-feeding. This diet includes a wide variety of foods from all groups such as whole grain, cereals, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish and dairy products. Here are some basic guidelines that you can follow:
Consume approximately 2,300 to 2,500 calories during pregnancy to ensure a well-balanced diet. The nutrient break-up of your caloric intake must be 60 per cent carbohydrates from whole grains, 25 per cent protein (dairy products, pulses, poultry and fish) and 15 per cent fats (oils, nuts and oilseeds).
Drink at least eight to ten glasses of water to meet your fluid requirements.
Include at least two to three servings of fruits and four to five servings of vegetables daily.
Intake of folic acid helps to reduce the risk of congenital birth defects like low birth weight infants and neural tube defects. Folic acid is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts like almonds, walnuts, whole grains and whole pulses. An increased requirement can be satisfied with a supplement.
Iron deficiency anemia is a major risk among pregnant women and their growing fetus. The iron requirements increase due to an increase in maternal blood volume and additional demands of the fetus. To meet this additional iron requirement, take iron supplements and consume iron-rich foods like beans, liver, leafy vegetables, eggs, fish, ragi and whole pulses.
Intake of the B complex vitamins — B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12 are required to ensure higher infant birth weight and size.
Supplementing with calcium helps reduce cramps during pregnancy. Dietary calcium can be consumed by intake of leafy vegetables, rajma, kabuli channa, sesame seeds, cheese, milk, soymilk, carrot juice, tofu, pumpkin seeds and almonds. Low intake of calcium is associated with high blood pressure and water retention.
Each pregnancy is unique and should be supported by adequate rest, nutritional supplements, low-impact exercise, avoidance of harmful substances and a positive attitude. Women with a history of anorexia, obesity or diabetes need special instructions about dietary requirements.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.