Nutritionist Cindy Williams sets the record straight on the ever-changing advice about what to eat when you’re expecting.
Pregnancy has got to be one of the most exciting and scary experiences in a woman’s life. A brand new life is growing inside you – whatever you eat, breathe, drink, even your emotions all affect the baby. It’s enough to send one into nine months of paranoia!
Your doctor will have given you ‘the list’ of what NOT to eat and drink, while friends and family may be telling you their own pregnancy horror stories. But there are plenty of foods that you and your growing baby can and should have.
How much extra should I really be eating?
It would be nice to think that being pregnant gives us an excuse to ‘eat for two’ but unfortunately you don’t need that much extra. Energy needs do increase in the second and third trimester. But rather than thinking in kilojoules, it’s better to think of eating more nutrients such as an extra glass of milk, another piece of fruit, more vegetables and extra fish, lean meat, chicken or legumes each day.
What you can eat…
Oranges contain folate and calcium, and are rich in vitamin C for good health, growth and repair. Eat an orange with your iron-fortified breakfast cereal or with a wholemeal peanut butter sandwich to enhance iron absorption.
A fruit smoothie with reduced-fat milk and yoghurt gives you fibre, iodine and calcium. Calcium helps build baby’s bones, teeth, muscles, blood and nervous system. If baby doesn’t get enough, he or she will take it from your bones! If you can’t eat dairy, try canned fish and calcium-enriched soy drinks.
You need 50 per cent more iron when pregnant. It’s especially important in the last trimester when baby is building up his or her own iron stores. Try a steak sandwich with salad or ‘meat and three veg’.
Eggs on toast
Eggs make a quick, nutritious meal when you are too tired to cook. They provide plenty of protein as well as iron and iodine. Serve with wholegrain toast for fibre and tomatoes to increase iron absorption.
Fresh ginger, carrot, orange and apple juice
A freshly squeezed juice each day gives you a boost of nutrients. Ginger can help settle nausea – try it fresh in drinks and meals for morning sickness. After that, go for fresh fruit, water and low-fat milk. Aim for nine cups of fluid.a day.
Sardines on toast
Canned salmon and sardines have edible bones which provide plenty of calcium. Try sardines on wholegrain toast with fresh tomatoes for a quick lunch.
What you need to watch or avoid...
Herbs and salads
Herbs and salads are fine if fresh and washed. However, it’s best to avoid them if they are prepackaged, prepared or in a salad bar or smorgasbord. Prepared herbs and salads are at risk of carrying the bacteria listeria, which can cause the infection listeriosis and may lead to miscarriage if transmitted to an unborn baby. The best ways to avoid infection are to pick your own herbs and vegetables, and take care in how you store and handle them. Wash them well before adding to your salad. Cooking also reduces the risk of listeria infection.
Fish is a fantastic food to eat when you are pregnant. Oily fish such as canned salmon, tuna and sardines provide vitamin D (especially important if it is winter or you have dark skin so can’t absorb so much from the sun) and omega-3 fats for your baby’s brain and nervous system development.
Larger and older fish such as uncanned salmon, mackerel, kahawai and red cod have had time to accumulate more mercury which is not good for your baby. According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, pregnant women can enjoy two to three 150g serves of most fish a week, except orange roughy (deep-sea perch) catfish, shark (flake) or billfish (swordfish/broadbill and marlin). If you choose to eat orange roughy or catfish, avoid all other fish that week, while for shark or billfish only enjoy them once a fortnight, with no other fish in that fortnight. At the fish shop, choose small fish such as tarakihi, blue-eye cod, gurnard, hoki, John Dory and flounder. Keep a stock of canned fish in your pantry such as tuna, sardinas and salmon.
Soft cheeses such as ricotta and cottage cheese are fine to eat within two days of opening the pack. Buy small packs and use on crackers, sandwiches or baked potato. Use ricotta that’s been opened for a couple of days in cooking. It tastes great in lasagne.
Surface-ripened cheese such as camembert and brie are best left until after baby is born. Listeria can grow on these cheeses and will be on your list of what ‘NOT to eat’. However, if, in an absent-minded moment you eat some, chances are you will be fine.
The caffeine in coffee, tea and cola beverages gives your body – and your baby – a buzz. It stimulates the nervous system and can cause sleeplessness, irritability and nervousness. Your body may like the caffeine hit, but your baby doesn’t need it, with too much caffeine being linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and having a low-birth-weight baby.
The Department of Health and Ageing recommends pregnant women limit their caffeine intake to one regular espresso; or three cups of instant coffee; or four cups of tea. Technically, this also means you can have some caffeinated soft drink, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Energy drinks are also best avoided, as they contain a number of ingredients not suitable for pregnant women.
The key words for safe eating when pregnant are FRESH and HOT. Listeria can grow on foods even in the fridge. If you love deli meats, eat them HOT (over 70°C) eg, on a sizzling hot pizza or in a well-cooked pasta
Whatever alcohol you drink, your baby also gets. Your friends may say “Come on, a little sip won’t hurt”, but we can’t say for sure if that is true. It’s really your own choice how much alcohol you want to give your baby, but the new Australian Alcohol Guidelines state “for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option”.
Peanuts and pregnancy
According to some experts, avoiding known allergens such as peanuts during pregnancy may reduce the risk of allergic reactions developing in your child. However, there is a lack of evidence supporting this approach, and until further research is conducted, peanuts only need to be avoided if you are allergic to them.
Peanuts contain protein, a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and healthy unsaturated fats. Their convenience makes them a great snack. Peanut butter is also a protein-rich convenience food. Keep some low-fat, low-salt crackers and a jar of peanut butter (no-added-sugar/salt) by your work desk for a handy snack or lunch.
Pre-pregnancy food tips
Folate is the one nutrient we need lots of in the first three months of pregnancy – often before we realise we are pregnant. It is essential for your baby’s normal growth and development, especially to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. If you are planning to become pregnant, take a folate supplement and eat plenty of folate-rich foods: avocado, yeast extract, wholegrain breads, dried beans, baked beans, split peas, nuts, citrus, folate-fortified breakfast cereal, and green leafy vegetables (preferably raw, because cooking destroys folate).
Are my cravings my body telling me what it needs?
Cravings are caused by hormonal changes. If you crave healthy food, go ahead and enjoy. If you crave meat pies and chocolate, try not to scoff too many! Keep eating your usual healthy diet and hopefully the craving will eventually stop or change.
Keep teeth and gums healthy
It’s a horrifying saying: ‘Lose a tooth for every pregnancy’. Those crazy pregnancy hormones make gums more sensitive to harmful bacteria. As well as the hormones, more frequent eating, vomiting (due to morning sickness or reflux in later stages of pregnancy) all increase the risk of tooth decay. Pregnant women with gum disease are more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby. So take extra care with brushing and flossing, and see your dentist regularly.
The nutrients you need
Iron – 27mg instead of 18mg
Zinc – 11mg instead of 8mg
Folate – 600µg instead of 400µg
Iodine – 220µg instead of 150µg
Protein – 60g per day
Fibre – 28g per day
Pre-pregnancy food tips
Foods to avoid or limit
Unwashed salad greens and herbs
Uncooked ricotta and cottage cheese that has been open for more than two days
Surface-ripened cheese – such as brie and camembert
Larger, older fish – which can contain more mercury
Cold deli meats – they’re only okay if cooked at temperatures over 70°C
Great snack/meal ideas...
Milkshake made with low-fat milk
Low-fat hot chocolate
Skim latté in a bowl (for extra milk)
Dried fruit and nuts
Peanut butter (choose no-added-salt/sugar) on high-fibre bread or crackers
Breakfast cereal with low-fat milk (a handy snack at any time of day)
Hard-boiled egg – take one to work and keep in the fridge until lunchtime
Hot pasta or rice dish (if eating out, ask staff to heat it to steaming hot)
Stir-fried meat and vegetables
Make-your-own filled roll: open a small can of tuna and chop a tomato
Toasted sandwich or focaccia
Post-pregnancy food tips...
After the exhausting work of delivering a baby, all that most mums want is a nice cup of tea and a good night’s sleep. What a shock to be woken in the middle of the night! Never mind exhaustion and stitches, the baby must eat and there’s only one person who can feed him or her – Mum! This is the time to really take care of yourself, so that you can care for your baby.
Eat an extra serve of food from each food group (fruit and vegetables, breads and cereals, dairy, and meat, fish and legumes) to cope with the high energy demands of breastfeeding.
Eat three good meals with snacks in-between.
Drink plenty of water: have a jug of water by your bedside and next to where you breastfeed.
Try a fruit smoothie with yoghurt and reduced fat milk.
Continue to eat iodine-rich foods – seafood, eggs and reduced-fat milk.