Diet and health questions answered by our nutritionist
Q: Pregnancy hormones are playing havoc with my mood swings and I’m bursting into tears for no reason most days. Are there any dietary changes that might help me?
A: Unfortunately, I’ve not found any evidence to suggest dietary changes can affect hormone release during pregnancy, although diet can certainly affect your mood. Whether this can overrule your hormones is a different matter.
I would suggest the best way to give your body a chance of stabilising your mood would be to stick to routine as far as possible, Be sure to have 3 regular meals per day, with 2 regular snacks if you need them to prevent hunger. Avoid letting your low mood result in bingeing, as this may make your feel better initially but is likely to result in a low an hour or so later. Avoid fatty, sugary, highly processed foods and drinks. Try and keep your meals and snacks as healthy and balanced as possible. Aim for a third of your meal to be fruits and vegetables, a third to be starchy carbohydrates, especially high fibre varieties and the remaining third to be lean protein and low fat dairy products. The occasional treat food may of course be included but it’s important to keep within your routine and the quantity under control.
Q: I’m desperate to avoid stretch marks. I read that a zinc-rich diet can prevent them. Is this true? What else could I try?
A: Zinc aids tissue repair and wound healing. This might help explain the origins of the zinc-rich diet theory, as stretch marks are scar tissue. However, there is no good evidence to suggest a direct relationship between the two.
To help prevent stretch marks, keep yourself well hydrated – dry skin is less elastic and therefore more likely to suffer. Drink at least 2 litres a day; more in hot weather. Avoid too much caffeine. It dehydrates you and high levels are detrimental to your baby. About 3 teas or coffees a day is a sensible limit.
Monitoring your weight during pregnancy can also help, as periods of rapid gain are more likely to result in tissue damage. If pre-pregnancy, you were a healthy body weight for your height, a weight gain of 1st11lbs to 2st 7lbs is advisable. If you were overweight pre-pregnancy, try to keep your weight gain lower than this, but not below 1st2lbs. The best way to achieve a steady and sensible weight gain is to eat according to your appetite, but be sure to fill up on plenty of fruit, vegetables and high-fibre carbohydrates and keep high-calorie, sugary and fatty foods to occasional treats.
Q: Is it true that there are some foods that can increase my chances of conception?
A: I do not know of any scientific evidence to support claims that single foods improve fertility. The best way to help your fertility from a nutritional point of view is to make sure that both you and your partner are a healthy weight for your height, and that you eat a balanced diet. At each meal, imagine your plate as being a third filled with fruit and vegetables (with a minimum of five portions daily), a third filled with starchy carbohydrates – ideally wholegrain – and a third filled with lean meat, fish, eggs, pulses and low-fat dairy products. Try to include fish in your diet twice a week, one of which should be an oily fish. Reduce your intake of high-fat, high-sugar products and avoid alcohol, and take a folic acid supplement.