WHAT ARE THE BEST FOODS TO EAT WHEN PREGNANT?
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A healthy diet is very important if you're pregnant or are planning to have a baby. The best diet is one with a variety of different foods, but take care with certain foods because they can be harmful to both your health and the health of your baby. You also need to be careful with alcohol, medicines and drugs, so check with your doctor before taking any of these. If you smoke, it’s important to stop as soon as possible.
Keeping active during pregnancy is also a good idea, as it will help you to adapt to your changing shape by strengthening muscles so that you can carry the extra weight of pregnancy. Keeping active will also help to prepare you for the birth by strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor, which come under great strain during pregnancy and childbirth.
You will probably find that you are more hungry than usual, but you don't need to 'eat for two' – even if you are expecting twins or triplets. Have a healthy breakfast every day because this can help you to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar.
Eating healthily often means just changing the amounts of different foods you eat so that your diet is varied, rather than cutting out all your favourites. You will need to be careful with your diet if you develop gestational diabetes – your doctor or midwife will advise you.
Fruit and vegetables
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables because these provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which helps digestion and prevents constipation. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day – these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash them carefully. Cook vegetables lightly in a little water, or eat them raw but well washed, to get the benefit of the nutrients they contain.
Starchy foods (carbohydrates)
Starchy foods are an important source of vitamins and fibre, and are satisfying without containing too many calories. They include bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, sweet potatoes, yams and cornmeal. These foods should be the main part of every meal. Eat wholemeal instead of processed (white) varieties when you can.
Sources of protein include meat (but avoid liver), fish, poultry, eggs, beans, pulses and nuts. Eat some protein every day. Choose lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and cook it using only a little fat. Make sure eggs, poultry, pork, burgers and sausages are cooked all the way through. Check that there is no pink meat, and that juices have no pink or red in them. Try to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as sardines or mackerel. However, there are some types of fish you should avoid in pregnancy.
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yogurt are important because they contain calcium and other nutrients that your baby needs. Choose low-fat varieties wherever possible. For example, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, low-fat yogurt and half-fat hard cheese. Aim for two to three portions a day. However, there are some cheeses to avoid.
If you get hungry between meals, don't eat snacks that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, crisps or chocolate. Instead, choose from the following nutritious snacks:
• Sandwiches or pitta bread filled with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon or sardines and salad
• Salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
• Low-fat yogurt or fromage frais
• Hummus with bread or vegetable sticks
• Ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
• Vegetable and bean soups
• Unsweetened breakfast cereals, or porridge, with milk
• Milky drinks or unsweetened fruit juices
• Fresh fruit
• Baked beans on toast or a baked potato
Preparing food safely
• Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis – toxoplasmosis can harm your unborn baby
• Wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw meat – this will help to avoid toxoplasmosis
• Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there's a risk of contamination – this is to avoid other types of food poisoning from meat (such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli)
• Use a separate chopping board for raw meats
• Heat ready meals until they're piping hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry
You also need to make sure that some foods, such as eggs and sausages, are cooked very thoroughly before you eat them.