If you’ve ever been pregnant or known anyone who has experienced pregnancy, it’s pretty likely you’ll have memorised that list of foods detailing what a woman-with-child shouldn’t eat.
Uncooked seafood, flake or other high mercury fish, unwashed produce or deli meats are all off the table.
But what about the foods pregnant women should eat, and enjoy? After all, nutrition helps to nourish your body and if your body during pregnancy is working hard to create a human, your diet is really important.
“Good nutrition during pregnancy will decrease the risk of allergy and asthma in your baby."
“There are a whole lot of women out there who know that nutrition is important for themselves and their baby but they don’t understand the degree to which it’s important,” says nutrition consultant, Dr Anita Star. “I just don’t think that message about how many things good nutrition during pregnancy can affect is conveyed strongly enough.
“Good nutrition during pregnancy will decrease the risk of allergy and asthma in your baby. It can decrease the risk of a pre-term birth and childhood obesity in your baby. A nutritious diet [while pregnant] may lower your child’s risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in later life and lift their cognitive performance.
“Eating well during pregnancy will also decrease the risk of gestational diabetes for mum.”
It’s for this reason that Dr Star teamed up with Leah Vandervliet, an Accredited Practising Dietitian, to create a new pregnancy nutrition book: Growing Baby Bean: A Complete Guide to Pregnancy Nutrition. The book, which was released earlier this year, features chapters on everything you need to know about pregnancy nutrition from preconception, all the way to just after the arrival of baby.
Prof Michael Chapman, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, School of Women’s and Children’s Health, University of New South Wales wrote the forward for the book.
“Increasingly we are aware that what we eat and drink do affect not only our women’s health but that of the babies they carry through pregnancy,” Prof Chapman also stresses. “The importance of good nutrition begins preconception, as soon as women start to try to conceive. Then at the various stages of pregnancy there are adaptations to diet that are useful.”
"Fish has omega three fats but it also has selenium, iodine and vitamin D which all have a protective function.”
Dr Star explains that Growing Baby Bean is based on the integration and analysis of the latest nutrition research and health guidelines. It includes recommendations about what to eat prior to conception and during pregnancy, as well as over 60 recipes.
“The book really focuses on a Mediterranean-style of diet as there’s lots of research on the benefits of this diet, both in the preconception period and during pregnancy, helping women to fall pregnant and maintain a healthy pregnancy,” says Dr Star.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes, seeds and plant proteins. It also includes animal proteins “but it’s important to get that balance between the two right”.
“Having a Mediterranean diet doesn’t mean you have to eat, say, Greek food all the time. The foods in the diet apply to any cuisine or cultural background so you can mix it up.”
Dr Star explains that fish, which is an essential part of the Mediterranean diet, should be consumed in the lead up to pregnancy and during pregnancy.
“People are scared of eating fish during pregnancy," she says. "They are often told to avoid fish rather than be encouraged to eat it and be told ‘here are the kinds of fish you can have safely’.
“Fish [consumption during pregnancy] is associated with a decreased risk of allergy and eczema in the baby, and improved mental health and cognitive importance both in mum and the baby. Fish has omega three fats but it also has selenium, iodine and vitamin D which all have a protective function.”
High mercury fish, of course, should not be consumed but, says Dr Star, every other cooked fish is okay to enjoy.
“Whiting, snapper and brim are all fine. You can have three serves of low mercury fish a week.”
Dr Star reminds women that main focus of any pregnancy diet – during preconception and pregnancy – should be nourishment not deprivation.
“Depriving yourself is not beneficial in this case,” she says. “Eating during the preconception period and pregnancy should be about nourishing your body. So allow yourself a few treats here and there but don’t overdo it. Also, try to have a well-rounded diet including all of the food groups.”
Growing Baby Bean: A Complete Guide to Pregnancy Nutrition is available online (RRP$69.95).