When I was pregnant for the first time I found it so daunting, as there was so much information being thrown at me! Out of all the information and useless facts out there, I would have to say that nutrition is one of the most important.
Maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy is very important for the health of you and your baby.
Your body needs lots of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. So, this is the perfect time to take a pregnancy multivitamin (like Elevit) and a probiotic supplement, in addition to eating a well-balanced diet. Yes, probiotics are so important so I’ll be doing another blog post on this soon. Also, don’t forget to drink lots of water too.
Here are the top 11 highly nutritious foods to eat when you’re pregnant:
Well-cooked eggs are a nutritious food to eat, containing many vitamins and minerals.
They are a great source of choline which is essential for brain development, with one egg containing approximately 25% of the recommended daily intake for pregnant women.
Recipe idea: Boil a few at a time and keep them in your fridge for a quick snack, or slice them and place over some creamed corn on toast for lunch, or for breakfast have some scrambled. Just make sure they are well cooked!
2. Greek Yoghurt
Unsweetened yoghurt, like Greek yoghurt, contains lots of calcium and protein.
Be careful of other sweetened yoghurt as they usually contain lots of sugars. Yes, new research suggests that too much sugar isn't good either. So that’s why Greek yoghurt is my favourite.
Some yoghurts also contain probiotics, which is great for you and your babies gut health.
Also good news for those who are lactose intolerant, as they still may be able to tolerate yoghurt, especially probiotic yoghurt.
Recipe idea: Greek Yoghurt with bircher muesli is a great snack. Some people can’t handle that it doesn’t taste sweet, so if you want it to taste sweeter you could drizzle a little honey over it, sprinkle some cinnamon, or mix in some fruit.
3. Sweet potatoes (kumara)
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of fibre and beta-carotene, which the body transforms into vitamin A. About 100–150 grams of cooked sweet potatoes meets the recommended dietary intake.
Vitamin A is essential for growth. However, too much is toxic when eaten in excess, so go easy on it.
Recipe idea: My favourite way of eating sweet potatoes is by mashing it, and having it as a side dish, along with a protein like a steak or chicken. Steam the sweet potato, then once cooked mash it, mix in a little bit of milk or butter and a pinch of salt. To jazz it up you could very finely cut up some fresh rosemary and mix it in.
Legumes like lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, and peanuts provide a good amount of fibre, protein, iron, folate (B9) and calcium.
Legumes contain high amounts of folate. One cup of lentils, chickpeas or black beans may provide 65–90% of the recommended dietary intake. Folate is a very important nutrient during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, and experts say it may reduce the risk of some birth defects and diseases.
Legumes are also high in fibre which may reduce constipation - a very common problem among pregnant women. Some varieties are also high in iron, magnesium and potassium.
Recipe idea: There are so many things you can do with legumes. But because I am lazy I usually just throw some chickpeas or kidney beans in a salad I am making. I also enjoy lentil soup which is super easy to make. It’s just like a regular vegetable soup with some lentils thrown in whilst boiling. French lentils are also a winner in my house, which I mix with beetroot and feta and dress with mustard, olive oil and lemon juice. If you have the time you could also try making hummus which is a dip made from chickpeas (great for dipping vegetables into, or with crackers). You can also buy already made hummus from the stops, but it contains more preservatives.
Salmon is a natural source of vitamin D and contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are important for baby brain and eye development.
However pregnant women are generally told to limit their seafood intake to twice a week, due to mercury and other contaminants.
Experts say that for women who don’t eat seafood, a single serving (one tablespoon) of fish liver oil provides more than the recommended daily intake of omega-3, vitamin D and vitamin A. It is not recommended to consume more than one serving per day. However, I never took this supplement while pregnant.
Recipe idea: I love taking the skin off the salmon fillet and steaming it, then drizzling over some dressing (olive oil, lemon juice and herbs). You could also leave the skin on and pan fry it, or make a salmon pie. Great served alongside vegetables! The salmon pie I love contains leeks and eggs, and the whole family loves it!
6. Lean meat
Lean meat like beef, pork and chicken are excellent sources of protein.
Beef and pork are also rich in iron, choline and other B-vitamins. Iron is so very important during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. Pregnant women need more iron since their blood volume is increasing.
Also eating foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as oranges or kiwi fruit, may also help increase absorption of iron in the body.
Recipe idea: In winter chicken soup is always a winner. Casseroles are also great if you have slow-cooker. But nothing beats a good old-fashioned steak on the BBQ or baked chicken.
7. Dark leafy vegetables
Dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, kale and spinach, contain lots of nutrients and are rich in antioxidants.
They contain fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, iron, folate and potassium, benefiting the immune system and digestion.
Due to their high fibre content, they may also help reduce constipation.
Recipe idea: Smoothies are a great way to pack in green veggies. I am not really a fan of the taste of kale, so hiding it in a smoothie works for me. I personally just prefer steamed broccoli, and for my salads, I like to throw in baby spinach.
Berries such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries contain water, fibre, plant compounds and vitamin C.
Berries are also a great snack and provide a lot of flavour and nutrition, but with few calories.
Recipe idea: Great mixed with Greek yoghurt or thrown in a smoothie. If you want something sweeter for dessert why not do chocolate dipped strawberries. However, I prefer to just eat them straight because berries are so yummy on their own.
9. Whole grains
As opposed to refined grains, whole grains are packed with B-vitamins, fibre and magnesium.
Oats and quinoa also contain protein, which is important during pregnancy. Other examples of whole grains include rice, oats, wheat and buckwheat.
Recipe idea: Oats are great for breakfast! If you are working long hours and short on time, why not make some overnight oats, where you can prepare them the night before. Quinoa is also great served alongside a protein like chicken.
Did you know that avocados contain more potassium than bananas?
Because of their high content of healthy fats, folate and potassium, avocados are a great choice for pregnant women.
Potassium may help relieve leg cramps, a side effect of pregnancy for some women.
Recipe idea: You can enjoy avocado sliced in salads, or spread over bread instead of margarine.
Walnuts are a nutritious snack when you are in a rush, as they are one of the richest sources of plant-based omega-3s and a good source of protein and fibre.
Peanuts and other nuts are also great. Don’t worry about allergies, as new studies have shown that children were less likely to have a nut allergy if their mother ate nuts during pregnancy. Yipee! So as long as you're not allergic, eating some while pregnant may actually promote immune tolerance for your child later on. Hooray for that!
Recipe idea: It is always good to soak your walnuts in water, prior to eating, as this helps activate them to increase their nutritional value. Soaked walnuts are great sprinkled over your salad. If you are short on time, why not buy some small snack sized zip lock bags and divide portions of nuts in them. That way when you start to feel a hunger pang during the day you have something quick on hand to satisfy you. Beats going to the office vending machine and grabbing that chocolate bar!
Hungry for more information?
Here are some good resources:
The NSW Food Authority have lots of information on what you can and can’t eat during pregnancy.