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what foods to eat and avoid during pregnancy

Here’s a fact: a healthy diet is an important part of pregnancy. During the early pregnancy check, your healthcare provider may list down what foods to eat during pregnancy and what to avoid along with other do’s and don’ts. This is important, as what you eat during these nine months have a greater impact on the overall health and development of your baby.

Gaining an optimal level of weight during pregnancy is also important. But, you need to do this healthily. Plus, for a pregnancy without any complications, you need to have a wholesome diet that provides you with essential vitamins, nutrients and minerals, ensuring the good health of you and your baby.

The below-mentioned pregnancy nutrition infographic covers what food not to eat when pregnant and what foods to eat. So, let’s go ahead and check them out right now!

Pregnancy Nutrition infographic

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A] What Foods To Eat During Pregnancy?

1. Legumes

These plant-based foods are a rich source of fibre, iron, calcium, protein, and folate (B9). Legumes include beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya beans, red kidney beans etc. Folate, in particular, is important for the health of the mother and fetus, as lack of folate intake increases the risk of birth defects (neural tube defects). Thus, being naturally-rich in folate, legumes are one of the best foods to eat during pregnancy. Plus, being high in fiber, they also help combat constipation.

2. Dark Leafy Vegetables

For a healthy pregnancy, including dark leafy vegetables in your diet is important as they are packed with essential nutrients. Dark leafy veggies provide folate, calcium, fiber, iron, potassium and vitamin C, A and K. They are also rich in antioxidants. Eating dark green leafy veggies such as spinach, kale, broccoli and watercress can help prevent constipation. They also help reduce the risk of low birth weight and prevents iron-deficiency anaemia.

3. Lean Meat

These include beef, lamb, chicken, pork etc. Lean meat is a rich source of protein as well as iron, zinc, vitamin B12 etc. These minerals and vitamins help in the growth and development of the baby’s brain, nerve, and muscle. The form of iron delivered through meat is also easily absorbed by the body compared to the plant-based source.

An optimum level of iron during early and mid-pregnancy can lower the risk of premature delivery, low birth weight, and postpartum depression. Likewise, it lowers the risk of anaemia, helps maintain the blood level while ensuring that oxygen is delivered to all the cells of the body.

4. Sweet Potatoes

Rich in beta carotene (vitamin A), sweet potatoes supports a healthy immune system during pregnancy and promotes healthy fetal development. They also have fiber which improves digestive health. Also, sweet potatoes help reduce the symptoms of morning sickness, which makes it one of the important foods to eat during pregnancy.

5. Eggs

Pregnant women who are averse to meat can opt for eggs, as they are an excellent source of proteins and amino acids. Almost all nutrients (vitamins and minerals) that are required during pregnancy can be found in eggs. It is also a good source of choline, which is important for fetal brain health and development.

6. Kiwis, Avocados, Berries (And Other Fruits)

Fruits are the best foods to eat during pregnancy. Kiwis, avocados, and berries are superfoods that are a storehouse of healthy fats, healthy carbs, folate, vitamin K, C, E, dietary fibre, antioxidants, and potassium. These help build healthy skin cells, assist in cognitive development, strengthens the immune system and helps balance the hormones, preventing mood swings.

Other fruits such as bananas are rich in potassium, which helps boost energy level. Oranges are packed with vitamin C and keeps you hydrated as it contains 90% water. Apples, on the other hand, are rich in fibre and prevents haemorrhoids.

7. Starchy Carbohydrate-rich Foods

When it comes to nutrition and pregnancy, healthy starchy carbohydrate-rich foods like rice, potatoes, bread, sweet potatoes, and corn helps boost the digestive system, prevents constipation, and manages blood sugar levels, thereby decreasing the chances of gestational diabetes. These foods also help women maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy. Plus, they are a good source of energy and fibre, which keeps fatigue at bay.

8. Dried Fruits and Nuts

These are healthy pregnancy snacks that are packed with fibre, amino acids, vitamins, omega 3 fats, and minerals. Moderate consumption of dried fruits and nuts are recommended during pregnancy, as they help in the development of the baby’s bones, brain, cells, nerves, lungs and teeth.

For the mother, it helps control blood pressure, prevents constipation and strengthens the uterus muscles, which aids in a smooth delivery. Walnuts, prunes, almonds, dates, pistachios, cashews and hazelnuts are some of the best foods to eat when pregnant.

9. Whole Grains

Increasing calories intake during pregnancy is important and as such, healthy whole-grain foods are an ideal option to meet this requirement. Whole grains also contain fiber, B vitamins, iron, plant compounds, and magnesium. This helps in the development of the baby and helps the placenta grow. Some of the whole-grain foods that women can add to their diet include brown rice, barley, oatmeal, popcorn, whole-wheat bread, among others.

10. Fortified Oatmeal

Since pregnant women need to consume 400 to 800 micrograms (mcg) of folate/folic acid each day, fortified oatmeals is another excellent source. They are also packed with iron, which makes it a good nutritional choice for a healthy and simple breakfast.

11. Dairy Products

For pregnant women, calcium is essential to meet the growing needs of the fetus. Calcium is needed for the development of strong teeth & bones, to build muscles and for blood clotting. Lack of calcium during pregnancy increases the risk of osteoporosis later in life. Thus, stock up on calcium-rich foods such as dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese), dried fruits, leafy vegetables, chia seeds and more.

12. Eat The Right Fish (Salmon and Sardines)

Salmon and sardines are other calcium-rich foods. They are also rich in DHA (omega-3 fatty acids) and high-quality protein, which is essential for pregnancy. These help in the development of the baby’s brain and eyes. Also, both salmon and sardines have high levels of selenium, which prevent mercury toxicity.

13. Drink More Water

This is a no-brainer! Staying hydrated during pregnancy is important as it helps the body to absorb the nutrients & vitamins that the baby requires. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches, as well as increase the risk of urinary tract infections and constipation. Thus, drink plenty of water throughout the day for a healthy pregnancy.

Read Also: Foods That Can Increase Fertility in Women [infographic]

B] What Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy?

1. Raw Sprouts

Raw sprouts like mung bean sprouts, clover, and radish can be contaminated with bacteria (Salmonella) inside the seeds. These are nearly impossible to wash off. Thus, it is important thing to avoid in early pregnancy and eat only well-cooked sprouts.

2. High-Mercury and Undercooked/Raw Fish

Certain types of fish have high levels of mercury which is extremely toxic and can affect the woman’s kidneys, immune system, and nervous system. It can also cause developmental problems in children. King mackerel, tuna, shark, swordfish, and tilefish have a high mercury level. Likewise, uncooked and raw seafood such as sushi or raw shellfish (oysters, clams) can have harmful parasites and bacteria. As such, avoiding these foods during pregnancy is recommended.

3. Unwashed Veggies and Fruits

Are you wondering which fruits and vegtables to avoid during a pregnancy? While fruits and veggies are the superfoods to eat during pregnancy, it is important to wash/rinse them thoroughly before consuming. Unwashed veggies and fruits may be contaminated by bacteria & parasites such as Toxoplasma, E. coli, salmonella and listeria. These can cause serious illness and can affect the growth & development of the baby, leading to life-threatening consequences.

4. Undercooked, Raw, and Processed Meat

This is another food item to avoid when pregnant. Like unwashed veggies and fruits, raw, undercooked and processed meat are prone to parasites and bacterial contamination which can cause severe infections. These harmful bacteria can cause serious neurological illnesses affecting the health of the baby. It could also lead to stillbirth. Thus, be it cold cuts, hot dogs, or luncheon meat, make sure to eat only thoroughly cooked meat that is steaming hot.

5. Unpasteurised Milk, Cheese, and Fruit Juice

The list of foods not to eat when pregnant also includes unpasteurised (raw) milk, cheese, and fruit juice. These contain harmful bacteria (salmonella, listeria and E. coli) and can lead to food poisoning as well as affect the unborn baby’s health. Cheese made with unpasteurised milk, soft cheese with white grinds (brie and camembert) and soft blue-veined cheese (Danish blue and Roquefort) should be avoided. Also, look for the pasteurised label when buying juice or milk in the supermarket.

6. Raw or Partially Cooked Eggs

Another thing to avoid eating when pregnant is raw/partially cooked eggs are home-made mayonnaise, salad dressings, cake icings, poached eggs etc. Contaminated with the bacteria Salmonella, raw eggs can affect the mother’s health causing stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhoea. In certain cases, the infection could also lead to premature birth or stillbirth. Thus, to prevent this, make sure to eat only cooked eggs.

7. Excess Caffeine and Herbal Teas

Excessive caffine and herbal teas are drinks to avoid during pregnancy. High levels of caffeine contribute towards premature birth, low birth weight, and even miscarriage. It also hampers fetal growth. Generally, moderate amount to caffeine (200 mg a day) is presumed to be safe during pregnancy. However, overall, it is a good idea to cut down on caffeine (regular tea, green tea, coffee, cola, herbal teas, and energy drinks)and switch to fresh juice, water etc.

8. Alcohol and Smoking

When it comes to food to avoid during pregnancy, alcohol and smoking tops the list. Alcohol present in the mother’s blood directly passes to the baby through the umbilical cord and can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Read here to know more. Similarly, smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and can lead to other health problems.

9. Processed Junk Food

Getting plentiful nutrients during pregnancy is important. However, processed junk food is essentially low in nutrients. They are also high in sugar, added fats, and calories, and all these could increase the risk of gestational diabetes, excess weight gain during pregnancy, and other birth complications.

10. Canned Food

Canned food contains an epoxy liner that contains the compound BPA or bisphenol A which is a toxic substance. This is unsafe for pregnant women and can hamper the reproductive & brain development in children, cause birth defects and lead to behavioural problems later in life. All types of canned food – fruits, vegetables, soda, pasta, soup – have high BPA levels. As such, it is best to avoid these foods when pregnant and instead opt for fresh healthy food.

11. Sugar-rich Foods and Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar-loaded foods and artificial sweeteners are some of the other foods to avoid during pregnancy to lower the risk of complications. They are low in nutrients, low in energy and can hamper foetal growth. Frequent consumption can also cause gastrointestinal discomfort and lead to excess weight gain.

12. Excess Vitamins

Too much vitamins can also harm the baby. It could lead to birth defects and other complications. Thus, it is best to talk with your healthcare provider before you start taking prenatal vitamins and supplements to avoid the risk of over-dosing.

13. Street Food

Pregnant women are more susceptible to infections and any infection can be transmitted to the baby through the placenta, thereby compromising the health of both – the mother and the unborn baby. Even in normal circumstances, street food is not a healthy choice. As such, during pregnancy, it is best to avoid them to reduce the risk of food poisoning and other digestive problems.

#To sum up

A pregnant woman’s body undergoes a long of changes during pregnancy, and to cope up with these changes and to ensure a healthy pregnancy having a wholesome and nutritional diet is important. Pregnant women are also more susceptible to infections and food poisoning. As such, it is vital to be aware of the do’s and don’ts of pregnancy, especially when it comes to food.

Dieting during pregnancy is not recommended. Also, it is best to remember that what you eat, gets shared with your unborn child. Thus, it is important to think twice before you eat, and if you have doubts, then it’s a good idea to talk to a professional gynaecologist or your healthcare provider.

Was the above infographic on what foods to eat/avoid during pregnancy helpful? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Neha Goel

Neha Goel, a Psychology alumna and MBA graduate from CASS Business School, London, brings together her expertise as a Reiki Practitioner and Practice Manager. She integrates psychology and business strategies to foster holistic well-being and personal development.