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There is often a wide variety of advice on what you should and shouldn't eat while pregnant, ranging from old wives' tales to official government advice.
Here is a condensed breakdown on each type of nutrient - and how you should choose appropriate food during pregnancy.
Extra EnergyMost of the extra calories needed in pregnancy are required during the third trimester. It's estimated that you'll need an extra 300 calories every day. If you happen to be less active during those last three months of pregnancy, it may mean you need very little extra food because you're not using as much energy. If you continue to stay active, a snack such as a couple of slices of toast with spread and a glass of milk or a yogurt may be all you need.
ProteinMost people eat more than enough protein so chances are there's no need to increase your protein intake. Try to follow healthy eating principles and include some lean meat, fish or poultry, dairy products, grains, nuts and pulses in your meals.
FibreIt's particularly important to eat more fibre during your pregnancy to avoid the common hassles of constipation and piles (haemorrhoids). You can increase your fibre intake by eating more fruit and vegetables, wholemeal bread and cereals, brown rice, wholemeal pasta and pulses. You should also drink more fluids because increasing fibre intake without enough fluids can actually make your constipation worse.
Folic acidMothers with insufficient folic acid before conception and in early pregnancy are at an increased risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
From the moment you start trying for a baby until the end of week 12 of your pregnancy, you should take 400 micrograms of folic acid supplement. Women with a history of NTDs would normally be prescribed a 5mg supplement.
These supplements should be in addition to any dietary intake, which should include around 200 micrograms per day. You can boost your natural folic acid intake by choosing foods such as:
Green leafy vegetables - cabbage, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, spring greens, kale, okra and fresh peas.
Pulses - chickpeas, black-eyed beans and lentils
Fortified breakfast cereals.
Wholemeal and wholegrain breads and rolls or those fortified with folic acid.
Folic acid is easily lost during the cooking process, so try to steam vegetables or cook them in only a little water for a short time to retain as much goodness as possible. Supermarkets and food manufacturers often identify good sources of folic acid with a special label. Look out for these next time you go shopping.
IronYour iron levels will be measured throughout your pregnancy and if they're found to be low you'll be prescribed an iron supplement. Pregnant women should try to maintain a good iron intake from their diet to obtain the other nutrients in these foods.
Good sources of iron can be split into two categories: meat-based and plant-based. The body doesn't absorb iron from non-meat foods as easily as it does from meat sources. However, you can enhance iron absorption by including vitamin C sources with your meal. Tannins found in black tea reduce the absorption. So, it's better to have a glass of orange juice with your bowl of cereal in the morning rather than a cup of tea.
Vitamin AToo much vitamin A can accumulate in the liver and even harm an unborn baby. So, although liver and liver products, such as patÃ© and liver sausage, are very good sources of iron, their high concentrations of vitamin A have led the UK Department of Health to advise pregnant women and women trying for a baby to avoid liver and liver products.
Some vitamin supplements and fish liver oil supplements are also high in vitamin A, so always choose a specially prepared pregnancy supplement if you do take one.
Vitamin CEat plenty of vitamin C-rich foods to help you use iron effectively. Good sources include citrus fruits (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and lemons), blackcurrants, strawberries, kiwi fruit, peppers, tomatoes and green leafy vegetables. Try to eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. A drink of fruit or vegetable juice can count as one portion.
Vitamin DVitamin D is essential for both forming and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. It is found in only a few foods, including margarines and reduced-fat spreads, some fortified breakfast cereals, oily fish and meat. A small amount is also be found in milk and eggs. The body also makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to ultra violet light.
Current recommendations are that pregnant women should take a supplement of 10 micrograms vitamin D every day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women with dark skin, or those who always cover their skin, are at particular risk of a vitamin D deficiency.
CalciumYour need for calcium doubles during your pregnancy, and is particularly high during the last ten weeks, when calcium is being laid down in your baby's bones. Your body adapts to absorb more calcium from foods eaten, so you don't actually need to eat more of it in late pregnancy, as long as it is present in your diet anyway.
Continue to ensure your diet has plenty of milk and dairy foods such as cheese, yogurt and fromage frais. Official advice is to have three servings every day - and typical servings include a glass of milk, milk with your cereal, a small matchbox size chunk of hard cheese or a small pot of yogurt (125g to 150g). Other good sources of calcium include bread, green vegetables, canned fish with soft, edible bones (salmon, sardines and pilchards), dried apricots, sesame seeds, tofu, fortified orange juice and fortified soya milk.
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