This Blog is to complement my recent article in Round and About magazine, I am also delighted to be part of the team at Fit and Healthy mums and am doing my first workshop for mums wellbeing and nutrition after birth - the 4th Trimester - on Wednesday 13th March see www.fitandhealthymums.com for more details.
Why does nutrition during pregnancy matter?
A great deal of research now links a mother’s nutrition pre and post pregnancy with the health of a child throughout their lives. We now know that pregnancy is a ‘critical period’ where a mother’s nutrition status can ‘programme’ a baby’s future risk of disease as well as influence their adult weight and, importantly, their brain development too.
So what should you be eating during pregnancy?
Firstly, the Department of Health recommends that during pregnancy you follow a typical ‘well-balanced diet’. This means eating a variety of foods from all of the food groups such as fruits and vegetables, wholegrain carbohydrates, protein-rich foods and some dairy foods.
But let’s get into more of the specifics during pregnancy
Fruits and vegetables are an important food group to include during pregnancy – this is because they are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as fibre, which can help with symptoms such as constipation during pregnancy. If you haven’t worried too much about getting your 5-A-Day in the past, now is the time to have a go.
Getting your 5-A-Day doesn’t have to be hard – I normally recommend focusing more on the wonder of veggies and trying to include 1-2 portions of fruit or vegetables with every meal. You can also opt for some as snacks, especially if you’re finding yourself hungry in-between meals.
Remember that you DON’T have to eat for two – this is a complete myth. You only need excess calories during the third trimester and, even then, 200 kcals extra is all that’s required – the equivalent of 1-2 slices of wholemeal bread! as the human body is incredibly clever, and during pregnancy actually increases the uptake of vitamins and minerals to compensate for your growing baby’s needs.
For the general population, if we’re eating well and living a healthy lifestyle, we don’t really need to take supplements (unless recommended by your doctor, of course!) But during pregnancy there are a few extra vitamins you need to be taking to make sure you’ve got enough to supply you and your baby. These are…
Folic acid – it is recommended to take 400mcg (micrograms) of folic acid from the moment you decide to get pregnant, right up until your 12th week of pregnancy. This is because folic acid is important for the development of your baby’s spine and to reduce the risk of something called ‘neural tube defects’. If you’ve got diabetes, or have had a previous baby born with a neural tube defect, you may need a higher dose, so talk to your doctor about this before you start trying.
It’s also recommended to eat plenty of foods that are naturally rich in folate (nature’s form of folic acid). These foods include dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, some fortified breakfast cereals, beans, lentils, oranges and bread (see how most of them also fit in with your 5-A-Day too..)
Vitamin D – this nutrient is very important for the growth of your baby’s bones and mothers are recommended to take 10mcg of vitamin D throughout pregnancy (as well as throughout breastfeeding).
It’s a good idea to invest in a pregnancy multivitamin when you’re pregnant. This should include adequate amounts of vitamin D and folic acid as well as other important nutrients such as iron, iodine and calcium, which all can be beneficial during pregnancy (but aren’t always necessary). If you do decide to take a pregnancy vitamin, you can start taking it when you’re trying for a baby to boost your stores and to make sure you’re getting the folic acid recommended pre-pregnancy too. You can continue to take this throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding if you wish too. Make sure you don’t take any other multivitamins at the same time, and avoid taking anything with vitamin A, as vitamin A can be toxic for baby in high doses.
As recommended for the general population, during pregnancy we are also recommended to eat two portions of fish, one of which should be oily to ensure you’re providing your baby with plenty of brain benefitting omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish includes – fresh tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and herring. Try and opt for MSC certified versions as this means they have been caught sustainably and not in the huge nets that are damaging our seas!
However, Department of Health also warn that mothers shouldn’t consume too much in the way of oily fish – no more than 2 portions a week – as some oily fish can contain high levels or mercury, which can be poisonous. This is very unlikely and just a precaution, so don’t worry too much if you’ve eaten more than two portions in one week.
If you really dislike fish or are vegetarian, you can try and opt for a pregnancy multivitamin that comes along with a good omega-3 supplement to make sure your growing baby gets enough.
So, what else should I avoid eating during pregnancy?
Here are some snack ideas for pregnancy too.
During pregnancy, you may be find that you have cravings for certain foods, you’re suffering from morning sickness and finding certain foods hard to tolerate or simply that you need an extra kick of energy to get over tiredness and fatigue.
Most women don’t need any more calories when they are pregnant – not until the very last trimester when all you’ll need is around 200kcal extra – a slice or two of bread’s worth.
That’s why it’s a good idea to be smart with your food choices. And opt for some healthy snacks to help keep those energy levels up and some of those nasty pregnancy symptoms’ at bay.
If you’re suffering from morning sickness, opting for plain, energy-dense snacks such as:
All these can really help during pregnancy as they don’t have too much flavor, but are enough to give you a good hit of energy to perk you up. Try and opt for wholemeal options wherever possible, for a slower release of energy.
For a big energy boost, nuts are the perfect food. Nuts are easy to carry around and energy dense, but also contain a good bulk of protein, fats and fibre to give you plenty of nutrients at the same time.
It’s also fine to have peanuts during pregnancy, as long as you’re not allergic to them yourself, and, it might even help reduce the risk of peanut allergy in your baby.
Aside from the above and whether you’re suffering with any pregnancy related symptoms or not, having a list of go to healthy snacks can be a real help during pregnancy. So I’ve listed below some great, healthy and quick fix snack ideas for pregnant women.
Healthy Snacks During Pregnancy:
There are plenty of other ideas for healthy snacks during pregnancy, but a point to note is that when you are ‘snacking’ during pregnancy, it should be just that – a snack and not a whole meal. This may mean that you need to be more mindful of your portion sizes, even if you are choosing healthy foods.
I really hope you find this useful.
Brain food – how to feed your child’s brain
The evidence is clear that if our children have well fuelled brains, they are more likely to have better mood, behaviour and learning or cognitive ability. These are all things us parents would love to improve in our children, of whatever age, so here are some simple evidence based steps you can take to nourish your children’s brain.
Let’s start with breakfast. Despite evidence that eating a balanced healthy breakfast leads to better concentration, mood and mental performance, however over a third of children and teenagers don’t eat breakfast. Often children say they can’t stomach breakfast, or there isn’t time, but a bit of time management and planning can often solve those issues. Even if It’s just a smoothie, or joining a breakfast club, it will make all the difference. Try and include wholegrain carbohydrates such as wholegrain cereals or toast, dairy or protein and some fruit and/or vegetables.
The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate and constant supply of energy – from blood glucose – to the brain – which uses 20% of all our energy! Eating regularly through the day, and choosing foods that give a steady supply of energy to the brain is key. Choose wholegrain carbohydrates (brown rice and pasta, whole grain breads); pulses (peas, beans and lentils); and a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy (contains the natural sugar lactose). The fibre in these foods helps the slow release of energy.
It’s also important to stay hydrated, as with any part of the body the mind works best when its well hydrated, as it is 78% water. Just a simple dairy based smoothie may make a huge difference to their morning concentration levels. Water and milk are the best sources of hydration, and be aware of caffeine in energy drinks and tea and coffee, teenagers revising for exams may think they are a good idea but often the caffeine (not to mention the sugar!) affects the quality of their sleep, and then their cognitive ability the next day. Regular breaks and exercise are more effective ways to re-energise the brain.
There are also specific nutrients that have proven effects on learning. Low iron levels (particularly for menstruating girls) are associated with poor mood and concentration. Low magnesium levels may be associated with anxiety, low zinc levels with poor attention, and iodine is key for mental development. All fish and shellfish are good ‘brain food’, providing first class protein, iodine and omega 3 oils, but oily fish (e.g. mackerel, salmon, trout, pilchards, tuna, herring, whitebait and sardines) have the highest levels of omega 3, which has a proven effect on concentration levels, so aim to eat it at least twice a week. Antioxidants, which protect the brain from free radical damage are also essential, and are found in nuts, oils, fruits, vegetables and wholegrains.
Lean red meat, pulses, poultry, nuts, green veg, dried apricots, fortified cereals
Seeds, beans, oats, soya products, quinoa
Egg yolk, white fish, all dairy, seaweed
Lean red meat, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, wild rice
Oily fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds, nuts and oils, soya
Food is the best and most absorbable source of all these nutrients, however, if you are concerned that your child is not eating a balanced diet, perhaps they really struggle with vegetables, nuts or oily fish then choose an age-appropriate supplement (children need less than adults) is advisable, and look for omega 3-oil rather than fish liver oil. However, we should all be taking vitamin D this time of year!
This is a huge topic, but these simple tips, should help you provide good brain food for your child, whatever age.
Here are a few simple recipes to get you started
How many of us are being asked this question, in the knowledge that we may have to produce 2 or 3 different meals, at different times, for different tastes. Well I hope the attached recipe will solve that problem for one evening this week. As much as its desirable to all eat together and I would really recommend at least sitting down with children to chat whilst they are eating even if you eat later, its often not logistically possible. Do try and find at least one occasion where you do sit at a table and eat together, with no phones or tablets for company. Perhaps you can then discuss which meals are going to be cooked for the following week, everyone chooses a dish, within reason!
The recipe for socca pancakes can be adapted to whatever you have left over or flavoured in anyway you like. They are pancakes made with gram flour which makes them higher in protein and fibre than normal pancakes and chickpeas are a prebiotic too, i.e. your good bacteria like them. They are low in fat, but a good source of omega 3 fat too.They are also wheat free, now I'm not 'anti' wheat in any way, its a good wholesome grain in its wholegrain form but I think there is a tendency to eat too much of it. Its so easy to eat a wheat based cereal for breakfast or toast, a sandwich for lunch and then good old pasta for supper. I don't think its surprising many peoples guts are becoming intolerant and even allergic to it. However please don't give up good quality wholegrain breads and pastas, but try not to eat it at every meal. Most of the commercially made breads are made using the Chorleywood bread making process in @45 minutes, no time for any yeast to properly let the bread rise. Pinch a piece of your sliced loaf together it sticks, you are eating un-risen dough. Bread machines are great if you don't have time to make your own but my favourite by far is Sourdough bread, it is given a whole for the live culture to work.
So back to the pancakes, flavour the batter however you want, i use turmeric and harissa and fill them with whatever roasted vegetables I can lay hands on and a crumble of feta or some left over chicken. Equally flavour them with five spice and fill them with stirfry and prawns or tofu if its your thing. Enjoy.
I have to confess the term 'clean eating' is one of my biggest bug bears and although the concept is hugely popular, it has also had some bad press from the science community. So before you start a clean eating program do read on.
So what's positive about 'clean eating'?
Anything in my book, that encourages the public to think about their food and pay attention to their nutrition and overall health has to be a good thing. So cooking more at home from scratch, including more vegetables and fruits - so far so good. Health seems to be on many peoples agendas now, and this is really good news. However, its the WAY in which we think about our health that's important.
So what's the problem with 'clean eating'?
The problem is really the title itself. Firstly what on earth does it mean? Often different things to different people. Vegan? Raw food only? Avoidance of processed foods? Only fresh organic foods? There is no definition.
'Clean eating' also suggests that other ways of eating are 'bad' or 'dirty' and that's not the message Public Health Nutritionists and Dieticians are trying to get across. Its not helpful to make people thing that some foods are 'bad' or 'good and it often stirs up negative emotions and in an environment where eating disorders are on the increase, this is not helpful. For example, feeling guilty by eating chocolate or feeling a failure, when in fact, healthy eating is all about context and balance.
If you eat well the majority of the time then have that piece of cake, then you won't feel deprived. I generally think about a balance of 80:20. Restrictive and fad diets have been shown to have the exact opposite impact on a persons health.
As we have heard so much about in the news, health isn't just about the body, its about both physical and mental health and if you are getting stressed with yourself about avoiding certain foods, then that's not healthy either.
Eating well should allow you to have a balance and a healthy relationship with food and your own food choices.
Is 'clean eating' realistic?
Clean eating often sells an unrealistic portrayal of what a healthy lifestyle should be. In the same way we that air-brushed celebrity bodies in magazines which make us feel rather inadequate. The result may be that you feel inadequate and a failure if you don't produce 'clean' meals every day.
So I hope in future to make the recipes on my blog about realistic, delicious, foods that anyone can make and enjoy.
So by all means follow the clean eating bloggers and be inspired by some of their recipes but be realistic about foods and think about the CONTEXT of your eating but Do continue to think about health and ways you can improve your diet.
However to try and avoid feeling guilty or having negative relationships with any types of food.
I'd love any feed back good and bad and also let me know if you'd rather read a blog on sugar or one on helping children enjoying Healthy Eating?