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It’s my hope that this blog will serve as a no-nonsense guide for anyone who is pregnant or who wants to be, to serve as a go-to for what the current recommendations are (in the UK at least) and how we can implement these without stressing about every mouthful we eat. Part 2 of this series on pregnancy will look at intuitive eating during pregnancy and how it can help to make sense of this crazy time.
There really isn’t any one diet that’s right for pregnancy, but I would argue that there’s many which aren’t. During pregnancy your requirements for certain nutrients (in particular micronutrients) can go up so it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re eating a wide range of foods. Therefore, restrictive diets which exclude certain foods or whole food groups, involve fasting or restricting how much or when you can eat should be avoided. If you ask me, this is true at any time but especially when you’re growing a whole tiny human inside you! That being said there are some nutrients which it's worth paying a bit of extra attention to during this time:
Fibre - sources of fibre can help ease constipation which is a common symptom experienced by pregnant people so having regular intake of wholegrains, pulses and fruit and veg can help. These can be included regularly in meals, not least because they help keep you satisfied for longer and also provide a range of other vitamins, minerals and plant protein.
Omega-3s - especially in the third trimester intake of long-chain omega-3s is important for the development of your baby’s brain and eyes. Eating oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines) up to twice a week, or taking EPA+DHA supplements if you don’t eat fish, is advised.
Iron - being short of iron is pretty common in women of child-bearing age no matter if they're pregnant or not, and if you’re low on it you can feel tired. Meat, fish, green leafy veg, wholegrains, seeds, nuts, dried fruit, tofu and soybeans and fortified breakfast cereals are all good sources of iron.
Calcium - if you think about it your body is responsible for producing your baby’s entire skeleton, a good proportion of which is made of calcium. So calcium is pretty important! Good sources include milk and dairy products, fortified plant-milks, pulses, sesame seeds and tahini, nuts, dried figs, calcium-set tofu, bread and small fish where you eat the bones.
Supplements - thinking about supplements all pregnant people should be taking vitamin D (10µg/day) throughout Autumn and Winter (although if you have darker skin or limited sun exposure all year round is recommended) as well as folic acid (400µg/day in the first 12 weeks at least and prior to conception where possible).
Feel-good foods - pregnancy is not the time to avoid foods that give you the warm and cuddlies. Being stressed about your food choices isn’t going to help anything so use your body to guide you to the foods that make you feel energised, satisfied, content and happy!
If you’re following a plant-based diet it’s extra important to go for fortified versions of plant-milks, cereals and spreads to make sure you’re getting enough calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iodine. In addition, choline is essential for the development of your baby’s brain but is found in greatest quantites in animal products. Plant-based sources include nuts and nut butters, tofu, soybeans, broccoli, quinoa and quorn products. This also might be a good time to discuss with a nutrition professional whether a supplement might be a good fit for you or not!
Although it might seem like a long list there really isn’t a huge amount you need to entirely avoid and for most of us only small changes will need to be made to make sure you and your baby are safe. The following foods are those which in the UK we're recommended to think more carefully about:
Eggs - only raw or partially cooked eggs which do not have the British Lion stamp should be avoided. Otherwise if your eggs have this quality stamp it’s okay to have them as runny boiled eggs or in a mousse!
Unpasteurised milk - this is because it could contain harmful microbes which make you sick and also extends to dairy products made from unpasteurised milk. This includes raw unpasteurised soft cheese, mould-ripened cheeses with a white mould on the outside (eg. brie, camembert) and soft blue cheese. However, these are fine if they’re cooked until steaming hot.
Vitamin A - supplements which contain vitamin A as well as foods high in vitamin A like liver and liver products should be avoided as too much vitamin A can be harmful to the development of your baby.
Cured meats - these are always best to avoid as they’re not cooked which means they have the potential to contain parasites which if consumed can cause toxoplasmosis.
Pâté – this includes meat, fish and vegetarian pâtés and is because they may contain the bacteria which can cause Listeriosis.
Shark, marlin and swordfish - this is because of their mercury content, which can be harmful to unborn babies.
Tuna - although it’s okay to eat tuna, this should be kept to no more than 4 cans or 2 steaks worth a week, again because of its mercury content.
Raw shellfish - should be avoided as this could give you food poisoning.
Herbal teas - no more than 4 cups per day is recommended, as some of the herbs used to make these teas have been shown to have medicinal effects in the body. We don’t really know enough about them to assume that they’re absolutely safe for pregnant people, so to be on the safe side mixing these up with other hot drinks is best.
Licquorice root - although it’s assumed to be safe to eat licquorice in pregnancy licquorice root contains high levels of glycyrrhizin which can affect your baby’s development after birth so it's advised to stay away from it.
Alcohol - there’s pretty good evidence now to show that all types of alcohol can potentially lead to long-term negative health effects in un-born babies, so to be on the safe side it’s best to avoid while pregnant.
Caffeine - again this is okay in small amounts. It’s just important to make sure you limit to no more than 200mg per day – this is the equivalent of 2 cups of instant or 2 small filter coffees, or around 2.5 cups of black tea. Decaff options can be helpful if you’re an avid coffee drinker like myself!
Caffeine in food and drink:
100mg in a mug of instant coffee
140mg in a mug of filter coffee
75mg in a mug of tea (green tea can have the same amount of caffeine as regular tea)
40mg in a can of cola
80mg in a 250ml can of energy drink
less than 25mg in a 50g bar of plain dark chocolate
less than 10mg in a 50g bar of plain milk chocolate
Although it can seem like a lot of information is thrown at you during pregnancy, eating a wide range of a variety of different foods while making some small adjustments to your diet and lifestyle is often all it takes to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible. Keep your eyes peeled for part 2 of this blog series where we'll be taking a look at how and why intuitive eating can be so helpful during pregnancy. I'll also be sharing some of my own experiences as a pregnant intuitive eater, so check in soon for this update!