A lot of you guys have been asking me about my diet during my pregnancy. I was always very curious to see what my cravings would be, if I had start to introduce specific food groups such as dairy or meat (which are not usually part of my diet) to support the pregnancy, and just in general; what types of foods one should be having to stay healthy (with the occasional treats of course!). If you read my last Baby Diaries post, you would know that I was recently diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes, which has meant that I’ve really had to alter my diet with a low sugar, low carb, high protein diet. The good thing is I will be super healthy for my baba – the annoying part (which is obviously very insignificant); no more treats for me! Fortunately, I have had the pleasure of teaming up with top London Clinical Nutritionist, Kamilla Schaffner, to guide me a long the way, and has also collated all her top tips for a healthy and wholesome pregnancy, as well as how to manage a low sugar diet if you happen to have Gestational Diabetes (or if you’re just looking to cut out sugar in general).
8 GOLDEN RULES FOR A HEALTHY PREGNANCY
1. Know Your Nutritional Do’s & Dont’s
Check regularly with your GP or midwifes if you are not sure on what is safe to consume during pregnancy food wise. The usual ‘dont’s’ always include undercooked eggs, raw or smoked fish, patés, alcohol, artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, certain types of fish high in Mercury like tuna or swordfish, and excess hydrogenated fats that can typically be found in pre-packaged foods and most junk foods!
2. Do Not Restrict Your Calories During Pregnancy
This is of course not a green light to overconsume food in general but try not to limit your intake of vital macro nutrients like complex carbohydrates, protein and fats. The jury is still out whether you should be eating for two or just consuming few extra hundred calories but the fact of the matter is that nutritional requirements for pregnancy are much higher than those for the rest of the population, so leave out calorie counting for after the baby has arrived!
3. Avoid Junk Food At All Cost No Matter How Strong Your Cravings Might Be
Most junk foods/pre-packaged goods contain artificial preservatives, E-numbers and hydrogenated fats that extend products shelf life and enhance flavours. This is something your baby does not need at all! If you are caught in an unexpected overwhelming craving for a particular food, then try to re-create a healthy version of it at home using natural ingredients. Always go for natural/home-made foods over readily available packaged stuff. At least you will be content knowing exactly what you’ve just eaten!
4. Hydration, Hydration, Hydration!
Keep yourself hydrated all the time as the process of creating extra blood during pregnancy requires extra volume of water. Go for the alkaline mineral water with pH no less than 8. Avoid drinking diet drinks that may contain artificial sweeteners like Aspartame and colorants. Instead go for high quality mineral water (you can spruce it up by adding vibrant berries, slices of fruit, fresh veggies and herbs like mint and cucumber). And of course, stay away from diuretic stimulants like coffee and tea that may not only dehydrate you due to their strong diuretic effect but also elevate your heart and pulse rate, which may elevated the baby’s heart rate too.
5. Folic Acid
This is one of the vital vitamins that is absolutely required during pregnancy especially during first trimester. The current National Health System guideline in the UK, is to consume minimum 400 micrograms of folic acid per day during pregnancy. Folate, on the other hand, is a natural form of Vitamin B9 that occurs naturally in foods. Foods rich in Folate are all green leafy vegetables (spinach, lambs lettuce, watercress, kale, chard, cavalo nero, silver beets, broccoli, cabbages, rocket), beans and pulses especially lentils, endive and eggs. Be sure to consume these foods as often as possible during pregnancy to top your folate levels as Vitamin B9 is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning the body does not store it, so eat up!
6. Omega 3
Essential fatty acids are very important for expecting mothers as our bodies synthesise extremely small amounts of these, which means we must get our essential Omegas through our diet. Research now suggests that foetal brain development, as well as baby’s central nervous system and macular development significantly rely on this vital macro nutrient. A lot of expecting mothers are not comfortable taking supplements during pregnancy. If that is you then try to incorporate the following foods rich in Omega-3 essential fatty acids as often as you can: salmon (cooked), cod, sardines, mackerel, trout, chia seeds, walnuts and flax seeds.
Many women are chronically iron deficient and are not even aware of their deficiency. This can happen due to various reasons with the most common cause being monthly periods (with or without excessive bleeding) or general lack of the mineral due to deficient nutrition. This is where eating (well-cooked if pregnant) red meat comes in nicely: if you are a non-vegetarian then the easiest way to maintain your iron levels is by including organic, grass-fed red meats like lean beef or lamb as often as 1-2 times per week. Remember, the ‘dark’ meat in poultry is always rich in this mineral so you can go for cuts like turkey/chicken thighs or drumsticks. If you’re a vegetarian then you should incorporate a nutritional trick of combining vegetarian sources of iron with foods like fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin C for a higher and better iron absorption. Vegetarian sources of iron are: dried apricots, spinach, kale, green leafy vegetables, raisins, figs, dates, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, tofu, almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds.
This is really important for the growth and development of your baby’s bones and also helps maintaining your bones. Calcium demands on the expecting mother are high during the latter stages of pregnancy. The skeleton of full-term infants contains 20–30 g of calcium, most of which is accrued during the last trimester of pregnancy. Female physiology of a pregnant woman is very complex and interesting – the body adapts so that it can absorb more calcium from the food you eat. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt which are a great source of calcium so try to include these in your diet as often as possible. If you don’t eat dairy foods, calcium can also be found in other foods such as calcium-fortified soya and dairy-free alternatives, calcium- fortified breakfast cereals, canned oily fish with soft bones, as well as dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds like almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts and sesame seeds.
HOW TO MANAGE A LOW SUGAR DIET FOR GESTATIONAL DIABETES
1. Taking Control of Your Blood Sugar Level
The first step in managing gestational diabetes is to modify your diet to help keep your blood sugar level in the normal range, while still eating a healthy diet. One way of keeping your blood sugar levels within normal range is by monitoring the amount of carbohydrates in your diet. Carbohydrate foods digest and turn into blood glucose which is a simplest and easily utilised type of sugar. Glucose in the blood is necessary because it is the fuel for your body and nourishment your baby receives from you. However, it is important that glucose levels stay within allowed range.
2. Start The Elimination
Remove or keep to minimum all dessert and sweets! Cakes, cookies, candies and pastries tend to have excessive amounts of carbohydrates as well as hydrogenated fats and vast amounts of empty calories that you and your baby will not benefit from!
3. Be Label Savvy
Avoid all regular sodas and sugar-sweetened beverages. It is also a good idea to keep a close eye on how much you sweeten your food with things like sugar (brown sugar sometimes is just good old white sugar died with food colorants!), honey or maple syrup. You have to become label savvy as very frequently products claim to be ‘sugar-free’, but they may still contain significant amounts of carbohydrates. Look at the food label to see the grams of total carbohydrate contained.
4. Be Careful With Fruit
Avoid very sweet fruit juices or smoothies: it takes a lot fruits to make a glass of juice! Juice is a concentrated source of carbohydrates, and because it is in liquid form it can raise blood sugar quickly. Instead dilute your fruit juices with high alkaline mineral water at least 1 part juice to 1 part water, or add sources of protein to your smoothies like a dollop of Greek yoghurt to slow down absorption of the carbohydrates content of the juice.
5. Watch Your Carbs
Carbohydrates affecting GD can also be found in the following foods: milk and yogurt, rice, grains, cereals and pasta, breads, tortillas, crackers, bagels, rolls, dried beans, split peas and lentils, potatoes, corn, yams, peas and winter squash. Granted it is a very vast food group and omitting these healthy foods completely will affect your overall health, energy levels and potentially health of the baby. Just like all food groups, carbohydrates in foods are measured in grams. You can count how many carbohydrates are in foods by reading food labels and learning the diabetic exchange lists carefully. The two most important pieces of information on food labels for a carbohydrate controlled diet is the serving size and grams of total carbohydrate in each serving – it can be very complicated for an expecting mother, that is why it is vital to work with a registered dietitian or a clinical nutritionist to have your nutrition assessed and guided! The nutritionist will calculate the amount of carbohydrates that you need at meals and snacks for you.
6. Eat Regularly
Distribute your foods between three meals and two or three snacks each day and do not go hungry for too long! Not only not eating with regular time intervals will drain your energy reserves, it can also divert your glucose needed for cellular energy during pregnancy towards maintaining your own appropriate energy levels for all organs functions.
7. Portion Control
Do not eat too much food at one time as it can cause your blood sugar to rise too high too quickly, rendering you lethargic, sleepy and sometimes emotional.
8. Recognising Your Macro Nutrients Proportions
Do eat reasonable portions of starch carbohydrates like grains, potatoes, breads, beans, yams, but the vital thing for management of GD is knowing your macro nutrients proportions, this is where nutritional professional help you ascertain your unique requirements for these. Typically serving of starch from complex carbohydrates should be smaller in GD women than those who do not suffer from it. The most vital aspect of GD management is to always balance your glucose containing foods with adequate amounts of protein and fats to make sure that the system is not overwhelmed by the dominant presence of carbohydrate containing foods and ultimately glucose overload. Starchy foods eventually will turn into glucose so it is very important not to be excessive. Having said that, dietary starch should be included in every meal in order to make sure the meal is nutritionally balanced.
9. Starting The Day Right
Breakfast is crucial in GD management: blood sugar can be difficult to control in the morning because of expected fluctuations in hormone levels. Refined cereals, fruits and even milk may not be well tolerated in the morning meal. If your post-breakfast blood sugar level increases too much after having these foods, then you should not include them in your typical breakfast. A breakfast that consists of starchy carbohydrates and protein is usually tolerated the best: for example, a sourdough toast with poached eggs and roast tomatoes may be a better tolerated version than a bowl of sugary cereal and jam toast.