Food takes on a whole new meaning when you’re a mom-to-be. Not only can it boost your energy levels and sense of wellbeing during the often exhausting nine months of pregnancy, but it also directly influences the health of the baby growing and developing inside you. In fact, what you eat—or don’t eat—in the first 1,000 days of life, starting from conception, can affect the extent to which your child may develop chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in the future. This is the concept of “early nutrition and metabolic programming”.
Eat today for their tomorrow
“This idea of early nutrition programming is all about giving your unborn baby the best start in life,” says Dr. Marco Turini, PhD, Head of Global Scientific Affairs at Nestlé Nutrition, Switzerland. “During these nine months, the nutrition, and environment your baby experiences influences how your baby grows and develops before birth, and can program his growth and health for years to come. This requires special attention to provide adequate nutritional care. That’s why gaining the appropriate amount of weight and choosing foods rich in nutrients are so important for your baby’s health.”
Why your weight matters
The problem of childhood obesity is one of best reasons for controlling your weight and eating a balanced diet while you’re pregnant. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy can lead to an approximate 40% increased risk of childhood obesity.
Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can also lead to a baby that is too large at birth. Contrary to some beliefs, an extra-large baby at birth is not healthier than a baby born at a normal and healthy weight. In addition, a high birth weight can indicate a baby will have a greater chance of becoming too heavy during his toddler and childhood years. As well as leading to other problems such as diabetes, childhood obesity often leads to adult obesity. A second theory for why children become obese relates to the weight gain of your baby after birth. Babies who gain weight rapidly are at increased risk of later obesity.
Here are some simple ideas for super-charging your nutrient intake:
Eating more pulses, making a lentil salad or adding some chickpeas to your stew at home, for example, will add to your nutrient intake. Pulses include dried beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. Along with fish, chicken, red meat, spinach, and dried fruit, pulses also contain iron—a mineral vital for your baby’s neural and red blood cell development. They’re also good sources of protein, your baby’s building blocks for so many things from enzymes to antibodies.
Eating your vegetables has never been so important. The dark, green leafy types such as kale and spinach are especially rich in folic acid. Vital in the very early weeks, folic acid aids your baby’s neural tube develop into their spine and brain. Think about dishing up some carrots, squash, or sweet potatoes with your Sunday lunch too as they all contain vitamin A, which is important for vision and immune health.
Milk contains calcium, which helps to grow healthy bones and teeth. During pregnancy, you need up to 1200mg calcium a day, and a glass of milk (240ml) delivers about 300mg. Skimmed or low-fat milk contains the same amount of calcium as whole milk with fewer calories.
ENJOY… oily fish
Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, provides DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that helps support your baby’s brain and eye development. Getting enough DHA can be tricky, so if you’re unsure—or you’re not a fish fan—speak to your healthcare provider about a supplement containing DHA.
Whether you like them boiled, scrambled, or poached, eggs are a great source of protein. A building block of your baby’s body, protein helps to develop almost everything from muscles to collagen. During pregnancy, your protein needs increase from about 50g to 71g per day. To put that in context of what’s on your plate, a boiled egg has about 7g of protein, a 30g portion of cheese and a 240ml cup of milk each has 7-8g, and a 85g fillet of salmon contains 23g. So, one egg can give you about the same amount of protein as 30g of meat, fish, or cheese, or a glass of milk.
Keeping active by doing some gentle exercise such as walking, swimming, or yoga may help to keep your weight gain under control. Current guidelines for healthy pregnant women recommend 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity, most days of the week. Always check with your healthcare provider about exercise during pregnancy.
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