It might be hip to say that you’re ‘eating for two’, but there’s more to pregnancy nutrition than increasing your caloric intake. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you aren’t entitled to some amount of pampering and self-indulgence. It’s just a reminder that there are some dietary choices that are sensible, while others are ‘not so sensible’. After all, prenatal nutrition plays an important role in the development and wellbeing of your precious baby during every step of this journey. To make things clear, you don’t need to follow some tortuous diet for 9 months. You simply need to modify your dietary choices, by following these simple guidelines for nutrition during each trimester.
First Trimester Nutrition
The importance of following a balanced diet is a no brainer, whether you’re pregnant or not, but it’s something that you’d do well to remind yourself about at this point. This means that your diet should include elements of all the food groups, including high-quality carbs, protein, and healthy fats. A typical pregnancy diet would, therefore, include an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean meats, eggs, and dairy products. Now let’s get to the more specific concerns of nutrition during the first trimester.
Vitamin B9 also referred to as folate or folic acid, is the best known of the essential nutrients for the first trimester. It’s so important because of the vital role that it plays in fetal brain and spinal cord development during the first few weeks. A healthy intake of this nutrient minimizes the risk of neural tube defects and other developmental problems. Similarly, iron, zinc, iodine, and fatty acids like Docosahexaenoic Acid or DHA play an important role. While high-quality carbs are already established as an essential component of a balanced diet, you should focus on low GI foods to maintain your energy levels and minimize symptoms of fatigue.
The Nitty Gritties
• Good sources of folate include leafy greens like spinach and broccoli, citric fruits like orange and grapefruit, beans, and folate-fortified cereal.
• Organ meats like chicken or beef liver are good sources of iron, but you can also get your dietary dose of iron from vegetarian sources like raisins, kidney beans, lima beans, lentils, and iron-fortified cereal.
• Meats like beef, turkey, and pork are good sources of zinc, but you can also get this essential nutrient from dairy products like yogurt/milk, nuts like cashews/almonds, whole grains, and beans.
• Iodine can be obtained from seafood like shrimp, dairy products, eggs, baked potatoes, and beans like navy beans.
• Seafood including the likes of Pacific codfish, tuna, and salmon are among the best sources of fatty acids like DHA, but the nutrient can also be found in eggs, as well as in algae, which are used to create DHA supplements.
• For a healthy intake of low GI carbs, you can include most fruits and veggies, as well as beans, whole grains, nuts, pasta, and low-fat dairy products.
• Fresh fruits, veggies, and beans are also good sources of fiber, which can also be obtained from whole grains and cereals with less risk of causing gas and bloating.
Second Trimester Nutrition
According to What To Expect, “Your baby is very, very busy in the second trimester. By week 18 of pregnancy, he weighs about as much as a chicken breast, and can even yawn and hiccup. By around week 21 you should be able to feel his newly coordinated arms and legs give you little jabs and kicks. By about week 23, your baby takes a cue from you and starts to pack on the pounds; in fact, he'll likely double his weight in the next four weeks.” While nutrients like iron and folate remain important, during the second trimester you also need to pay more attention to your intake of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. These nutrients play an important role in the healthy fetal development of bones and teeth.
The Nitty Gritties
• The best sources of calcium would include fruits and veggies like broccoli, kale, dried figs, and oranges, dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, fish like sardines and salmon, beans like red and white beans, and calcium-fortified fruit juices, oats, and cereal.
• You can up your magnesium intake by eating more leafy greens, fruits like bananas and avocados, dry fruits, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and dark chocolate.
• Vitamin D levels are influenced by more than you eat, depending on your exposure to sunlight without sunscreen. Nevertheless, there are some foods that can help boost your vitamin D intake, including the likes of salmon, cod liver oil, and egg yolk, as well as vitamin d-fortified foods like milk. As food sources for this nutrient are limited, vitamin D deficiencies are pervasive, affecting an estimated 40-60 percent of the population. Supplementation may, therefore, be necessary, but it’s best to first check with your health care provider.
Third Trimester Nutrition
This is the point when your baby’s nutritional needs hit their peak, making adherence to dietary recommendations particularly important. This is the stage when your baby’s metabolism is also developing, which is why your food choices can even impact the health of your child in the future.
Nutrition during the third trimester should reflect the balanced diet recommendations of the previous trimesters. Iron and protein intake remain critical to support fetal development and increased blood volume. Healthy fats including the likes of omega 3 fats take on increased importance during the third trimester because of their role in fetal brain development. They also help to lower the risk of postpartum depression. Vitamins D3 and K2 also play an increasingly important role during this stage of pregnancy. Vitamin K2 is only found in some meats and fermented foods, such as high-fat dairy products from grass-fed cows, organ meats like liver, egg yolks, and fermented foods like sauerkraut.
Supplementation may seem like the natural choice if you’re looking for an easy way out, but it shouldn’t be your first resort. Nutritional requirements are best met through the consumption of whole foods as nutrients are more easily absorbed in their natural form.
Moreover, it is possible to overdose on supplements, jeopardizing the health of you and your baby. Supplements are best used as a fallback and only in consultation with your health care provider.