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Pregnancy is a nine-month continuum that begins with conception and ends with the birth a new baby.  From the moment of conception and even before, the choices that women make about diet can have a profound effect on the growth and development of the baby.  Leslie Beck, our nutrition expert, is here tell us more about what women  should be eating for a healthy pregnancy. 

What are important nutrients women  need to get more of during pregnancy?
Foliate.  This B vitamin is known to prevent neural tube birth defects.  Making sure a woman gets plenty of foliate in her diet and taking a folic acid supplement will reduce your chance of having a child with abnormalities of the spine and brain.  Spina bifida is one of the most well known disorders that can be prevented by folic acid supplements.  It is as a neural tube defect that prevents the vertebrae of your baby’s spine from closing completely. 

Foliate is needed both before and during the first few weeks of pregnancy to help prevent birth defects.  Neural tube defects can occur in a fetus before women even realizes she’s pregnant.  That’s why it so important for all women of childbearing age to pay attention to their foliate intake.  With pregnancy, the foliate requirements increase from 400 micrograms per day to 600 micrograms.  Here’s a look at food sources of foliate:

Food Foliate (micrograms)
Artichoke, 1 medium 64
Asparagus, 5 spears 110
Avocado, California, 113
Avocado, Florida, 81
Bean sprouts, 1 cup (250 ml) 91
Beets, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 72
Brussels sprouts, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 83
Romaine lettuce, 1 cup (250 ml) 80
Spinach, cooked, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 139
Spinach, raw 1 cup (250 ml) 115
Orange, 1 medium
Orange juice, frozen, diluted, 1 cup (250 ml) 115
Orange juice, freshly squeezed, 1 cup (250 ml) 79
Black beans, cooked, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 135
Chickpeas, cooked, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 85
Kidney beans, cooked, 1/2cup (125 ml) 120
Lentils, cooked, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 189
Peanuts, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 96
Sunflower seeds, 1/3 cup (75 ml) 96
Chicken liver, 3. 5 ounces (100 grams) 770

Synthetic folic acid that used in supplements and fortified foods, is better absorbed by the body that the B vitamin in foods.  Women are strongly advised to take a folic acid supplement before and during their pregnancy.  Most prenatal formulas offer 1000 micrograms of folic acid. 

Iron.  Iron requirements increase from 18 milligrams per day to 27 milligrams during pregnancy.  Iron is an essential mineral in the production of red blood cells.  During pregnancy, your blood volume increases nearly 50 percent, putting excessive demands on your body’s ability to produce these vital red blood cells.  Your fetus also has specific iron requirements, especially during the last months of pregnancy, when iron stores are building up.  If a woman is not meeting her increased iron needs during pregnancy, her fetus will draw its supply from her iron stores, increasing the chance of anemia. 

Iron rich foods include red meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, legumes, whole grains, enriched breakfast cereals, and blackstrap molasses.  Prenatal vitamin supplements supply 30 to 60 milligrams of iron.  Supplemental iron can be constipating and this is a common complaint among pregnant women.  To prevent constipation associated with prenatal supplements, women should focus on boosting their fiber and fluid intake. 

Calcium.  Calcium needs during pregnancy don’t change.  Pregnant women need 1000 mg of calcium everyday.  However, many women don’t get enough calcium in their diet so an extra effort should be made to increase calcium intake during pregnancy.  One milk serving gives provide 300 milligrams of calcium, If a woman doesn’t use dairy products, the following can help boost her calcium intake:

1 cup calcium fortified soy or rice milk on cereal (300 mg
8 ounces calcium fortified orange juice at breakfast (360 mg
1 cup almonds for a snack (100 mg
Take a prenatal vitamin supplement (250 mg

Omega-3 Fats.  The best kind of fat to be eating is “omega-3 fat”.  It’s plentiful in oily fish like salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, trout, sea bass and fresh tuna.  An omega-3 fat in fish called DHA is especially important in brain development of the growing fetus and a deficiency of it during pregnancy has been linked to Attention Deficit Disorder.  A different type of omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid found in flaxseed oil, walnut oil and canola oil can be converted to DHA in the body, but the conversion is slow and inefficient.  Pregnant women should eat oily fish two or three times a week and consume 3 to 4 teaspoons of an healthy vegetable oil per day.  Omega-3 eggs are also sources of alpha-linolenic acid. 

What can women do to ease morning sickness?
Many women are troubled by nausea and vomiting during the first trimester and it affects nearly 70 percent of all pregnant women.  Although it is commonly referred to as “morning sickness”, nausea can occur at any time of the day.  Normally, these symptoms will come to an end after the first three to four months but, in some cases, morning sickness will last beyond the first trimester and may even persist throughout the entire pregnancy.  Morning sickness may be caused by the hormone changes produced by the placenta and the uterus.  Increases in the hormone, progesterone, tend to slow down the gastrointestinal system, allowing food to remain in the stomach for a longer time. 

Strategies to help reduce morning sickness:

Eat small, frequent meals every 2 to 3 hours, rather than 2 or 3 large meals. 
Avoid hunger; eat a few crackers before getting out of bed in the morning and don’t skip meals. 
Choose low fat protein foods (lean meat, caned tuna, chicken breast, eggs, legumes) and easily digestible carbohydrates (fruit, rice, pasta, potatoes, toast, dry cereals). 
Drink fluids between meals rather than with meals. 
Avoid fried foods or other foods that cause stomach upset such as gassy vegetables and spicy foods. 
Eating cold food if the smell of hot food causes nausea
Take small sips of fruit juice or a decaffeinated soft drink every 30 minutes.  Some women report that a sports drink like Gatorade or PowerAde provides relief. 
Have a snack before bed. 
Cook with ginger for relief from nausea and vomiting.  Ginger has been scientifically shown to help reduce morning sickness.  Research demonstrates that ginger root improves appetite, reduces the stomach’s secretion of acid and increases the release of bile, a digestive aid.  Ginger supplements are available.  Take 250 milligrams of ginger four times daily.  Use ginger supplements for only a short period of time and do not exceed one gram (1000 milligrams) per day.  The effects of long-term high doses of ginger on the growing fetus are not known.  Adding fresh ginger root to your meals is safe throughout your pregnancy. 

How much weight should women gain during pregnancy?
If a woman is at a healthy weight when she becomes pregnant she should expect to gain between 11 to 16 kilograms (25-35 pounds) in total.  Here’s a look at the recommended weight gain for pregnancy:

Underweight women (BMI < 20) 28 – 40 lbs.  (12. 5-18 kg)
Healthy weight women (BMI = 20-27) 25 – 25 lbs.  (11. 5-16 kg)
Overweight women (BMI >27) 15 to 25 lbs.  (7 – 11. 5 kg)
Obese women (BMI >29) At least 15 lbs.  (7 kg)
Twin pregnancy 35 to 45 lbs.  (16-20 kg)
Triplets pregnancy 50 lbs.  (23 kg)

Throughout the first trimester, women should expect to gain only a small amount of extra weight – normally not more than 6 to 8 kilograms (3 to 5 pounds).  Even though the body requires extra nutrients, during the first trimester women need to add only 100 calories to her daily diet to maintain good fetal development.  Weight gain tends to vary during the 2nd trimester.  On average, women should expect to gain about 2 kilograms (one pound) a week after the first three months.  Over the course of your 3rd trimester, women will gain approximately four kilograms (10 pounds). 



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