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Nutrition during pregnancy: Allowed and forbidden

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 396 views

With the right nutrition during pregnancy , women can contribute to the healthy development of their child. You don’t have to eat for two, though—pregnancy increases calorie requirements only slightly. However, it is important to put healthy and nutritious foods on the table. Read here what you should consider when it comes to nutrition during pregnancy!

How many calories does a pregnant woman need?

During pregnancy, the daily energy requirement increases – but only from the fourth month and not very much at all: by just 10 percent by the end of the pregnancy. That means: A pregnant woman needs around 2300 kilocalories every day. Compared to a non-pregnant woman, this is 300 kilocalories more per day, which corresponds to a cheese sandwich or yoghurt with fruit. On average, every European takes in around 3,400 kilocalories a day, which is significantly more than a pregnant woman needs.

Increased need for vitamins & Co.

A sufficient supply of proteins, minerals, vitamins and trace elements is more important than the slightly increased energy requirement. You therefore do not have to eat more during pregnancy, only better, more balanced and healthier. You feed your child and provide it with nutrients through your circulatory system. Therefore, make sure that the food you choose and prepare is of a high quality!

Pregnancy: plan your diet well!

Not sure if you’re already eating sensibly? Then the following small nutrition plan will help you to live through pregnancy and childbirth well cared for:

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables (five servings* per day) as well as whole grain products and potatoes (with every meal if possible). Drink plenty of low-calorie beverages (two glasses per meal and spread throughout the day).
  • Eat lean meat (three to four servings per week), high-fat sea fish (two servings per week) and low-fat dairy products (three servings or glasses per day) in moderation.
  • Eat few processed foods, high-fat foods, “fast food” (only occasionally) and sweets (about a handful a day).

* A serving is the amount that fits in your hand .

You should also make sure you eat regularly and always prepare your food freshly if possible. Prefer vegetable oils to animal fats. If you have morning sickness or an increasing waist size, it makes sense to have smaller meals spread over the day (three main meals and two snacks) to cover your nutritional needs.

Healthy nutrition – pregnancy without vitamin pills & Co.?

You can take good care of yourself and your child with a balanced diet during pregnancy. In the case of folic acid and iodine, however, the supply from food does not cover the requirement. Caution is also required when it comes to iron supply during pregnancy: diet with iron-rich foods (broccoli, kale, lean meat, etc.) alone is not sufficient in some cases to cover the requirement.

Overall, the supply of the following nutrients during pregnancy is particularly critical:

folic acid

Pregnant women need about 50 percent more folic acid than non-pregnant women. In the case of an undersupply, the risk of severe malformations in the child (neural tube defect, “open spine”) increases. Therefore, it is important to take folic acid right at the beginning of pregnancy – even before that if you want to get pregnant. Pregnant women should take one tablet with at least 0.4 milligrams of folic acid every day. A folate-rich diet during pregnancy also helps. Green vegetables (brussels sprouts, broccoli, peas), whole grains, legumes, barley, soy, egg yolks, rice and fruit contain plenty of folic acid.

iodine

A lack of iodine also increases the probability of a malformation in the child. 100 to 150 micrograms (µg) of iodide per day are sufficient for the healthy physical and mental development of the child. Iodized table salt makes sense, but no more than four grams of it should be consumed per day. Good natural sources of iodine are sea fish, seafood and dairy products. However, sea fish and seafood should only be consumed in moderation – they are often contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury.

If you have a thyroid disorder, you should definitely discuss with your doctor whether and how much additional iodine you can take in.

iron

During pregnancy, the amount of blood increases and with it the iron requirement of the expectant mother. Unlike iodine and folic acid, a deficiency can often be avoided with an iron-rich diet during pregnancy. Meat is the most important source of iron. Legumes and whole grain products also contain a lot of iron . Good meatless sources of iron include beets, strawberries, apricots, and millet. Vitamin C supports iron absorption. You should therefore always combine iron-rich foods with fruit and vegetables with a high vitamin C content, such as cabbage, peppers or oranges (including orange juice).

As part of the check-up, your gynecologist will regularly check the iron concentration in your blood . If a deficiency occurs during pregnancy despite a diet rich in iron, the doctor will prescribe you an iron supplement.

Special nutrition during pregnancy

Don’t you eat meat? Do you give up fish? Or are you vegan at all? If you want to continue a special diet during pregnancy, you should always inform your gynecologist.

vegetarians

Vegetarians who eat enough protein-rich food and dairy products (ovo-lacto vegetarians) are usually well supplied with all the important nutrients. However, not eating meat can lead to an iron deficiency . Iron is an important mineral for the healthy development of your baby. As a vegetarian, you must therefore pay particular attention to getting enough iron from non-meat foods. Therefore, always combine whole grain products with fruit or vegetables rich in vitamin C. If your gynecologist diagnoses an iron deficiency, iron supplements may be necessary.

If you don’t eat fish, you may be missing out on important omega-3 fatty acids . The daily intake of 200 mg DHA – a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid – would then be recommended.

vegans

There is still disagreement among experts about how dangerous a diet without animal products is for the unborn child:

Some specialist societies consider a vegan diet to be unsuitable during pregnancy, as there could be significant health risks for the child. It may not be getting enough calcium , iron, vitamin B12 , and vitamin D3.

According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the Dietitians of Canada, DC, there is nothing wrong with a well-planned vegan (or vegetarian) diet during pregnancy. However, the two organizations emphasize that the administration of dietary supplements may be necessary to cover the recommended nutrient requirements in individual cases.

It is important to avoid malnutrition during pregnancy. Because this poses serious health risks, especially for the development of the child’s nervous system. It is therefore essential that you inform your gynecologist if you are planning a vegan diet during pregnancy.

What should pregnant women not eat or drink?

Pregnancy also means doing without one or the other food or beverage in order not to harm the child:

alcohol during pregnancy

Whether beer or wine – every sip of alcohol harms the child. There is no risk-free limit. Alcohol quickly enters the child’s circulation via the umbilical cord . It takes some time for the alcohol to break down there because the organs of the fetus are not yet fully developed. The result can be premature birth or miscarriage , mental and physical disabilities. The most severe form of alcohol-related harm in children is called fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). It is characterized by various malformations and developmental disorders.

It is therefore essential to avoid alcohol during pregnancy ! Desserts, chocolates, fruit juices, baked goods, malt beer and even non-alcoholic beer can also contain small amounts of alcohol. Here, however, the content is so low that there is no risk of harm to your child if it is consumed occasionally.

In the first few weeks you usually don’t know anything about the existing pregnancy. If you have consumed alcohol during this time, you do not need to worry. In the first month, the so-called all-or-nothing principle applies. In this early phase, the embryonic cells are omnipotent, which means that they can still develop into any cell and compensate for minor disturbances. If the defect is severe, miscarriage will occur. Alcohol consumption becomes critical from the fifth week; then organ development begins in the unborn child.

Raw milk, sushi and salami

Pregnancy is sometimes accompanied by complications such as premature birth or birth defects. Food infections (toxoplasma, listeria, salmonella) can be the cause. These germs are mainly found on raw animal foods, which should therefore not be consumed during pregnancy. Specifically, it is primarily about:

  • not (enough) well-done meat
  • Raw, brine-marinated or cold-smoked fish (salted herring, trout fillets, smoked salmon, sushi)
  • raw eggs
  • raw milk

Raw ham, tea sausage, ground pork and salami are also not recommended during pregnancy. Also, do not eat cheese made from raw milk. The same goes for foods made with raw eggs (like mayonnaise or tiramisu). To be on the safe side, you should always wash fruit and vegetables carefully before eating them.

coke during pregnancy

Like coffee, cola contains the pick-me-up caffeine . This inhibits iron absorption and increases blood pressure. The caffeine also reaches the unborn child via the placenta and is also effective there. Therefore, only drink small amounts of caffeinated beverages such as coffee, green tea, black tea or cola during pregnancy. Caffeinated energy drinks are not recommended for pregnant women.

Its high sugar content also speaks against excessive consumption of cola.

liquorice during pregnancy

The glycyrrhizin contained in liquorice (licorice root) is suspected of having a negative impact on child development. It increases blood pressure and may make the placenta more permeable to the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol levels were significantly higher in children whose mothers had eaten liquorice regularly during pregnancy than in children whose mothers had not eaten liquorice during pregnancy. Even if the exact connections are unclear, you should limit the consumption of liquorice during pregnancy. Doctors explicitly warn pregnant women against excessive and regular consumption of liquorice.

Pregnancy: careful with spices?

Some herbs and spices can induce labor in large amounts, such as cloves, parsley, and cinnamon . With normal quantities for seasoning food, however, there is no danger.

There is another reason why cinnamon should not be consumed in large quantities. The so-called cassia cinnamon in particular contains a lot of coumarin – a flavoring substance that can cause liver damage in sensitive people, even in small amounts. Less coumarin is in the (more expensive) Ceylon cinnamon.

Pregnancy: Ban on liver and liver sausage?

Pregnancy is often accompanied by cravings for certain foods. It is better not to include fresh liver as it contains a lot of vitamin A. This can be particularly harmful to the child in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Liver sausage, on the other hand, contains significantly less vitamin A and can be eaten occasionally. It is also a cooked meat product and not a raw sausage, which should generally be avoided during pregnancy (e.g. Teewurst or salami).

Sweeten pregnancy with honey?

Honey is dangerous for children under the age of one year because the spores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum that it may contain can spread in the child’s intestines and lead to infant botulism. However, there is no need to worry during pregnancy. Your gut flora protects both you and your child.

In connection with honey, the sometimes high contamination with pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) is discussed again and again. But don’t worry too much: honey from Central or South America is particularly contaminated, while European honey is less so.

Pregnancy: Harmful substances in mushrooms, offal and tuna

Pregnancy is a phase in which polluted food should be avoided even more than usual – for the good of the child, but of course also for the mother. You can keep the intake of pollutants low by:

  • Always wash or even peel fruit and vegetables thoroughly
  • Only eat wild mushrooms in small amounts (cadmium, mercury, radionuclides!)
  • Offal – especially from wild animals – rarely consume (heavy metals!)
  • do not consume more than 20 grams of flaxseed per day (cadmium!)
  • Eat tuna and other predatory fish only rarely during pregnancy (mercury!)

Basically, fish contains important nutrients, and its consumption is therefore definitely recommended for pregnant women. However, some fish accumulate mercury through the food chain. Maximum levels of one milligram of mercury per kilogram of fish are permitted throughout Europe. Predatory fish in particular at the end of the food chain are particularly vulnerable, such as tuna, eel, pike, redfish, halibut or swordfish. Mercury can cross the blood-brain barrier and the placenta and cause severe developmental damage to the nervous system in the unborn child. Therefore – whether fresh or canned – limit the consumption of tuna.

Pregnancy: Is poppy harmful?

The BfR advises against excessive consumption of foods containing poppy seeds. The reason for this is the sometimes high content of alkaloids such as morphine and codeine, which are used medicinally to relieve severe pain. In foods with plenty of poppy seeds, the amount of morphine can sometimes be in the therapeutic range. However, there is no danger with a poppy seed roll, for example.

Nutrition during pregnancy: prevent allergies in the child?

By changing your diet during pregnancy and avoiding certain foods, you cannot prevent possible allergies in the child. However, regular consumption of high-fat sea fish is said to have an allergy-preventing effect. You can also reduce your child’s risk of allergies by making the diet as balanced and varied as possible during pregnancy.

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