The type of food a woman consumes during pregnancy is very important because it is the baby’s main source of nourishment, and as a result, it determines the health of the baby. Health experts recommend that a pregnant woman chooses healthy foods that supply the necessary nutrients required for the optimum growth and development of the baby. Some of the nutrients required by a pregnant woman include protein, calcium, vitamins, folic acid, and iron. Each of the nutrients plays a key role in the growth of the baby and should be consumed as recommended by a physician. Some foods and beverages are harmful to the baby and should be avoided. These foods include fish with high levels of mercury, unpasteurized food, alcohol, and raw meat.
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Nutrition during Pregnancy and Its Relevance
Several studies have shown that the nutrition of a mother during pregnancy is very important because it affects the health of the child. An unhealthy diet during pregnancy predisposes the unborn child to long term and irreversible health issues that could hinder their proper development after birth (Cetin and Laoreti 4). Proper nutrition during pregnancy is a health issue because many women do not understand how important eating a healthy diet is to the health of the baby, both before and after birth. Research has shown that poor diet during pregnancy predisposes children to the long-term risk of developing conditions such as obesity, elevated sugar, and cholesterol levels, heart disease, and diabetes (Cetin and Laoreti 5). Excessive consumption of caffeine causes miscarriage, low birth weight, and premature birth. Studies have shown that alcohol causes developmental disorders that include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) (Tanha et al. 124). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown that heavy alcohol use during pregnancy manifests in learning and behavioral difficulties in children (Tanha et al. 124). In that regard, educating women on the importance of proper nutrition during pregnancy is an effective way of preventing the aforementioned diseases and disorders.
Diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are on the increase, and one of the mitigation strategies is to encourage women to eat healthy foods during pregnancy. In addition, developmental disorders in children can be reduced or avoided by encouraging healthy nutrition during pregnancy (Cetin and Laoreti 6). Many women put their babies at risk by eating unhealthy food or by consuming alcohol and caffeine excessively. Neural tube defects and poor brain development can be avoided by avoiding alcohol and caffeine. Diabetes and obesity are on the rise and have become public health issues that can be alleviated through proper diet during pregnancy.
Important Nutrients and Food Sources
As mentioned earlier, folic acid, protein, calcium, and iron are important nutrients that are needed during pregnancy. They can be obtained from the daily consumption of fruits, whole grains, vegetables, dairy products, and lean meat (Cetin and Laoreti 5). Fruits and vegetables are highly recommended because they contain high amounts of fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and nutrients, as well as low amounts of calories. Whole grains supply energy, fiber, and B-vitamins while dairy products supply protein, calcium, and vitamin D (Cetin and Laoreti 4).
Folic acid is important because it prevents birth defects in the brain and spinal cord. Examples of birth defects that are caused by folic acid deficiency include spina bifida and anencephaly (Zerfu and Ayele 75). Folic acid deficiency causes neural tube defects. The recommended amount of folic acid cannot be obtained from daily food intake. Therefore, it is important for pregnant women to enhance their folic acid intake with vitamin supplements (Cetin and Laoreti 8). Health experts recommend a daily intake of 600-800 micrograms of folic acid, which can be obtained from prenatal vitamins. Examples of foods that supply folic acid include citrus fruits, beans, liver, lentils, leafy green vegetables, bread, fortified cereals, and pasta.
Calcium is an important mineral that is needed for the building of a baby’s bones and teeth. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an inadequate supply of calcium leads to the extraction of calcium from the mother’s body (Cetin and Laoreti 5). In that regard, a pregnant woman should consume foods rich in calcium in order to improve their health and the health of the baby (Marangoni et al. 629). Pregnant women over the age of 19 need 1,000 milligrams while women under the age of 19 need 1,300 milligrams. This amount can be obtained from consuming three servings of calcium per day for older women and five servings per day for teenage women (Morrison and Regnault 342). Foods that supply calcium include milk, pudding, cheese, yogurt, salmon with bones, and sardines.
Iron is a vital nutrient that is used to make the blood supply the baby with oxygen. Iron deficiency leads to anemia, which increases the risk of infections. According to ACOG, a pregnant woman needs a daily iron intake of 27 milligrams for the proper growth of the baby (Marangoni et al. 634). Women are advised to include vitamin C in their daily nutrient intake in order to enhance the absorption of iron. For example, orange juice can be taken together with an iron-fortified cereal for breakfast (Zerfu and Ayele 77). Common food sources that supply iron include fish, meat, poultry, iron-fortified cereal, peas, and beans.
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The main function of protein during pregnancy is the building of fetal tissues and organs such as the brain and heart. Many women do not experience challenges with regard to the daily intake of the recommended amount of protein because of the high availability of protein-rich foods. Pregnant women are advised to consume three protein servings daily. The most common protein sources include meat, poultry, salmon, eggs, nuts, dried beans, dairy products, and tofu (Morrison and Regnault 342).
Pregnant women should drink water in addition to consuming highly-nutritive foods. Water plays several functions in the body: nutrient absorption, body revitalization, digestion enhancement, and flushing out of toxins (Tanha et al. 123). Pregnant women should increase their daily water intake to between 80 and 96 ounces (Cetin and Laoreti 9).
Foods to Limit and Avoid
Foods to Limit
Health experts advise women to limit their consumption of caffeine and fish during pregnancy. Pregnant women are advised to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams per day (Procter 1101). This amount is contained in a 12-ounce coffee cup. According to the ACOG, moderate consumption of caffeine during pregnancy does not affect the proper development of the baby (Zerfu and Ayele 80). However, it should be avoided during the first trimester. One of the reasons why caffeine is not recommended by some health experts is its diuretic properties, which aid in the elimination of fluids from the body (Zerfu and Ayele 83). Fish is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. However, too much consumption is harmful to the baby. As a result, pregnant women are advised to consume between 8-12 ounces of fish each week. Albacore and tuna should be consumed in limited amounts because they contain significantly high levels of mercury that can harm the baby.
Foods to Avoid
Women should avoid consuming fish with high mercury levels, raw meat, unpasteurized food, tobacco, and alcohol. Raw meat (uncooked seafood and undercooked beef) exposes them to the risk of infection because it contains coliform bacteria, Salmonella, and Toxoplasma. Meat obtained from delis is unsafe because of the probability of contamination with Listeria, which increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and preterm labor (Tanha et al. 121). Studies have shown that Listeria has the potential to cause life-threatening infections. Listeriosis can be avoided by refraining from consuming unpasteurized foods (Zerfu and Ayele 88). Fish containing high mercury levels should be avoided because the metal affects the optimum development of the brain. Smoked seafood should also be avoided because of the risk of Listeria contamination (Procter 1116). The consumption of raw eggs increases the risk of Salmonella infection.
Eating a balanced diet is the most important aspect of maintaining good health. It is more important during pregnancy for the well being of the baby and the mother. A developing baby needs an adequate supply of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for proper growth and development. Therefore, pregnant women should consume foods that provide the necessary nutrients. These foods should contain adequate amounts of iron, folic acid, iron, and protein. Pregnant women should eat at least three servings of protein per day, whole grains, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables. They should consume caffeine and fish in moderation, and avoid alcohol, high-mercury fish, excessive caffeine, uncooked processed meats, and unpasteurized dairy products. Food supplements are important because they provide the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are not contained in food. The numerous physical and hormonal changes that the bodies of pregnant women undergo necessitate an adequate supply of nutrients for replenishment.
Cetin, Irene, and Arianna Laoreti. “The Importance of maternal Nutrition for Health.” Journal of Pediatric and Neonatal Individualized Medicine, vol. 4, no. 2, 2015, pp. 1-11.
Marangoni, Franca, et al. “Maternal Diet and Nutrient Requirements in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. An Italian Consensus Document.” Nutrients, vol. 8, no. 10, 2016, pp. 629-646.
Morrison, Janna L., and Timothy Regnault. “Nutrition in Pregnancy: Optimizing Maternal Diet and Fetal Adaptations to Altered Nutrient Supply.” Nutrients, vol. 8, no. 6, 2016, pp. 342.
Procter, Sandra B. “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Nutrition and Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 114, no. 7, 2014, pp. 1099-1103.
Tanha, Fateme Davari, et al. “The Effects of Healthy Diet in Pregnancy.” Journal of Family and Reproductive Health, vol. 7, no. 3, 2013, pp. 121-125, Web.
Zerfu, Taddese Alemu, and Henok Taddese Ayele. “Micronutrients and Pregnancy: Effect of Supplementation on Pregnancy and Pregnancy Outcomes, A Systematic Review.” Nutrition Journal, vol. 12, no. 20, 2013, pp. 74-93.