The ability to create life and give birth is one of the greatest miracles of nature. Pregnancy can be tough, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is uncomfortable and comes with a long list of dos and don’ts. However, it is also one of the most amazing experiences a woman can go through.
A common piece of advice expecting moms get in India is that they should ‘eat for two’. This along with plenty of advice about topping their food with ghee (so that the baby ‘slips out!!’), eating gond ke laddoo and many such traditions confuse the new-age woman. Given that there is a lot of wisdom hidden in age-old traditions and old-wives tales. However, with so much information available on your fingertips, it is a good idea to read more and gather expert advice.
I have always been very conscious of my dietary habits. After years of eating healthy, I was worried about letting go and making ill-informed dietary choices when I got pregnant. However, it was also very important to me that I got all essential nutrition for my own as well as my baby’s health. A baby’s only source of nutrition in the womb is from the mother, thus it is imperative to eat healthy and ensure that a recommended diet plan is followed.
The importance of eating healthy during pregnancy
Ideal Diet Plan for Pregnancy
How much should you eat?
‘Eat for two’ – this is probably one of the most damaging inputs you can get. No, you do not need to eat for two, for the better part of your pregnancy. The other ‘person’ you’re eating for, is a tiny foetus, the size of a peanut in the first trimester.
• An average woman leading a sedentary life requires around 1900 calories per day.
• In the first trimester of pregnancy, you do not require any additional calories. Instead, you should make a conscious effort to shift your dietary habits such that your entire calorific intake ensures you get all essential nutrients required in this critical phase.
• In the second term, you need 300-350 additional calories per day.
• The third term requires your intake to be 500 calories over your normal diet.
What should you eat?
It is critical that these additional calories do not come in the form of junk food or unhealthy and non-nutritious foods. Many people think of pregnancy as a free pass to indulge themselves and load up on all sinful and calorie-laden foods. That large bar of chocolate or burger is not really helping you send nutrition to your baby. It is only helping you gain weight and inches, not the foetus. Make healthy food choices, eat fruits, vegetables, dairy products, etc.
Important nutritional requirements
There are four things that are very important and must be included in your diet:
• Folic Acid – Folate or folic acid is essential for preventing brain defects in the baby and it also helps support the placenta. Recommended allowances are Folate 500µg/day. Best sources include Amaranth leaves, ambat chukka, mint and spinach dals like Bengal gram, black gram, green gram and red gram.
• Calcium – The baby’s bones and teeth formation requires calcium. If your diet lacks calcium, the body will automatically take this mineral from your own bones for the baby. Thus, one must ensure that a calcium-rich diet is followed. Calcium is essential for maintaining the health of mother’s bones and to ensure proper bone and teeth development of the baby. Recommended dietary intake for calcium is 1200mg/day. Milk and milk products are the best source of bio available calcium. Some other foods rich in calcium are ragi, Bengal gram, whole dals like horse gram, rajma, and soya bean. Green leafy vegetables, nuts, oil seeds and fish are some other sources of calcium.
• Iron – Studies have stated that as high as 59% of Indian women are anaemic. During pregnancy, it is important to keep an eye on your HB count and ensure that you get enough iron through your diet. Both mother and child need iron to meet the needs of red blood cell formation. The recommended allowance for iron intake is 35mg /day. Green leafy vegetables are the best sources of Iron. Something as simple as a mint and coriander chutney can help meet your needs. The richest sources are amaranth, Bengal gram leaves, radish leaves and cauliflower greens. Vitamin C helps iron absorption in the body.
Spinach, a good source of iron
• Protein - A ‘builder nutrient’, it is essential for the baby’s organ development. Proteins are essential for maintaining the integrity of the mother’s body and for the baby’s growth and development. An additional 6.9 gm in the second and 22.7 gm in the third trimester is advised. Good quality protein sources include eggs, fish and low fat meats, however vegetarians can achieve their protein targets by a combination of cereals and millets with dals, paneer, cheese, besan, nuts and milk.
Expert Speak: Dr.Rupali Datta, Chief Clinical Nutritionist at Fortis-Escorts
An ideal weight gain for a mother-to-be is about 10-12 kg. A healthy birth weight for a baby is 3kgs. To achieve this, you do not need to eat for two but additional requirements of the body have to be met.
Starting with total calories, the first trimester does not require any additional intake so the RDA of 1900Kcal is adequate (for a sedentary woman). From the second trimester, an additional 350Kcal are recommended. To achieve this goal, intake of nutrient dense foods like whole grains, millets should be promoted. Oils are a concentrated source of energy, additional oil calories can be included from natural sources like nuts and seeds. Traditional gond ladoo, besan and dal pinnis could also help. But they must be taken in moderation so that they provide the additional calories and proteins yet prevent excessive and unnecessary weight gain.
If all this sounds like a mammoth task, relax. The way you can achieve these goals is by eating a variety of foods, using seasonal variations to guide you along. Eating a balanced meal is the best way to receive nutrients. Supplements, as the word means, are a supplement to your food. These should be taken only under medical care.