Claire Williamson, nutrition scientist for the British Nutrition Foundation, says:
‘A healthy, balanced diet is important both before and during pregnancy, to ensure you obtain all the nutrients for your baby’s development. This should include plenty of starchy, carbohydrate-rich foods to provide energy; lots of fruit and vegetables; and moderate amounts of milk/dairy foods and protein-containing foods such as lean meat, fish, beans and pulses. In particular, you will need plenty of folate and iron-rich foods, included in this top 10.’
1 Wholegrain bread
Bread can be the basis of an excellent quick meal or snack – keep a supply in your bread bin and freezer. The whole grains mean it is high in fibre, which will help combat constipation (a common pregnancy problem) and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Look for loaves that are fortified with folic acid, too, even if you are still taking your daily supplement.
Snack attack: Fingers of toasted wholegrain bread or toasted mini wholemeal pitta breads, dipped into low-fat houmous.
2 Bio yoghurt
Not only is it higher in calcium than milk, yoghurt is also a good source of protein and contains active cultures that reduce the risk of yeast infections like thrush, which are more common in pregnancy. If you are lactose intolerant, try Soya yoghurt.
Snack attack: Drain a tin of fruit in natural juice, mash or blend and stir it into a small pot of natural bio yoghurt for a tasty treat or quick pud.
If you buy them canned, lentils don’t need soaking and boiling, so couldn’t be easier to eat; try adding them to soups and sauces. They’re a great source of folate, iron and protein, and are full of fibre, which can help prevent piles – another common pregnancy complaint!
Quick meal: Add some cooked lentils to your favourite ready-made pasta sauce and serve with a jacket potato for a high-fibre and protein-packed lunch.
Not only full of vitamin C and folate, broccoli also provides B vitamins and some calcium. If you’re cooking it, steam lightly to retain as many nutrients as possible; alternatively, snack on raw florets with a low-fat, creamy dip.
Quick meal.: Make a hearty soup by whizzing up some cooked broccoli with a small onion softened in a little olive oil and enough vegetable stock to give a fairly thick consistency. Heat through and serve with a dollop of low-fat crème fraiche.
The most fibrous fruit or veg you can buy, figs not only keep your bowel moving but they also contain more potassium (which can help to lower blood pressure) than bananas, and provide some calcium and iron. They’re delicious fresh or dried.
Snack attack: Put a dollop of low-fat crème fraiche on two plain rough oatcakes and top with chunks of fresh fig (skin on) for a high-fibre, low-calorie sweet treat.
Rich in potassium and fibre, bananas are the perfect instant food. They can turn a bowl of porridge or cereal into a more sustaining meal, and are also tasty served on wholemeal toast or a lightly buttered crispbread.
Snack attack: Whizz a small banana up with half a pint of cold skimmed milk and a drop of vanilla essence. This delicious shake will provide the extra calories you’ll need per day during the last three months of pregnancy (around 200).
7 Wholewheat pasta
Higher in fibre than regular pasta, wholewheat takes a few minutes longer to cook but keeps you feeling fuller for longer and is less likely to leave you feeling bloated.
Quick meal: Cook pasta according to the packet and mix with half a can of condensed chicken soup. Top with some wholemeal breadcrumbs mixed with a little grated cheese and pop in a fairly hot oven until heated through and bubbling. Serve with well-washed salad.
A good source of vitamins (particularly vitamin C) and phytochemicals – non-nutrient compounds in fruits and vegetables that may help to prevent some diseases. Some berries contain anthocyanins, which have antioxidant properties; there is some evidence that they help protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease, although more research is needed. Still, berries are well worth eating – and need little preparation.
Snack attack: Keep a bag of berries in your freezer and take out a portion at night for eating the next day. Serve sprinkled with a couple of crushed wholewheat digestives or oat biscuits, and a little bio yoghurt.
9 Oily fish
A great source of calcium (especially if you eat the bones) and protein, oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna, sardines and mackerel is a rich source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for the development of your baby’s nervous system.
You should try to consume at least two portions of fish a week during pregnancy, including one of oily fish – although no more than two of the latter, because of pollutants it contains. Also avoid marlin, swordfish and shark because of possible exposure to mercury, and eat no more than four cans of tuna a week.
Quick meal (serves two): Cook two portions of broccoli or peas. Cook a packet of microwaveable brown rice for half the required time, then add a tin of sardines in tomato sauce. Add a dash of piquant sauce such as Tabasco, peri peri or Worcester, and microwave for the rest of the allotted time, plus an extra half minute. Stir in the vegetables and serve.
10. Dark chocolate
Hurray! Dark chocolate is essentially made from plants, which means it contains some of the health benefits of dark vegetables – although it’s no substitute! The flavonoids present act as antioxidants, which are thought to reduce the risk of some cancers. Don’t go over the top, though, as chocolate is high in saturated fat: a few squares of the dark stuff per day is enough to reap the benefits.
Snack attack: Drop a few squares of good-quality dark chocolate into a cup of hot milk for a satisfying and luxurious drink.
What NOT to eat
- Liver/vitamin A supplements: Liver and liver products (such as paté) can contain large amounts of vitamin A, which may harm your baby. Supplements containing vitamin A, including cod liver oil, should also be avoided.
- Paté, blue-veined and mould-ripened soft cheeses, such as Brie and Camembert: These may contain the listeria bacteria, which could harm you baby are which you are more susceptible to while pregnant as your immune system is lowered.
Raw or undercooked meat and shellfish, unpasteurised milk or milk products: These carry a risk of food poisoning and toxoplasmosis – an infection carried by a parasite and which could be passed on to your baby.
Raw eggs or foods containing raw or partially cooked eggs: These could potentially contain salmonella bacteria, causing food poisoning.
Caffeine: Research suggests that too much caffeine in pregnancy may be linked to an increased risk of miscarriage or low birth weight. The Food Standards Agency recommends that pregnant women should drink no more than 300mg a day (around four cups of coffee), but a recent report suggests that even moderate consumption in early pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage. It may be best to switch to decaf for at least the first three months.
- Alcohol: Recent advice from NICE suggests that pregnant women should limit their alcohol intake to less than 1.5 units per day and, if possible, avoid alcohol completely in the first three months. The Department of Health now suggests that expectant mothers should avoid alcohol altogether, and certainly should not consume more than 1-2 units of alcohol, once or twice a week. One unit is a small glass of wine, a half pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider, or a single (25ml) measure of spirits.