What you choose to put in your body when you’re pregnant can have a direct impact not only on your own health, but on the wellbeing of your growing sprog. You’re building a human after all! And what’s on your dinner plate are the foundations of your little one’s future (no pressure or anything...). Luckily, it’s pretty straight forward, says Alexandra Chaston, head nutritionist at Glenville Nutrition Centre: “Eat regular meals of fresh, whole foods; buy organic where possible to reduce the toxic load on the body; and make sure your diet is balanced with adequate protein, complex carbs and is high in essential fats but low in saturated fats.” So what does that look like? Here’s what’s on your mama-to-be menu...

Read our essential week-by-week guide to pregnancy in the UAE here

There’s a lot of focus on what NOT to eat when you’re pregnant, but what about what you CAN eat? Alexandra Chaston, head nutritionist at Glenville Nutrition Centre, The Retreat Palm Dubai Hotel, gives us the lowdown on the nutrients you need when you’re growing a baby:

Folic Acid

Why?
Folic acid plays a vital role in the prevention of brain and spinal cord defects such as spina bifida. It helps the formation of red blood cells, which transport oxygen to tissues.

Where from?
Wheatgerm, sprouts, asparagus, sesame seeds, broccoli, cashews, cauliflower, avocado, walnuts.

Zinc

Why?
Zinc is vital for growth and cell replication and is needed for the functioning of many chemical reactions in the body. Low zinc levels in pregnancy have been associated with early births, low birth weight and the development of dyslexia in children later on in life. It helps to protect the mother and baby of the effects of toxic metals such as lead. It even helps prevent postnatal depression and fatigue, and is thought to help stave off stretch marks and sore nipples after the birth! The mother’s stores of zinc are transferred to the baby in the last few months of pregnancy and during the early stages of breast feeding so maintaining levels through diet and supplements is vital.

Where from?
Wholegrains, fish, eggs, apricots, pumpkin seeds, pecans, rye, oats, almonds.

Vitamin A

Why?
Vitamin A aids in the growth and repair of body tissues, and is needed for healthy eyes, skin and mucous membranes. We get it from our diet in two forms: either from animal meats as ‘retinol’ (which is the active form of vitamin A) or from vegetables as beta carotene, which can then be converted into vitamin A when it is needed (as long as zinc supplies are adequate). Retinol can be stored in the liver when it is not needed and it is thought that too much retinol during the pregnancy is not good for the baby’s liver. It is therefore safer to supplement in the form of beta-carotene.

Where from?
Beta-carotene is found in all red, orange and yellow coloured vegetables as well as dark green vegetables like spinach and kale.

Fibre

Why?
Good, soluble fibre is important to maintain a healthy bowel and help keep things moving in your gut, particularly towards the end of the pregnancy when you’re more prone to constipation (which can also lead to painful piles). 

Where from?
Whole grains, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds. You can also soak a tablespoon of whole linseeds in a glass of water overnight and drink the next morning.

Protein

Why?
Proteins are the building blocks of life and are used to build or repair tissue, organs, muscles, enzymes, hair, skin and hormones. All animal products and fish contain most of the amino acids that we need, however if you’re veggie it can be hard to get enough, so you have to  combine the sources of protein from a wide range of vegetarian foods. So your daily diet must include a combination of: nuts (if you aren’t allergic), seeds, grains and pulses.

Where from?
Organic poultry (1 or 2 pieces per week), fish, goat milk, sheep milk, organic eggs, vegetarian cheese, nuts, soya, seeds and pulses. Some grains are better sources than others, for example quinoa and millet; the rest have a small amount and should be combined with other protein sources.

Read more: Can you really justify “eating for two” when you’re pregnant?

Iron

Why?
When pregnant your blood volume increases and your red blood cell production is raised. Iron is a key element of the red blood cells that carry the oxygen in the blood to the tissues and the baby. If iron levels become depleted, you may feel tired and run down; some studies have shown that women absorb up to six times more iron in pregnancy.

Where from?
Egg yolk, brewers yeast, molasses, wheat germ, almonds, parsley, pumpkin seeds, cashews, prunes.

Calcium

Why?
Calcium is needed for healthy bone formation and for controlling blood clotting mechanisms. If there is not enough calcium in the mother’s diet it will be taken from her bones. Mothers are believed to lose up to 7% of their calcium stores during pregnancy.

Where from?
Hard cheese, soya, salmon and sardines, green vegetables, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cooked dried beans.

Magnesium

Why?
Magnesium is important for calcium absorption and for nerve and muscle function. A deficiency in magnesium is thought to contribute to painful uterine contractions in your final trimester (ouch!) and is also needed for many chemical reactions in the body, including the production of the sex hormones.

Where from?
Wheat germ, almonds, cashews, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, buckwheat and apricots.

Read more: The ultimate hospital bag checklist for mums-to-be

Vitamin C

Why?
This water-soluble vitamin cannot be stored by the body. It helps iron to be absorbed. It is an important anti-oxidant and benefits the immune system. It is needed to form all skin, collagen tissues in the body.

Where from?
Melon, all berries, guava, kiwi, apricot, avocado, broccoli, peppers, red chili.

Essential Fatty Acids

Why?
These are vital for the growth and development of the baby, especially the brain and the central nervous system. Recent research indicates a deficiency can result in low birth weight and may influence sight and subsequent intelligence.

Where from?
Oily fish, evening primrose oil, starflower oil, borage oil and nuts and seeds such as, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, walnuts and almonds.

Complex Carbohydrates (Low GI)

Why?
These are the body’s primary source of fuel and provide slow releasing energy. They are also a good source of fibre.

Where from?
Fresh fruit and vegetables (raw or lightly cooked), wholegrain breads, brown rice, wild rice, millet, oats, barley, buckwheat, rye and quinoa.

Vitamin K

Why?
Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and for healing the womb after birth.

Where from?
It is normally produced by gut bacteria, but it is also found in cauliflower and all the green leafy vegetables.

Read more: Pregnant? Stop using these 6 beauty products NOW

The ‘NO’ list – don’t eat these:

Caffeinated drinks and foods

Although the official advice from the Food Standards Agency is to restrict caffeine to less than 200mg per day (around a cup of coffee), caffeine is a stimulant that can raise blood sugar levels. It is an addictive substance and this addiction can be passed on to your baby in the womb. It can interfere with your body’s absorption of nutrients, especially iron and zinc. It is a natural diuretic and can therefore increase your excretion of nutrients in the urine.

Meat patés
They can cause food borne illnesses, and are often made from the liver, which provides too much vitamin A. 

Read more: How to avoid getting stretch marks during pregnancy

Some cheeses

Unpasteurised soft and blue cheese such as Brie, Camembert and Gorgonzola can carry food-borne illnesses such as listeria. Hard blue cheeses are less likely to contain listeria than soft ones.

Refined carbohydrates
This includes white flour, white rice, sugar and sweets, chocolates and fizzy drinks, which disrupt blood sugar balance and increase insulin levels.

Liver and cod liver oil
These provide too much vitamin A in the animal form, retinol, which has been associated with birth defects.  

Read more: Why your pregnancy mood swings may be something more sinister

Raw meat and fish

Uncooked meat can contain food borne illnesses.

Nuts
While in the past pregnant women were advised to avoid potentially allergenic foods like nuts, this is no longer the case; however, avoid eating them to excess, and eat a variety rather than stick to one type.

Read more: 
What does Dubai’s new maternity leave decree mean for private sector employees? 

Celebrity mums who stayed fit during pregnancy – and how they did it 

Debate: Should you find out your baby's gender before birth?

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