What should I eat while I’m pregnant?

By Kaz Cooke
From the latest edition
of Up the Duff

What should I eat while I’m pregnant?

To give your baby all the nutrients it needs, and so you don’t get madly hungry, you need to eat quality kilojoules. Fresh, seasonal food provides far more nutrients than highly processed canned and other ‘convenience’ foods, takeaways or junk food.

Try to make healthy choices, but you don’t have to get obsessive and start counting how many milligrams or micrograms a day you’re having of various food groups or nutrients. Just eat lots of fresh fruit and vegies in a wide range of colours (the oranges and yellows, whites, greens, purples and reds and, ahem, not just the things that are chip-coloured), and not getting the guilts if you have some cake here and there. Most people can get all the nutrients necessary for a healthy pregnancy from a reasonably varied diet.

As long as you’re listening to your body’s needs, you’re hydrated enough (doing frequent wees) and you’re taking a reputable pregnancy-specific vitamin-and-mineral supplement advised by doctors, you can eat what you feel like, generally speaking.

Organic

Going organic won’t hurt if you can afford it, but it’s unrealistic to insist that all pregnant women eat only organic food. For some it’s too expensive or not available where they live. To remove at least some pesticides, and dirt that may harbour bacteria, scrub, rinse or peel all fruit and vegies thoroughly before eating. Wash rather than peel if you can, as eating the skin gives you extra fibre – though I personally draw the line at unpeeled pineapples.

Protein

You’ll usually need an extra 6 grams a day on top of your non-pregnant requirement. That means you need a total of 5–6 serves of protein a day: one serve could be 1 glass of milk (unless you need the fat); 40 grams of hard cheese; 200 grams of yoghurt; 100 grams of lean meat or fish; 1 cup of cooked beans or lentils; or 30 grams of nuts.

Pregnant women can be driven bonkers by conflicting info: ‘Don’t eat fish because of mercury and other contaminants!’ versus ‘Eat lots of fish for its protein, vitamin D, iodine and omega-3 healthy fats, as it’s good for baby brain development!’

Only some fish can contribute to building up dangerous levels of mercury or other contaminants. The largest predator fish tend to have the highest mercury levels because they gobble up lots of smaller fish with mercury in them. So avoid shark (aka flake), marlin, swordfish, orange roughy (also sold under other names, including sea perch) and catfish (aka dewfish).

Fish

Pregnant women can be driven bonkers by conflicting info: ‘Don’t eat fish because of mercury and other contaminants!’ versus ‘Eat lots of fish for its protein, vitamin D, iodine and omega-3 healthy fats, as it’s good for baby brain development!’

Only some fish can contribute to building up dangerous levels of mercury or other contaminants. The largest predator fish tend to have the highest mercury levels because they gobble up lots of smaller fish with mercury in them. So avoid shark (aka flake), marlin, swordfish, orange roughy (also sold under other names, including sea perch) and catfish (aka dewfish).

Tinned fish is considered safe because salmon and sardines are not mercury risks and only smaller tuna are used for canning. It’s recommended by dietitians that you eat at least three serves of ‘oily fish’ a week for their omega-3 fatty-acid goodies, which are hard to get in other foods, are associated with fetal eye and brain development, and might be protective against allergy-related conditions.

Fats

You gotta have ’em for proper fetal development, but steer clear of too much saturated fat in dairy and meats. Use mono-unsaturated vegetable oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, for cooking and salad dressings. You also need fatty acids, found in linseeds or linseed oil, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, pecan nuts and oily fish (such as canned salmon and tuna), and linoleic acid, found in seeds, seed and vegetable oils, and nuts (and also dark-green vegetables).

Fluids

Get onto them! You have more blood pumping around when you’re pregnant, and the amniotic fluid surrounding the developing baby is constantly being replaced. Drinking lots of water will help you avoid constipation and urinary-tract infections.

There’s some stuff you need to avoid eating during pregnancy to reduce some health risks for you and for the baby. You’ll find a list of foods to avoid, and full explanations about it, in the book Up the Duff: The Real Guide to Pregnancy.