Nutrition in pregnancy is something that people take to be an over flogged issue, but important things are over flogged for emphasis, not so? The importance of good nutrition during pregnancy cannot be overemphasized because of the effect poor nutrition will have on the outcome of the pregnancy. Cases of premature delivery, stillbirth and other complications are higher in poorly nourished pregnant women than those who are well fed. Also, infants delivered by poorly fed mothers are usually underweight compared to those who were well fed and properly nourished during their period of pregnancy. For this reason, once conception has taken place, nutrition is a major factor in determining the outcome of a pregnancy.
Several nutrients including clean water are essential for growth, reproduction, and good health. For this reason, I have handpicked several tips for pregnant women as regards nutrition.
Macronutrients must be consumed in relatively large quantities and it includes proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and fatty acids. So, your diet during this period should contain an equal proportion of these foods. As Nigerians, foods like eba, fufu, wheat, laafun and other traditional meals accompanied with soups rich in vegetables and protein (any orishirishi you can lay your hands on. *wink!) shouldn’t be scarce in your diet plan at all. Rice, pasta, black-eyed peas, soya beans, and other healthy foods should also be eaten. I should add here that you can also give in to your cravings too, but only if it’s healthy. I have heard of many unthinkable craving combinations. Too many sugary foods like ice cream, sweetened yogurt, and sweets are not good at this period. You don’t want to load yourself with too much sugar to avoid obesity. You want to be able to carry yourself around during the later stages of your pregnancy.
Someone might want to ask at this point, ‘How about diabetic pregnant women?’.
Well, there’s such a thing as gestational diabetes. It doesn’t automatically mean that this person is diabetic. It affects many pregnant women and that’s the stereotypical rushing to the toilet every single time in some movies with pregnant women. It’s as true as daylight. Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar (glucose) that starts during pregnancy. Eating a balanced, healthy diet will very much help you manage gestational diabetes. The diet recommendations are for women with gestational diabetes who do NOT take insulin. It also applies to women who really have diabetes.
If you are also a vegetarian or you have a strict diet plan, talk to your dietician or doctor who would guide you through planning your diet for this period.
For diabetic pregnant women, these tips should help:
- High-fibre, whole-grain carbohydrates are better, healthier alternatives. So, avoid the regular foods that have simple sugars like carbonated drinks, white rice, potatoes, cakes, candies, and fast-food fries. These foods happen to spike your blood sugar level immediately you take them. Alternatives to eba should also be eaten here. Wheat meal, and Amala can be used.
- Eat vegetables and fruits! I cannot overemphasize this enough. However, stay away from fruits that have too much water or you’ll be urinating every time. Fruits like cucumber and watermelon should be avoided.
- Eat foods loaded with vitamins, fibre, minerals, healthy carbohydrates and proteins like whole-grain bread, cereals, brown rice, corn, whole-wheat pasta, beans, and oats.
- Fresh fruits (not frozen) and fruit juices (with no added sugar) can be taken and it’s a bonus to take the fruits whole as they contain high fibre content then especially citrus fruits like oranges, tangerine and grapefruits.
- Healthy dairy choices like non-fat or low-fat milk, yoghurt (not sweetened) can be taken as they are good sources of micronutrients like phosphorus, calcium and protein. This choice is also healthy for lactose intolerant women, oh, and skimmed milk too!
- Healthy protein choices include lean cuts of beef, pork or bush meat. Chicken (with the skin removed) is also a good choice of meat. You should stay away from fatty meats at this point. Beans, moin-moin, soya beans, soya milk are great.
- Take unripe plantains. Now, many people don’t like unripe plantains as opposed to its brother, the ripe one. Unfortunately, they might not know all the ways unripe plantains can be prepared. My aunt once blended them then put it in a pot on medium heat then stirred till a thick mass was formed. We ate it with efo-riro (vegetable soup) and the taste was heavenly. Grilled unripe plantains are also delicious. You can also boil it and eat with vegetable sauces like garden egg sauce. I already feel my stomach rumbling.
- Take it easy with salad dressing, butter, peanut butter and desserts. Remember, you can always share. One way that I have found to reduce weight gain is to share your food with someone. As funny as it might sound, it works! Do you remember the hostel days?
- Don’t cut out fats entirely from your diet. Remember, it’s a good source of energy and is essential for your child(ren)’s brain development. Runaway from saturated fatty food. Instead, lean-to canola oil, groundnut oil, kuli kuli oil (now, the scent of this when cooking. Heaven!), nuts and avocadoes.
- Now, starting all these healthy choices will feel overwhelming because you’re not used to them. However, constantly making a healthy decision on each meal will help you develop the habit.
For other pregnant women, these tips will also help:
- Increase fruits and vegetable consumption to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases. (pregnant women should avoid eating pineapple fruit as it is said to have high bromelain content which is an enzyme that softens the cervix and can trigger uterine contractions!).
- Reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce the risk of overweight and obesity.
- Protein is essential as it gives an energy balance during pregnancy.
- Calcium reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. Foods like milk and soft bones come into play here.
- Daily iron and folic supplements during pregnancy are important to reduce the risk of postpartum anaemia. However, this should be according to doctor’s prescription as overtaking these might mess with the body’s hormones. Also, too much blood is a problem during delivery.
- Iodine supplements in pregnant women help to control iodine deficiency disorder.
- Potassium intake reduces blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. Milk, soft bones, plantains and other foods rich in potassium comes into play here.
- Reduction in sodium intake helps in controlling blood pressure during pregnancy. Cut down on your salt intake and seasoning cubes.
Remember to relate with your doctor or health care provider if you notice any changes in your body system.
Chioma Nnam(Omatonia) is a writer and Community Health Extension Worker who between other things likes to educate you and me on how to have a healthy lifestyle.