Calories and nutrients: They’re different things.
Your nutrition isn’t just about having a source of energy, that is, getting the calories you need for your body to work well; it also consists of getting the key substances you need to stay healthy, prevent specific deficiencies and to help your baby grow.
These key substances are known as basic nutrients: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water. Ideally, they should be eaten in specific amounts, in order to maintain a healthy balance in response to your body’s needs, especially when you are pregnant. These proportions and amounts are vital for both your baby’s healthy growth and for keeping you healthy.
In developed countries like Singapore, there is a tendency to eat too much fat and protein, and to not choose the right carbohydrates to eat (eating too much sugar and not enough complex carbohydrates).
Your daily needs.
In order to eat a balanced diet, pregnant women (and everyone, in general) should divide their energy sources in the following way: about 15% of energy intake should come from proteins, 30% from fats and 50-55% from carbohydrates.
The average energy intake for a pregnant woman should be 2100 kilocalories per day, consisting of 60g to 80g of proteins, 70g of fat (preferably from vegetable sources and with limited saturated and animal fat); the diet should also provide 300g of carbohydrates, preferably complex carbohydrates (consisting of mainly whole grains, legumes, greens, fruit and limited amounts of sweets and cookies or biscuits).
Eat plenty of protein.
If you eat around 180g to 200g of meat, chicken/eggs or cooked fish, you’ll receive 2 servings of meat, the remaining 1 serving can be provided by 2 cups of milk, preferably maternal milk which can supply the additional nutrients you need during pregnancy. Alternatively, soy products like tofu is also a good source of protein and 2 regular squares can provide 1 serving a day.
Here are some examples of one serving size of proteins:
- 1 palm-sized piece of fish, lean meat or skinless poultry (90g)
- 2 small blocks of soft bean curd (170g)
- ¾ cup cooked pulses (e.g. lentils, peas, beans) (120g)
Where do we get fats from?
The fats in your diet should mainly come from the vegetable oils used to cook or season food. You need to be careful with fats from certain meats and sausages. It is best to choose lean meat (chicken, turkey, some cuts of beef such as sirloin, fillet steak or filet) and fish (salmon, trout, sardines, tuna) as they have essential fatty acids in them, which our body can’t produce and is necessary to obtain from our diet.
In a varied and balanced diet, 70g of fat is easily obtained. Fat from cooking oil contains 5-30g of fat depending on the amount used during cooking.
Here's a list of familiar food items that contains fat:
1) At breakfast:
- 4 pieces of plain digestive biscuits contain 12.4g of fat
- 1 piece of pork floss bun contains 19.1g of fat
- 2 pieces of red bean buns contain 12.4g of fat
2) At lunch:
- A plate of hor fun contains 27g of fat
- A plate of char kway teow contains 38g of fat
3) At eleven (mid-morning snack):
- 1 glass of maternal milk contains 3.5g of fat
4) At dinner time:
- 1 piece of salmon (150g) contains 15g of fat
- A bowl of Japanese ramen contains 6g of fat
- A bowl of sliced fish bee hoon soup contains 5g of fat
5) For snacks:
- 20 almonds contain 13g of fat
If you eat 3 squares of dark chocolate (30g) on top of your daily diet, you’ll be eating an additional 11g of fat; fats all add up! If you normally eat ready-to-eat meals, you need to make sure you read the labels so you know what their overall fat content is.
You should remember that your body needs some fat as a minimal requirement so it can work properly, and so that your baby’s nervous system and all its other body structures develop properly. Fats that come from vegetable sources are better as they contain essential fatty acids that are good for you.
A good daily dose of carbohydrates.
The recommended daily intake of carbohydrates is 300g per day, here's a list of food items that can provide carbohydrates in your daily diet:
1) At breakfast:
- 1 slice of whole meal bread contains 60g of carbohydrates
- 2 teaspoons of jam contain 10g of carbohydrates
- 1 glass of skim (non-fat) milk contains 10g of carbohydrates
- 1 glass of fresh orange juice contains 15g of carbohydrates
2) For snacks:
- 1 medium-sized apple contains 20g of carbohydrates
- 1 cup of low fat yogurt contains an average of 5g of carbohydrates
3) At lunch:
- 1 serving of brown rice contains 34g of carbohydrates
- 1½ serving of cooked vegetables contains 8g of carbohydrates
- 1 small orange contains 40g of carbohydrates
4) For snacks:
- 1 portion of oatmeal (3 tablespoons) contains 30g of carbohydrates
- 2 teaspoons of sugar contain 10g of carbohydrates
5) At dinner time:
- 1 serving of pasta or noodles contains 30g of carbohydrates
- 1½ serving of leafy greens contains 5g of carbohydrates
- 1 small banana contains 10g of carbohydrates
Some foods, like those mentioned above, are more important than others, and some are considered as ‘treats’ that should be eaten in moderation, for example, 3 small squares of dark chocolate contain 15g of carbohydrates.
When carbohydrates are absorbed, part of these are stored in the form of fat in your body as “reserves”; so it’s worth keeping an eye on how many teaspoons of sugar you add to your hot drinks and how much chocolate you eat, if you’re craving it.
Varied food, the key to a balanced diet.
In addition to the key nutrients it’s important to eat a healthy balance of fiber, vitamins and minerals (including iron and calcium). A varied diet will help provide your body and your baby with everything you need (apart from vitamin D). Follow the advice of your gynecologist or nutritionist: eat 2-3 servings of fruit and vegetables each daily as well as 2 servings of dairy products and drink 1.5 to 2 liters of water a day. In addition, don't forget about your staple food, consume 6-7 servings of rice and alternatives like noodles or bread and try to opt for whole grain products.
In practice, with freshly squeezed juice at breakfast, 1 serving of dairy products per day, a salad or soup to start for lunch and dinner, a serving of whole grains in your meals, and a serving of fruit as dessert at mealtimes and another serving of fruit as a snack or a chilled glass of milk, you’ll have a good intake of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Be creative and try different food sources. A healthy diet is all about balance and variety.