Diet and Supplements

Diet and Supplements

Diet and Supplements



A good diet is important in pregnancy to provide enough energy to the pregnant mum and adequate nutrients to the growing baby in the womb. This will also help mum to cope with pregnancy and postnatal changes.


What to eat?


It is important to try and eat a variety of food therefore aim to include in your daily diet an adequate balance of the following:


  • Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially citrus fruits and dark green vegetables, which contain folic acid. One should try and eat at least five portions everyday.
  • Carbohydrates which are the starchy food such as bread, pasta, grains, potatoes and cereals. It is better to aim for the wholegrain option. This helps to prevent constipation which is a common ailment during pregnancy and postpartum.
  • Dairy product such as milk, yoghurt, fromage frais and cheese – choose lower fat options where possible
  • Food rich in protein content like Lean meat or fish. The oily fish also has a high level of essential fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acid which is important for the proper development of the infant brain and eyesight. Vegetarian diet should include lentils beans and pulses.


It is important to have an adequate intake of fluids as well . Ensure that you are drinking enough water and fruit juices . This helps to maintain hydration and is important for the healthy and effective functioning of the digestive system and kidneys.


It is very important to cut down on foods with excessive sugar and fat like cake ,biscuit and chocolates because of high sugar and fat content. Healthy snacks should be taken like fresh or dried fruits ,vegetables, salad ,soups and low fat yoghurts.


Vegetarian or vegan diet during pregnancy- Is this an option?

A well balanced vegetarian /vegan diet contains all the nutrients . It is important to ensure that iron and B12 supplements is adequate in the diet otherwise extra supplements may be needed.


What to avoid in your diet – Eating safely


  • Raw and undercooked meat or eggs should be avoided. Cook meat thoroughly.
  • All fruit and vegetables should be thoroughly washed before eating to avoid infection. Sometimes there is a chance of Toxoplasmosis infection if there is contamination with cat litter.
  • Avoid mould-ripened soft cheeses such as brie or camembert, and blue-veined cheeses such as stilton and also mould-ripened goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses, such as clever.. These maybe associated with listeria, which can lead to premature birth and miscarriage.
  • Avoid pâté because of the associated risk of listeriosis as well.
  • Ensure all ready-made foods are piping hot throughout before eating, as undercooked food are also a listeria risk.
  • Drink only pasteurised or UHT milk, which has had harmful germs destroyed.
  • Only eat eggs if they’re hard-boiled or scrambled, to avoid salmonella infection.
  • Liver and liver products should be avoided while pregnant, as they contain high levels of vitamin A, which can be harmful to the baby. However, there is a form of Vitamin A, known as beta-carotene, which is fine for pregnant women to have. Beta-carotene can be found in red, yellow and orange peppers, mangoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, tomatoes and watercress.
  • Raw shellfish should be avoided as they contain harmful viruses and bacteria and can lead to food poisoning.
  • Sharks, swordfish and marlin variety of fishes should also be avoided ( they have high mercury content which can harm the baby’ developing nervous system).
  • Serious nut allergy can affect 1-2% of the population. There’s some evidence that it might be safer to avoid peanuts in pregnancy and breastfeeding as sometimes it may increase the risk of your baby developing peanut allergy.


There is not enough evidence for avoiding peanuts if you’re concerned about eczema, asthma, or other allergies.


Another food related problem is Toxoplasmosis which can cause serious developmental effect on the unborn child. It is found in cat faeces so cats should be kept away from food preparation areas. During gardening or changing cat litter gloves should always be used.





The recommendation from National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) says women shouldn’t drink any alcohol during pregnancy. Almost certainly alcohol should be avoided in the first trimester as this is the period when the baby fully forms structurally.

In later pregnancy 1-2 units of alcohol per week could be taken if one cannot avoid it completely. Binge drinking is not recommended because continuous, heavy drinking, can cause permanent brain and developmental damage in the foetus.



The pregnant mum should limit the amount of caffeine in her diet.
The Food Standards Agency recommends that the pregnant women limit their intake of coffee to no more than four cups a day. Fizzy drinks esp. cola also contains caffeine which should be remembered. Excessive caffeine intake could lead to growth restriction in babies and may also increase risk of miscarriage.

Smoking and Drugs

Pregnancy is the best time to give up smoking. Smoking raises the carbon monoxide levels in your blood which causes constriction of blood vessels supplying the placenta. This reduces the amount of oxygen your baby gets, affecting growth and making him vulnerable to infection. There is also a higher risk of stillbirth or prematurity.


Young infants are at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS/Cot death ) if parents are smoking. So this is a good opportunity for your partner to stop smoking.


Substance abuse and Drugs, including cannabis and ecstasy, are not safe during pregnancy. They can lead to serious complication like growth restriction, prematurity and placental abruption. Heroin and cocaine can create serious dependency problems in babies.



Folic Acid


Folate or Folic acid, is an important B vitamin found in a number of foods. Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly in babies.


It is difficult to get the recommended dose of folic acid from diet only the current advice is for all women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to take a 400mcg folic acid supplement until the 12th week of pregnancy.


Women with previous history of babies with spina bifida or anencephaly should be on a higher dose of folic acid. Also women on antiepileptic drugs need to be on a higher dose.


Foods that contain folic acid include:


  • Dark green vegetables
  • Cereals, especially wholegrain – some breads and cereal products are fortified with folic acid (read the packet’s nutritional label)
  • Oranges, grapefruit, bananas
  • Beans and pulses
  • Milk and yoghurt
  • Yeast or malt extracts (as drinks or spreads)


Your GP can give you a prescription for folic acid. It is also available off the counter as folic acid only tablets and also in different multivitamin combinations. (make sure that they contain 400 microgram’s)


Omega Fats

It is important to get enough omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy. This helps the development of your baby’s nervous system Oily fish like sardines, mackerel and salmon are all rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids (limit to two portions a week, as the fish can also contain mercury, high levels of which can be harmful for your baby).


Alternative sources of omega 3 are seeds such as pumpkin and flax – you’ll need about two tablespoons a day – or you can always have a pregnancy-friendly supplement instead.


Prenatal vitamin supplement


You could opt for just one multivitamin supplement specially made for women trying to conceive or who are pregnant. It’ll help you get the right balance of nutrients recommended for a healthy pregnancy, including folic acid and iron.


One needs to make sure that the supplement chosen is one specifically made for use during conception and pregnancy and not a regular multivitamin, as these can contain potentially high levels of the vitamins like vitamin A you should be avoiding.



Pregnant women need a lot of iron and iron deficiency is commonly seen. Most pregnant women get adequate amount of iron from a well balanced diet. Iron-rich foods are:


  • Red Meat (thoroughly cooked)
  • Pulses such as chick-peas and lentils
  • Dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, watercress, and kale
  • Nuts (although you may need to avoid peanuts) – almonds and brazil nuts are a good source
  • Wholegrains such as wholemeal bread, brown rice and breakfast cereals
  • Dried fruit
  • Eggs


Iron is best absorbed by your body if you also eat some fruit or vegetables rich in Vitamin C at the same time, so have a glass of fruit juice with your cereal or have some fresh fruit as a starter to your main course.



Healthy eating is a priority.


Women gain about 10-12 kg weight in pregnancy which is considered perfectly normal. Excessive weight gain by eating for two should be avoided as this weight is difficult to lose (long term health implications) and also increases complications during various stages of pregnancy and labour.


One should not try to lose weight by following various diets while pregnant without medical advice.

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