Have a healthy diet in pregnancy
Eating well when you're pregnant
A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any time, but especially vital if you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow, and will keep you fit and well.
You don’t need to go on a special diet, but it's important to eat a variety of different foods every day to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need. You should also avoid certain foods in pregnancy: see Foods to avoid.
You will probably find that you are more hungry than usual, but you don't need to 'eat for two' – even if you are expecting twins or triplets. Have a healthy breakfast every day because this can help you to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar.
Eating healthily often means just changing the amounts of different foods you eat so that your diet is varied, rather than cutting out all your favourites. You will need to be careful with your diet if you develop gestational diabetes – your doctor or midwife will advise you.
Fruit and vegetables
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables because these provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which helps digestion and prevents constipation. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day – these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash them carefully. Cook vegetables lightly in a little water, or eat them raw but well washed, to get the benefit of the nutrients they contain. Find out what counts as a portion in 5 A DAY: what counts?
Starchy foods (carbohydrates)
Starchy foods are an important source of vitamins and fibre, and are satisfying without containing too many calories. They include bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, sweet potatoes, yams and cornmeal. These foods should be the main part of every meal. Eat wholemeal instead of processed (white) varieties when you can.
Sources of protein include meat (but avoid liver), fish, poultry, eggs, beans, pulses and nuts. Eat some protein every day. Choose lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and cook it using only a little fat. Make sure eggs, poultry, pork, burgers and sausages are cooked all the way through. Check that there is no pink meat, and that juices have no pink or red in them. Try to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as sardines or mackerel. There are some types of fish you should avoid in pregnancy: see Foods to avoid.
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt are important because they contain calcium and other nutrients that your baby needs. Choose low-fat varieties wherever possible. For example, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurt and half-fat hard cheese. Aim for two to three portions a day. There are some cheeses to avoid: see Foods to avoid.
Foods that are high in sugar or fat
This includes all spreading fats (such as butter), oils, salad dressings, cream, chocolate, crisps, biscuits, pastries, ice cream, cake, puddings and fizzy drinks. You should eat only a small amount of these foods. Sugar contains calories without providing any other nutrients, and can contribute to weight gain, obesity and tooth decay. Fat is very high in calories, and eating more fatty foods is likely to make you put on weight. Having too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease. Try to cut down on saturated fat, and have foods rich in unsaturated fat instead. Find out about saturated and unsaturated fat.
If you get hungry between meals, don't eat snacks that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, crisps or chocolate. Instead, choose from the following nutritious snacks:
- sandwiches or pitta bread filled with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon or sardines and salad
- salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
- low-fat yoghurt or fromage frais
- hummus with bread or vegetable sticks
- ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
- vegetable and bean soups
- unsweetened breakfast cereals, or porridge, with milk
- milky drinks or unsweetened fruit juices
- fresh fruit
- baked beans on toast or a baked potato
Preparing food safely
- wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis – toxoplasmosis can harm your unborn baby
- wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw meat – this will help to avoid toxoplasmosis
- make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there's a risk of contamination – this is to avoid other types of food poisoning from meat (such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli)
- use a separate chopping board for raw meats
- heat ready meals until they're piping hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry
You also need to make sure that some foods, such as eggs and sausages, are cooked very thoroughly: see Foods to avoid.
You may be able to get Healthy Start vouchers, which you can use to buy milk and plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables at local shops. You can't use vouchers to buy fresh or frozen fruit and veg with added fat, sugar, salt and flavourings such as oven chips and seasoned stir frys. You’ll also get coupons that can be exchanged for free vitamins locally.
You qualify for Healthy Start if you’re at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old, have a family income of less than £16,190 a year (for the year 2012/13), and you or your family get:
- Income Support, or
- Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, or
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, or
- Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit unless your family is receiving Working Tax Credit run-on only, which is the Working Tax Credit you get in the four weeks immediately after you have stopped working for 16 hours or more per week)
If you are pregnant and under 18 years old, you qualify for Healthy Start vouchers regardless of your income.
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