• Getting the right nutrients while pregnant can be tricky (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
When eaten as part of a balanced and healthy diet, these everyday foods can help provide pregnant and breastfeeding women with key nutrients.
Bianca Soldani

5 Aug 2016 - 11:54 AM  UPDATED 8 Aug 2016 - 10:53 AM

Maintaining a balanced and nutrient-rich diet is an important part of pregnancy, and making sure to include these foods to your grocery list is a good way to boost many of the elements essential to maintaining prenatal and neonatal health.

Spinach, silverbeet and other leafy greens

Leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce, collard greens, Asian greens, kale, silverbeet, swiss chard, etc are a great source of "different vitamins and minerals, lots of antioxidants and dietary fibre", Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia Lisa Renn tells SBS.

The fibre in particular, works to keep everything moving through the body properly and helps keep you regular. While there are different types of fibre you can include in your diet, getting enough is important to help avoid becoming constipated.

Constipation is particularly common in pregnant women as the movement of food through the body slows down in order to absorb more nutrients and vitamins. Drinking plenty of water is also recommended by the Australian government’s Eat for Health to help prevent constipation.

Ms Renn explains that while pregnant or breastfeeding "you are aiming to get five [to seven] serves of different vegetables and all the different colours are really important, the leafy greens in particular are a good source of folate".

Folate is necessary for DNA synthesis and facilitates the division of living cells. Thus the body’s need for folate is higher during pregnancy as it helps in the healthy development of the foetus.

Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Natasha Murray tells SBS that folate is also “essential for pregnant women and women trying to conceive as a prevention against neural tube defects” such as spina bifida.

Folate so crucial in fact, that Victoria’s Better Health page recommends that “even women who aren’t planning to have a baby should increase their folate intake because about half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned”.

Ms Renn recommends consuming one or two serves of leafy greens a day in conjunction with a variety of other vegetables. 1 cup of uncooked or 1/2 a cup of cooked greens equates to one serve.

Avocado, nuts and seeds

Breastfeeding women in particular have very high energy requirements and can need as much as 2000-2100 KJ a day more than average women to meet the energy demands of milk production. 

"Basically because you have increased energy needs [during pregnancy and while breastfeeding], it's important that you are taking in more calories in the day," Ms Renn says, "but of course it's also important that they are a really high quality calorie."

"The highest calorie foods are fats and oils and therefore getting in nuts, nut butters or seeds are going to be a really healthy way of increasing your energy needs as well as being a brilliant snack." A palm-full of nuts and seeds, or 30 grams, equates to one serve.

Avocados are also a unique source of nutrients for expectant and new mothers as they are known for being abundant in monounsaturated fats.

This kind of healthy fat helps improve blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease. It also gives you more kilojoules per gram (ie energy) than carbohydrates or protein.

In addition, avocados are high in folate and a good source of fibre. For every 100 grams of avocado, which roughly equates to half an avocado, you get 4 grams of fibre.

As the recommended daily intake for pregnant and lactating women above 18-years-old is 28 to 30 grams, that amount constitutes nearly 15 per cent.

Vitamin E and vitamin C antioxidants are also found in avocados which are useful in helping prevent damage caused by free radicals in the body and work to keep you healthy.

Beef and other red meats

As Mr Renn explains, "you need more iron during pregnancy than any other time in your life" and lean red meat is the best way to boost your intake.

It is recommended that pregnant women consume 27mg of iron a day, which is 9mg more than other women, and eat a serve of lean red meat such as beef or kangaroo, three to four times a week.

While the iron from red meat "is more readily absorbed than from vegetables", Ms Renn says there are many vegetarian mothers who manage very well on alternative sources of iron.

"If you can't include red meat then it is important to have plant-based iron like legumes and tofu, green leafy vegetables, grains and seeds," she says. A 170g serve of tofu or 150g of cooked beans or lentils is comparable to 65g gram of red meat.

For people who aren't vegetarian but don't enjoy beef or kangaroo, chicken, pork and lamb "also all have the iron content but it's just not quite as high."

Iron helps carry oxygen through the body and it's also a component of red blood cells which means it's important for making healthy blood while the baby is growing. It's especially necessary during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy as the baby begins to store it for its first six months of life. 

Low iron levels meanwhile, can also result in drowsiness, poor concentration and an increased risk of infection.

Salmon and tuna

Iodine is very important for a baby's developing brain and nervous system and a rich source of it is fish.

Ms Renn recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women consume two fish meals a week, with tuna and salmon being great options.

Larger fish such as swordfish and ling have higher levels of mercury and so are better to avoid or eat rarely. Flake for example, which is commonly served at fish and chips shops, should not be eaten more than once every two weeks Ms Renn says, and that's without any other fish in that time period.

As with every other food and food group, moderation is key. Both Ms Renn and Ms Murray stress that there is no one food that women should be eating at the expense of a varied diet. 

“We get all these messages, 'oh this food’s fantastic, this food’s fantastic', but your diet for pregnant women should be made up of a wide variety of foods from all the food groups," Ms Murray explains.

It's recommended pregnant women and breastfeeding women increase their daily serves of fruit and vegetables to 4 serves of fruit and 5-6 of vegetables while pregnant and 5 and 7 respectively while breastfeeding.

A variety of grains, particularly whole grains, is also important as is milk, cheese and yogurt.

Add some avo
Avocado and bacon sandwich with bacon jam
Everyone loves a good bacon sandwich, and this one was inspired by my travels in America. While the toasted sandwich recipe makes enough for one serve, the bacon jam makes a whole jar that will keep refrigerated for up to a month, and it goes with just about anything.
Avocado tzatziki
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