Pregnancy Nutrition

Basics

What you eat plays a major role in your everyday health, how well you feel and how much energy you have. It becomes even more important during pregnancy, when the demands of your body increase. The most basic way to think of food is as the fuel that runs your body. But food is more than just the fuel, it is also the building blocks of your body. When you overeat, the extra food is stored as fat on your body. When you are working on muscle building, the food you eat is transformed into more muscle.

To understand the value of the food you eat to your pregnancy, you need to look at the composition of the food. Basically, all foods provide you with differing quantities of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water. The key to good pregnancy nutrition is getting the right mix of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber. This means you will need to eat a variety of foods so you can "balance" the nutrients in your diet.

Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy and should be the major part of total daily intake. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates (such as sugar or honey) or complex carbohydrates (such as grains, beans, peas, or potatoes). Complex carbohydrates are preferred because these foods are more nutritious yet have fewer calories per gram compared to fat and cause fewer problems with overeating than fat or sugar. Complex carbohydrates are also preferred over simple carbohydrates by diabetics because they allow better blood glucose control.

Proteins:

Protein supplies amino acids to build and maintain healthy body tissue. There are 20 amino acids considered essential because the body must have all of them in the right amounts to function properly. Twelve of these are manufactured in the body but the other eight amino acids must be provided by the diet. Foods from animal source such as milk or eggs often contain all these essential amino acids while a variety of plant products must be taken together to provide all these necessary protein components.

Fats:

Fat supplies energy and transports nutrients. Fat is an essential nutrient, however many modern diets include excessive amounts of fat. There are two families of fatty acids considered essential for the body: the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are required by the body to function normally. They can be obtained from canola oil, flaxseed oil, cold-water fish, or fish oil, all of which contain omega-3 fatty acids, and primrose or black currant seed oil, which contains omega-6 fatty acids. The American diet often contains excess of omega-6 fatty acids and insufficient amount of omega-3 fats. <more>

Vitamins and Minerals:

Vitamins are organic substances present in food and required by the body in a minute amount for regulation of metabolism and maintenance of normal growth and functioning. The most commonly known vitamins are A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid), B12 (cobalamin), C (ascorbic acid), D, E, and K. The B and C vitamins are water-soluble, excess amounts of which are excreted in the urine. The A, D, E, and K vitamins are fat-soluble and will be stored in the body fat.

Minerals are vital to our existence because they are the building blocks that make up muscles, tissues, and bones. They also are important components of many life-supporting systems, such as hormones, oxygen transport, and enzyme systems.

Fiber:

Fiber is the material that gives plant texture and support. Although it is primarily made up of carbohydrates, it does not have a lot of calories and usually is not broken down by the body for energy. Dietary fiber is found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber, as the name implies, does not dissolve in water because it contains high amount of cellulose. Insoluble fiber can be found in the bran of grains, the pulp of fruit and the skin of vegetables. Soluble fiber is the type of fiber that dissolves in water. It can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables such as apples, oatmeal and oat bran, rye flour, and dried beans.

Although they share some common characteristics such as being partially digested in the stomach and intestines and have few calories, each type of fiber has its own specific health benefits. Insoluble fiber speeds up the transit of foods through the digestive system and adds bulk to the stools, therefore, it is the type of fiber that helps treat constipation or diarrhea and prevents colon cancer. On the other hand, only soluble fiber can lower blood cholesterol levels. This type of fiber works by attaching itself to the cholesterol so that it can be eliminated from the body. This prevents cholesterol from re-circulating and being reabsorbed into the bloodstream.

Water:

Water helps to regulate body temperature, transports nutrients to cells, and rids the body of waste materials.

Balance

All foods are built of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals, fiber and water. Each food has a unique mixture of nutrients, with the food groups tending to have similarities. Foods in the meat group tend to be high in protein. Fruits and vegetables have a variety of vitamins and minerals, and whole grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates and fiber. To make the most of your eating, you should attempt to "balance" the nutrients in your diet by eating a variety of foods every day to provide a mixture of nutrients.

For example, if you know you are hungry for chicken, you could have a piece of baked chicken with some brown rice risotto and a mix of steamed broccoli and cauliflower. Or, you could have some shredded cooked chicken on a whole wheat pita with diced cucumber, onion, lettuce and tomatoes. Both of these meals provide a mixture of nutrients naturally.

How balanced should this be? There is no authority who recommends eating equal volumes of all types of foods. Instead, recommendations are made per serving from food groups to help you maintain a balance throughout the day. Because the recommendations are made per food group, you have tremendous freedom to choose or not choose foods based on taste, availability, personal beliefs or simply preference.

The following are dietary balance recommendations for servings per day made by various organizations and are compared to the recommendations for minimum servings made by Dr. Tom Brewer, noted advocate for pregnancy nutrition:

Food Group

Dr. Brewer

USA

Canada

Australia

UK

Protein

4

2-3

2

1.5

Moderate

Dairy

4

3

2

2

2-3

Fruits and Vegetables

5

5-9

7-8

9-10

5

Grains

4

6-11

6-7

4-6

1/3 of diet

Pregnancy Specific

NA

NA

Add 2-3 servings of any group

NA

It is important to note that these recommendations are based on serving sizes, not helpings. The serving size varies for each type of food. Your most accurate measure will be listed on the food label when available. Having a food scale can help you ensure your serving sizes are not too small or too large.