Pregnancy super foods

Eating for two isn't just a case of quantity, it's also about the quality of food we share with our unborn baby. The rules of healthy eating are a little different during pregnancy, so here are eight nutritional tips to help you grow the best possible baby!

1. Welcome back the carbs!

Carbohydrates – the starchy kind found in bread, pasta, rice and cereals – often get a bad rap, but they're vital when you're pregnant. You need a balanced diet for healthy weight gain and, as they're your body's first source of ready energy, you'll find yourself craving them a lot as your baby grows.

Just make sure you choose the right carbs. Australian research has shown that following a low GI diet during pregnancy lowers your risk of developing gestational diabetes and helps to ensure your baby is in the right weight range at birth. Nutritionist and P&B expert Dr Joanna McMillan says ensuring you choose the best quality – that is, low GI – carbs will help to keep your energy constant, curb hunger and cravings and avoid excessive weight gain for you and your baby.

"Low GI wholegrains such as grainy breads, rolled oats, and barley are good choices as these also provide fibre. Other good choices include sweet potato, legumes, quinoa and wholegrain pasta," she says.

2. Don't ditch dairy

The calcium and other essential nutrients provided by dairy products – milk, yoghurt and cheese – are vital now you're pregnant, so don't be tempted to cut back.

Zita West, midwife, fertility expert and author of Babycare Before Birth, says calcium keeps bones and teeth strong and healthy and helps maintain the circulatory, muscular and nervous systems.

"If you don't get enough from your diet, your body will take it from stores in your bones, which over time, might become weakened," she says.

Skim and light milks contain all the calcium of whole milk while cutting the saturated fat, so opt for these over full-fat dairy where possible.

"You do need fat in your diet to provide the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and essential fatty acids, and fat is required to absorb many antioxidants," says Joanna. "But you are far better to obtain these nutrients from healthy fat sources such as avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish."

3. Make friends with fish

"Fish is a fabulous addition to your pregnancy diet," says Joanna. "White fish provides quality protein and many nutrients including B group vitamins and selenium, an antioxidant mineral many Australians don't get enough of. Oily fish such as salmon, trout and sardines are especially valuable as they provide the long chain omega-3 fats we now know to be essential for your baby's brain and eye development and for your own good health."

There have been concerns raised over the build up of toxins and heavy metals such as mercury in fish. The greatest risk is to the unborn child and therefore many pregnant mums worry over the safety of fish. Fortunately, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has found that most fish caught and sold in Australia are low in mercury. Those found to have the highest levels were billfish (swordfish, broadbill and marlin) and shark, followed by orange roughy (sometimes called sea perch) and catfish. FSANZ recommends limiting your consumption of these varieties if you are pregnant.

4. Put a cap on caffeine

The latest advice on caffeine is to limit your daily intake when pregnant to 200mg or less – about two mugs of instant coffee. This is because of concerns that high levels of caffeine can lead to low birth weight or even miscarriage.

A recent Swedish study found that a child expected to weigh about 3.6kg at birth lost 21-26g in birth weight for each 100mg of average daily caffeine intake by the mother.

"This new research means that pregnant women would be wise to cut down their caffeine intake, but it is important not to panic mothers as the risk is extremely small," says Joanna.

Be careful in coffee shops: coffees can contain more caffeine than you might expect. If in doubt, ask – or go decaf! And remember that caffeine is also present in tea (including green tea), chocolate and some energy drinks.

Considering a switch to herbal tea? "Most herbal teas are caffeine free and will be fine to consume during pregnancy," says Joanna. "However some herbal preparations have other active constituents that may have unwanted side effects. It's best to err on the side of caution and see a health professional before taking any other herbal preparations."

5. Take seven steps to fruit and veg heaven

Seven is the minimum number of portions of fruit and veg we're advised to consume daily, but pregnancy is a great incentive to take this further.
"Fruit and veg are loaded with micronutrients such as folate, they're among the best sources of antioxidants and other beneficial plant chemicals, and they're rich in fibre to keep you regular and your gut healthy," says Joanna. "The bonus is they are also low in kilojoules so you get the maximum nutritional bang."

Include fruit and/or veggies with every meal, aiming to fill half your plate. You need at least two pieces of fruit every day and five serves of different veggies.

"A big bowl of mixed salad veggies, a mixed veggie stir-fry or a homemade veggie soup are all great ways to boost your intake. If you also snack on fresh or dried fruit or pick up a veggie juice you'll easily meet your seven-a-day requirement," advises Joanna.

6. Forget fad diets

While the latest diet might usually be a useful way to kick-start weight loss, diets during pregnancy are a definite no-no.

"Pregnancy is not a time to diet, particularly some of the popular fad diets that cut out entire food groups," says Joanna. "The more restrictions on your diet, the less likely you are to meet all nutrient requirements. If you cut out the carbs you may end up low on energy, stressing your liver and kidneys.

Cutting out dairy foods without adequately replacing them with other calcium-rich foods will result in your body pulling calcium from your bones and teeth to give to your baby. The baby won't suffer but you'll be left with weakened bones and an expensive trip to the dentist."

7. Pack a protein punch

Your body's demand for protein increases when you're pregnant (you'll need up to 60mg a day). Lean chicken, nuts, seeds, tofu and lean red meat are all excellent sources.

"Proteins are the building blocks of the body's cells," says Zita. "They're made from 20 types of amino acids. Meat and fish contain a full range of amino acids, but dairy produce and vegetables such as pulses (for example, peas and beans) are also good sources. If you're vegetarian, you need to obtain your protein from a variety of sources including nuts, pulses, seeds, dairy products, eggs and soy products."

8. Go with the flow

While before you may have tried hard to stick to a rigid daily calorie count, now you'll need to go with the flow.

"You may feel hungrier or less hungry, or gain more or less weight at different times to the usual guidelines and that's fine," says Zita. "Many women panic about weight gain but in my experience it does even itself out," she adds. "On the days when you want to eat lots, balancing blood sugar is key, so try eating healthy foods, little and often."

And for the days you can't stomach any proper food? "Some women really struggle with nausea or crave nothing but fatty and sweet comfort foods," says Joanna.

"Rest assured that for most women the nauseous stage ends after the first trimester and during that time your baby generally gets what it needs from your body's stores. If you are suffering from terrible nausea do see your doctor as there are medications that can help. However, it's important for women not to indulge in unhealthy foods for the entire pregnancy. Try making healthy home prepared comfort foods and eat regularly to keep cravings at bay."