Diet during pregnancy is very important. Every day, the baby in your womb develops and puts on weight, but that does not mean you should eat a double serving. Together with your baby, you may now become refined gourmets, who are picky about their food. But you should not let your appetite and culinary whims take the lead, but rather observe the conviction that what you eat now influences the health of your baby.
Your diet affects the normal development of the pregnancy and it has an important part in avoiding pregnancy symptoms (such as nausea, heartburn and constipation) or other complications, such as gestational diabetes or anaemia. This also helps your baby develop harmoniously and it will give it a better start in life. Although it is difficult to imagine, your child, due to what you are eating now, will acquire skills more easily in the future. It seems many years of the nervous system’s development process, as well as brain development – have their key in the foetal period and the first years in a child’s life. Later on, new neuronal connections are created in the brain, and fatty acids contribute to a quicker information flow and they provide ease in acquiring new skills.
In order to function correctly, the brain needs omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The latter is particularly valuable, because approximately 60% builds the cerebral cortex. It can be found in sea fish (for instance, mackerel, herring, sardines, salmon) and seafood. Given all these aspects, you should replace meat with fish twice a week. That is because during pregnancy the DHA demand increases four times! If you are not a great fan of fish, you can provide DHA to your body by taking food supplements with DHA from fish oil or algae. A diet that contains DHA contributes to bone growing, developing the eyes in the child and it improves the mother’s health. Scientists have shown that docosahexaenoic acid helps prevent perinatal complications and reduces the risk of postpartum depression.
Diet during pregnancy should also contain folic acid. Doctors recommend supplements even from the preconception period and then throughout the pregnancy, as it supports the normal development of the nervous system and of the child’s brain and increases the red blood cells production. Folic acid can be found, among others, in spinach, broccoli, bananas, avocado and eggs.
Now you shouldn’t think you’re doomed to a monotonous diet consisting of meals that only contain salmon and spinach. You need many other ingredients. Diet during pregnancy should first of all be balanced and diversified. An important part is that of products rich in protein, because these are the building bricks of the developing child’s tissues and organs. Your source of protein in the diet should be: lean meat, dairy products, vegetables, nuts, tofu. Carbohydrates are also important, because they provide energy and improve metabolism: the best sources of carbohydrates are whole grain bread, cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables.
Banned foods during pregnancy!
Trans fatty acids
This type of food is present in highly processed foods and you can exclude it completely from your diet. Our body does not produce this type of fat, the only source is diet. Trans fatty acid-containing goods are considered to have a connection with a higher risk of several diseases of the civilisation. They should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Trans fatty acids permeate the placenta and are secreted in milk, and their existence can contribute to various conditions, such as preeclampsia, foetal development disorders, atopia.
In order to avoid trans acids exclude from your diet deep-fried products, soup cubes, chips, biscuits, wafers, mass-produced cakes and all products that contain in their composition “hydrogenated vegetable fats”.
Raw products: meat, eggs, fish, dairy products
Raw products or those that are cooked insufficiently, such as rare meat, endanger pregnant women and their babies, who can get infected from the food. Sometimes there are no symptoms. You should definitely make sure the products that end up in your plate have been well cooked.
It’s no wonder that alcohol is on the list of banned products during pregnancy. In many European countries pregnant women are recommended full alcohol abstinence. Even a small quantity of alcohol may determine the abnormal development of the baby.
Sugar and glucose-fructose syrup dominate our diet today. It is difficult to find products that do not contain it. According to recommendations, only 10% of the energy obtained from food can be given by this type of sugars, but we consume much more. Uncontrolled consumption of sweet snacks and soft drinks during pregnancy can lead to excessive weight gain and carbohydrate disorders (such as gestational diabetes), which may be a direct threat to the safety of your pregnancy. In addition, it may affect the child’s future health increasing the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Liver is a deposit for a series of substances, including vitamin A as retinol, which is toxic for the foetus in high concentrations. Complete elimination of liver from the diet of a pregnant woman is recommended. Pay special attention to dishes that may contain liver, such as pate.
Partially banned foods during pregnancy!
Such cheeses carry the risk of infection with Listeria bacteria during pregnancy and decreases significantly resistance to food poisoning and infections. So don’t eat cold blue cheese.
Caffeine or energy drink abuse can be very dangerous during pregnancy, but this doesn’t mean you have to give up caffeine drinks in general. You should abandon them in the first trimester of pregnancy, and then limit your caffeine intake to 200 mg a day.
Below is an information table with the caffeine content in various drinks (in mg)
- Espresso: 75-100
- Filter espresso (one cup): 100-115
- Instant coffee (one cup): 75
- Decaf coffee (one cup): 4
- Tea (one cup): 50
- Bitter chocolate (50 g): 50
- Chocolate milk (one cup): 10
Plant infusion can have equally strong effects as drugs, and most of them are not tested to see if they are safe during pregnancy. So you should only drink those that are safe: nettle, dandelion, marigold.
Brussels sprouts contain many vitamins and minerals, but it may also lead to food poisoning. It is safer to give up buying Brussels sprouts during the pregnancy.
Dangerous food additives during pregnancy
Additives are now included in most processed foods. Some are safe, others aren’t. Some haven’t been tested enough to determine if they are safe. During pregnancy, it is best to be very careful and plan your meals in such a way as to avoid additives that might be dangerous as many times as possible.
Artificial food colouring
Blue no. 1, Blue no. 2, Citric red no. 2, Green no. 3, Red no. 3, Yellow no. 6
The artificial colouring is used for a wide variety of products, from hot dogs to candies and bakery products.
What to do?
Avoid them! Many are not tested enough. It is known that some cause cancer in laboratory animals. Some are suspected to cause hyperactivity. Others are useless.
Hundreds of different chemical substances are used to replace natural flavours. They are identified on the label only as “artificial flavours”.
What to do?
Avoid them! These are often found in old foods. Natural products can be much more nourishing. Some artificial flavours can produce hyperactivity. Foods containing artificial flavours aren’t necessary in your diet.
Acesulfame potassium, aspartame or saccharine are used in hypocaloric sweet soft drinks and foods.
What to do?
Avoid them! Acesulfame potassium hasn’t yet been tested thoroughly. Although some research shows aspartame is safe, it is suspected to produce cerebral lesions in sensitive individuals. You can eat well without it. Saccharine is known to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene).
BHA and BHT are used in some cereals, potato chips, oils and chewing gum. They are antioxidants that prevent fats from going rancid.
What to do?
Avoid them! In a Japanese study from 1982, BHA caused cancer in rats, although other studies consider it safe. BHT research is controversial. Both BHA and BHT can be replaced with safer substitutes.
It is a stimulant that occurs naturally in coffee, tea and cocoa and it is added to soft drinks.
What to do?
Avoid it or limit it! Excessive use causes the risk of spontaneous abortion, congenital anomalies. Recent research suggest its use may not be harmful. However, it may cause sleep troubles.
MSG (monosodium glutamate)
MSG improves the taste of soups, chicken, seafood, stews, sauces, Chinese food and pre-cooked foods.
What to do?
Avoid them! MSG may cause harm to brain cells in new-born rats. MSG causes headaches, “Chinese restaurant syndrome”, a sensation of great pressure in the head and arms.
Phosphoric acid, phosphates
They are used in some bakery products, canned meats, dried cereals and soft drinks to add taste and prevent discolouring.
What to do?
Although they are not toxic, their widespread use may lead to a food imbalance that can generate osteoporosis.
It is a flavour used in tonic water, quinine water and bitter lemon.
What to do?
Quinine is not well tested. It may produce congenital anomalies. Do not drink gin & tonic while you are pregnant under any circumstances. Avoid it!
Sodium nitrites and nitrates
They are used to preserve, colour and give flavour to meat products (bacon, ham, hot dogs, salted meat).
What to do?
Avoid them! Especially in fried bacon, they can give nitrosamines that can cause cancer. May products containing these additives also have a high content of fat and they should be avoided for this reason, too.
Sulphur dioxide; sodium bisulphite
These preservative and whitening agents can be found in sliced fruit, dried fruit, some “fresh” shrimp, dried potatoes and grapefruit juice.
What to do?
Avoid them! Sulphite agents prevent discolouring in dried or sliced fruit, shrimp and some processed potatoes. They slow down the development of bacteria in wine. They can also destroy vitamin B1 and produce severe allergic reactions (even death) in sensitive individuals.
Source: “Chemical Cuisine”, published by Center for Science in the Public Interest.