What you eat has a direct impact on your health and well-being throughout your life. But during pregnancy, getting the right nutritional balance is even more important to your baby’s development.
A good diet during pregnancy increases the chances of your baby reaching a healthy birth weight, boosts brain development and even guards against a number of birth defects. Eating well also supports the mother, helping to stave off the worst effects of fatigue and morning sickness.
During this time, the aim is to provide your baby with a rich cocktail of all the different minerals, vitamins and other nutrients they need at this crucial developmental stage, all in the right balance. All nutrients are important for your baby, but six of the most important before birth are folate/folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, protein and iron.
Getting a good nutritional balance into your diet during pregnancy shouldn’t be daunting. As always, nature has an answer, in the form of so-called ‘superfoods’ which are packed with all the nutrients you and your baby need.
Here are six of the best superfoods to add to your diet during pregnancy.
Packed full of folate, calcium, omega-3, protein and Vitamins E and B6, avocados are close to being a one-stop solution for your baby’s bone and brain development. Slice and dice the creamy green flesh into a salad, snack on it between meals in place of another type of fruit, blend it into smoothies, or make what everyone knows avocados for – guacamole!
Another well-known superfood, sweet potato is rich in dietary fibre, Vitamins A and C and also potassium, which is a particularly important nutrient for mothers because it protects against water retention and high blood pressure. Sweet potato can be used as a tasty alternative to normal potatoes roasted, baked, mashed or even chipped. Alternatively, try blending with tomatoes as a base for a pasta sauce, or use as an ingredient in a veggie curry.
Kale is famed for its super-nutritional properties, but in truth the same can be said for most leafy green vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, spinach and so on. As far as your baby is concerned, the main goodies these vegetables contain are calcium, folate, iron and Vitamin D. Try stir frying lightly steamed greens with garlic, onion and chilli for a delicious accompaniment to noodles or rice.
Nuts & Seeds
It is hard to pick out just one type of nut or one type of seed, as they pretty much all contain an incredible mix of nutrients that will do you and your baby the world of good. In general, both nuts and seeds are packed with both protein and healthy fats, including omega-3 (remember – pregnancy is NOT the time to cut fats from your diet!). But depending on the type, you are probably also getting a good dose of minerals including calcium, magnesium and iron. Stock up on bags of mixed nuts and seeds (not the salted kind) to snack on between meals, or else add to a bowl of cereal and yoghurt for a satisfyingly healthy breakfast. Try including walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and chia seeds.
‘Live’ natural yoghurt still contains all the bacteria which turn milk into yoghurt, and can support a healthy gut, acting as a ‘pro-biotic’. Gut health is really important during pregnancy, and may protect baby against allergies in later life. As a bonus, yoghurt is also rich in calcium, B vitamins, protein and magnesium. Stick to plain natural ‘live’ yoghurt, as flavoured varieties tend to be full of added sugar.
Salmon is an oily fish which is a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support the development of your baby’s brain. As omega-3 can’t be produced in the body, you have to pass this essential nutrient on to your baby through food. Salmon is also rich in Vitamins D & A, as well as being a good source of protein.
Although salmon is generally considered safe as far as the risk of water pollutants goes, it’s best to stay on the safe side and avoid eating more than one or two portions of salmon a week. Choose also sardines, mackerel and anchovies as other great sources of omega-3. If you a vegetarian or vegan, you can boost your omega-3 intake by eating even more avocados, nuts (such as walnuts) and seeds.