Is it true that when you're pregnant you have to eat for two? We examine this and other myths and give you some useful pointers for healthy eating before birth
Is it true that you have to eat or two when you’re pregnant? Well, like many of these hand-me-down myths, it’s not entirely true, but there is a grain of sense in it.
Though you may be tempted to eat more when pregnant, that’s not really the best approach to take. Your body becomes more efficient during pregnancy and is able to absorb more of the nutrients you eat, so consuming twice as much doesn’t double your chances of having a healthy baby.
Medical advice says that if you are a healthy weight, you need no additional calories in the first trimester, 340 extra calories a day in the second trimester, and about 450 extra calories a day in the third trimester. It doesn’t take much to add enough calories for the last trimester – maybe a couple of glasses of low-fat milk and a handful of sunflower seeds or a tuna sandwich. If you’re overweight or underweight, you will need more or less than this depending on your weight gain goal.
Of course the exception to this rule is when you are having more than one baby - then it is quite possible that you will have to increase your calorie intake.
What’s more important, though, is the makeup of your diet. There are certain dietary precautions all pregnant women should take to safeguard the health of their unborn child.
See Also: What To Expect During My Pregnancy
The NHS advises pregnant women to take folic acid supplements to prevent birth defects. But this vital nutrient can also be obtained through a healthy diet. During pregnancy, eat plenty of leafy greens—such as spinach and kale—to increase your folic acid intake.
As a general rule, it is vital to wash all fruits, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of visible dirt and soil.
You can eat most types of fish when you are pregnant as fish is both good for your health and your baby’s development. There is no need to limit the amount of white fish or shellfish you eat while pregnant or breastfeeding—just don’t eat raw shellfish.
However, if pregnant or trying to conceive, you should avoid shark, marlin and swordfish. You should also limit tuna intake to no more than two tuna steaks, or four medium-sized tins of tuna, a week. This advice is due to the high mercury levels found in these types of fish.
You should also limit your oily fish intake to no more than twice a week, as it may contain pollutants like dioxins. Oily fish includes salmon, herring, trout and mackerel. In addition to this, experts recommend to not take any fish oil supplements or supplements containing vitamin A, as these may harm your baby.
Hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Parmesan and Stilton are safe to eat in pregnancy, but pregnant women should avoid mould-ripened soft cheese, such as Brie and Camembert. They should also avoid soft, blue-veined cheese such as Roquefort and Gorgonzola, which are prone to listeria infection. Even a mild form of the illness can lead to a miscarriage or stillbirth. For more information on the symptoms of listeria, visit the NHS website.
Milk & yoghurt
Stick to pasteurised or UHT milk (otherwise known as ‘long-life’ milk). If only unpasteurised milk is available, boil it first. Avoid drinking goat’s or sheep’s milk, or eating foods made from them, such as soft goat’s cheese.
All types of yoghurt, including bio, live and low-fat, are safe to eat, but ensure that any homemade yoghurt is made with pasteurised milk.
See Also: Preparing For Pregnancy
Lion Code eggs—those with a lion logo stamped on their shell—carry a very low salmonella risk and are safe for pregnant women to eat partially cooked. If they are not Lion Code, ensure the eggs are cooked through to avoid disease. Always fully cook non-hen eggs, such as duck, goose and quail eggs.
According to medical advice, during pregnancy it is not safe to eat pâté—including vegetable pâté—as it may contain listeria. In addition to this, make sure to avoid any liver products, as they contain high levels of retinoids such as Vitamin A, good for you in normal levels, but potentially harmful in excess.
Current advice is that it’s fine to eat peanuts during pregnancy, unless of course you’re allergic to peanuts yourself. There’s no evidence that eating peanuts, or foods containing peanuts, while you’re pregnant affects whether or not your baby develops a peanut allergy.
The government used to advise pregnant women with a family history of allergies, such as asthma, eczema or hayfever, to consider not eating peanuts. This advice changed in 2009 because of the lack of evidence that eating peanuts increases your baby’s risk of allergy, even if you have a family history of allergies.
High levels of caffeine consumption during pregnancy can result in babies having a low birth weight, which can cause health complications later in life. You don’t need to cut out caffeine completely, but you shouldn’t have more than 200 milligrams a day (about two cups of instant coffee). To cut down on caffeine, try decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit juice or mineral water instead of regular tea, energy drinks, coffee or cola.
Herbal & green tea
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises to drink herbal and green teas in moderation during pregnancy—no more than around four cups every day. Always seek advice from your doctor if you are unsure about which herbal products are safe to consume. Experts advise avoiding the herbal remedy liquorice root, as it may cause developmental issues.
The NHS’s Eatwell Guide, which can be downloaded from the website, gives sensible advice on food intake which applies to pregnant women as well as to everyone else. It says that while fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre, most of us still are not eating enough fruit and vegetables, which should make up over a third of the food we eat each day, chosen from fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced.
We should all aim to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day, and fruit juice and smoothies should be limited to no more than a combined total of 150ml a day.
Folic acid is a vitamin that helps in the early formation of your baby’s neural tube, which turns into the brain and the spine. Because of this, it is recommended that women who are trying for a baby take folic acid before they become pregnant then continue for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
After 12 weeks, the baby’s neural tube will have closed and so it is not necessary to take folic acid, but it is safe to take all the way through your pregnancy if you are taking a pregnancy multivitamin tablet that contains it (although expensive pregnancy multivitamins are not strictly necessary if you have a balanced diet as you only need folic acid and vitamin D).
Finally, remember that food preparation while pregnant is as important as the sort of food you eat. NHS advice is to
- Wash fruit, vegetables and salad to remove all traces of soil
- Wash all surfaces and utensils after preparing raw foods
- Store raw foods separately from ready-to-eat
- Use a separate knife and chopping boards for raw meats
- Heat ready meals until they’re steaminghot all the way through, particularly important for meals including poultry
- Follow these guidelines and you’ll be getting your baby off to a good start in life, and improving your diet too!
See Also: Fertility Foods
This feature was originall published in the Autumn edition of Healthy Child with Dr Ranj Singh