What does it mean to eat healthy during pregnancy? And what benefits can it have?
You have probably heard that there are several foods that you should avoid during pregnancy, since they may harm the fetus. You can find that list below.
But in addition to avoiding certain foods, research is teaching us more and more about how we can also adjust our diet to promote the future health of our baby-to-be.
Healthy eating during pregnancy can reduce the risk of several diseases (including heart disease and diabetes) for your child in the future.
Here you’ll find guidelines on what to eat, why and what foods to avoid during pregnancy.
Guidelines For Healthy Eating During Pregnancy
- Baby Benefits Of A Healthy Pregnancy Diet
- Mom Benefits Of A Healthy Pregnancy Diet
- What To Eat To Boost Future Health Of Your Child
- Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy
- Pregnancy Diet Book Tips
Baby Benefits Of A Healthy Pregnancy Diet
Risks if mom overeats
A recent study has shown that an unbalanced diet during pregnancy can increase the baby’s risk of type 2 diabetes later in life, something that in turn increases the risk of heart disease. A high-fat diet by mom has also been seen to increase the risk of congenital heart disease. So by eating healthy, you will decrease your baby’s risk of diabetes later in life as well as heart diseases.
Research has also demonstrated that the children of mothers who overeat are at risk for liver and pancreas damage. Both of which can contribute to early-onset obesity and again – diabetes. In addition, significant brain changes can occur in the offspring of some mothers who overeat. These changes take place in the hypothalamus, the region of the brain that controls weight regulation. The data suggest that children born to mothers who eat a high-fat diet may be predisposed to weight problems.
New research at the University of Auckland, New Zealand has revealed that a pregnant mom’s cravings for sweet food during pregnancy seem to affect unborn female babies more than it would affect a male fetus. Eating too much sugar during pregnancy can harm the nutrients that reach the unborn female fetuses and possibly affect their growth later in life.
Risks from eating too little
But just as over-eating can be harmful, so can eating too little. Findings of a new US study have proposed that intake of a low-calorie diet or diet low on nutrient content may harm the brain of the newborn and the infant may experience behavioral disorders in later life. It is also linked with low intelligence quotient (IQ) in kids.
So, a balanced diet is without any doubt what your baby needs. And what is that? Just a second and I’ll let you know. But first, let’s also take a look at the health effects for mom by eating healthy during pregnancy.
Mom Benefits Of A Healthy Pregnancy Diet
For mom, there are also several nice benefits from eating healthy during pregnancy. For example, lower risk of pregnancy diabetes, lower risk of pre-eclampsia, lower risk of extreme weight increase and lower risk of high blood pressure. Good reasons, don’t you think?
No one knows exactly what causes pre-eclampsia, but there is enough research indicating that a poor low-nutrition diet is part of the problem, to take it seriously. Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition that can cause serious complications for both the mother and baby. A healthy diet packed with key essential nutrients can prevent or treat pre-eclampsia.
What To Eat To Boost Future Health Of Your Child
Ok, so healthy eating during pregnancy is obviously a key for both mom and baby. But what does it mean? A lot of studies mention “a balanced diet” without really specifying what it is. I guess anyone can figure out that a healthy diet will not comprise of chocolate bars and French fries, but is avoiding sugar and poor fats enough?
Not really, but it will get you a long way.
If you avoid refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, and poor fats as much as you can, and focus on filling up your body with vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, healthy fats (like in fatty fish and avocado), slow carbs (like in whole grains), healthy proteins (like in fish, eggs, and white meat) you will give your baby a great start. Also, avoid alcohol and minimize your intake of caffeine. The latter can cause an increased risk of miscarriage according to several studies.
Also, make sure you get enough vitamin D. A study from 2007 concluded that women who were deficient in this key fat-soluble vitamin were significantly more likely to develop pre-eclampsia and the dangerous symptoms associated with it. Take supplements, enjoy daylight outside as much as possible and eat foods that are high in vitamin D, such as fortified milk or soymilk, and cultured dairy products like cheese and yogurt. Fatty fish species like salmon and herring also offer significant amounts of vitamin D – plus an omega-3 boost that can enhance a baby’s brain and prevent postpartum depression.
Still too complicated? :-)
Here are rules of thumb for safe and healthy eating while pregnant:
- Eat veggies and fruits of different colors every day.
- Eat fish, eggs and/or white meat every day.
- Eat whole-grain products (bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, bulgur et cetera) every day.
- Eat candy, cookies, soft drinks, and similar sugar intense products only 1 day per week.
- Drink no more than 1 cup of coffee and/or caffeinated drink every day.
- Take a high-quality prenatal vitamin. (Link to an example on Amazon, opens in new window)
- Take a Prenatal DHA fish oil supplement (Link to an example on Amazon, opens in new window).
- Make sure you get sunlight and/or a vitamin D supplements every day.
- Avoid alcohol completely.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners completely (if you absolutely must sweeten something, try Agave nectar.)
Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy
Is that all? Well, almost. You also need to keep an eye on what foods you need to avoid during pregnancy because they may harm fetal development for various reasons.
Here are the foods to avoid during pregnancy:
- Raw meat – Can lead to contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella. Meat should not be eaten if raw or rare. But be cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, or 180 degrees F in the thigh for whole poultry. Toxoplasmosis, caused by a parasite, can in the worst case lead to stillbirth, long-term structural and neurological damage, and other devastating effects.
- Deli meat – Can contain listeria, which may lead to miscarriage.
- Raw fish – Raw fish is ok to eat, but should be frozen for at least 72 hours before eaten. Make sure you avoid high mercury fish.
- Raw shellfish – The most common cause of seafood-related illness.
- Fish from contaminated waters – Some lakes and rivers may be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, which may lead to lower birth weight and smaller head circumference.
- Smoked seafood – Can contain listeria, which may lead to miscarriage. If added to a casserole, and boiled, they are OK to eat.
- Fish might in mercury – Such as Grouper, Marlin, Orange roughy, Tilefish, Swordfish, Shark and King Mackerel. Mercury can cause developmental delays in babies.
- Unwashed veggies and fruits – Can lead to exposure to toxoplasmosis, which in the worst case can lead to stillbirth, long-term structural and neurological damage, and other devastating effects. Wash or peel your veggies and fruits!
- Unpasteurized milk and cheese – Can contain listeria, which may lead to miscarriage.
- Raw eggs – Can contain salmonella.
If you want, you can download a practical printable version of this list here:
This was all! Quite a lot to digest, maybe. Make sure to bookmark the post or print it! The MOST important thing is to avoid any foods that can be harmful to your baby, but boosting your baby’s health is nice too. :-)
Have a wonderful pregnancy and post a comment below if you wonder about anything!
Pregnancy Diet Book Tips
If you want to learn about healthy eating during pregnancy, check out any of these books.
- Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy (American Dietetic Association)
- The Whole 9 Months: A Week-By-Week Pregnancy Nutrition Guide with Recipes for a Healthy Start
- Real Food for Pregnancy: The Science and Wisdom of Optimal Prenatal Nutrition
The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology. ‘Maternal vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of preeclampsia.’ September 2007.
Ionel Sandovici, Noel H. Smith, Marloes Dekker Nitert, Matthew Ackers-Johnson, Santiago Uribe-Lewis, Yoko Ito, R. Huw Jones, Victor E. Marquez, William Cairns, Mohammed Tadayyon, Laura P. O’neill, Adele Murrell, Charlotte Ling, Miguel Constância, and Susan E. Ozanne. Maternal diet and aging alter the epigenetic control of a promoter–enhancer interaction at the Hnf4a gene in rat pancreatic islets. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011
Wellcome Trust (2010, July 6). Maternal diet and genes interact to affect heart development.
Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage: a prospective cohort study, Xiaoping Weng, PhD; Roxana Odouli, MSPH; De-Kun Li, MD, PhD
S. Sen, R. A. Simmons. Maternal Antioxidant Supplementation Prevents Adiposity in the Offspring of Western Diet-Fed Rats. Diabetes, 2010; 59 (12): 3058
Prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls: Effects on birth size and gestational age, The Journal of Pediatrics Volume 105, Issue 2 , Pages 315-320, August 1984