As per The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for a healthy pregnancy, approximately 300 extra calories are needed each day and these calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Eating a nutritious diet during pregnancy is critical for body and brain development of the foetus, healthy birth weight, and for the reduced risk of many birth defects. A balanced diet also reduces the risks of anaemia, as well as other unpleasant pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue, morning sickness and constipation.

Some of the nutrients are of special importance during pregnancy for the health of both the mother and the baby:

 

Calcium

There is additional requirement of calcium in pregnancy as this mineral is required for the developing foetal skeleton. Calcium helps strengthen the baby's rapidly developing bones and teeth, and boosts muscle, heart and nerve development as well. Some of the sources of calcium are milk, cheese, yogurt, and sardines. Calcium requirement in pregnancy is 1000 milligrams daily.

Vitamin – D

Vitamin D is needed by the body to absorb calcium. Vitamin D is thus important for foetal bone growth and development. Vitamin D supplementation is also important to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia, low birth weight and preterm birth. Recent studies across various populations in the world show that over 80% of pregnant women are deficient in vitamin D. It is now recommended that during pregnancy 2000 – 4000 IU of vitamin D per day should be supplemented.

Iron

Iron helps red blood cells deliver oxygen to the baby. The main sources of iron in the diet are lean red meat, dried beans, peas, and iron-fortified cereals. The iron requirement in pregnancy is 27 mg daily. As calcium interferes with the absorption of iron, these should not be taken at the same time.

Folic Acid

Folic Acid is important in the production of blood and protein; it also reduces the risk of birth defect of the brain and spinal cord. The main sources of folic acid are green, leafy vegetables, liver, orange juice, legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and nuts. The typical recommendation is to take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid daily for all women of child bearing age and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. For women at higher risk, doctors may prescribe up to 5 milligrams daily.

Protein

Protein is a macro-nutrient that is very important for every critical function of the body. The amino acids that make up protein are the building blocks of the body's cells for both the mother and the baby.  It helps build and repair tissue; make enzymes and hormones; and build bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and even blood. Protein is also needed to maintain a healthy immune system. Protein also helps the breast and uterine tissue grow during pregnancy. Lack of adequate protein can cause weakness and increased fatigue in the expecting mother. For the developing baby, a low-protein diet can lead to poor muscle and joint development, poor bone development, muscle or bone deformities, miscarriage, brain damage and a high risk of birth defects. Pregnant women require 70 – 100 grams of protein per day. The protein requirement of a pregnant woman peaks during the second and third trimester when the baby is growing rapidly. The main sources for protein are egg, lean meat, fish, milk, cheese, pulses, legumes and nuts.

 

Foods to eat during pregnancy

During pregnancy, one should eat nutritious foods. The following four food groups are important: fruits & vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and dairy products. 

Fruits and vegetables

Pregnant women should consume more of fruits and vegetables, particularly during the second and third trimesters. These foods are low in calories and high in fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Lean Protein

Boost the protein content of your diet with foods such as nuts, beans, soy, peas, eggs, poultry, fish, and lean meat.

Whole grains

Oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, breads and brown rice are important in pregnant women’s diet as they provide fibre, iron and B-vitamins. 

Dairy

Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese are good dietary sources of calcium, protein and vitamin D. A pregnant woman should consume minimum 3 to 4 servings of dairy foods a day.

It is also important to avoid certain food during pregnancy. Some of these are raw or undercooked meat, unpasteurised milk products, raw or undercooked eggs, alcohol and caffeine.

It is most important to follow your doctor’s advice with regard to your diet and supplements during pregnancy. It is important that you do not take any self-medication.