A healthy, balanced diet is good for us at any time in our lives and it’s even more important if you’re trying for a baby or you’re already expecting. Eating well prepares you for a healthy pregnancy, keeps you fit and well and, if you’re already expecting, helps your baby to develop and grow.
Get your five-a-day
Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (and you can eat many more if you like) helps you reap the benefits from lots of vitamins and minerals plus fibre (to help keep things regular – you know what we mean!). Enjoy a wide variety and have them fresh, frozen, or canned in fruit juice (try to avoid canned fruit in sweetened syrup). Fruit and vegetables are great snacks too.
Starchy carbohydrate foods
These foods are a good source of vitamins and fibre and help to satisfy the appetite without containing too many calories. Lots of foods come into this category including potatoes (ideally with their skins left on), rice, pasta, noodles, bread, breakfast cereals and much more.
For extra fibre and filling power, opt for wholemeal pasta, wholegrain rice and wholemeal (not brown) bread.
For health it’s advised that about 50 per cent of our daily intake comes from this group of foods. While the foods are generally low in calories, what’s added to them can often pack in the calories, so watch out for creamy sauces, butters and mayonnaise that may send the calories soaring!
Protein is vital for growth, maintenance and repair in the body and we should eat some every day. Foods rich in protein include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, pulses and nuts. Some vegetarian options, like Quorn, soya and tofu products, are good sources of protein, too.
To reduce the fat content, choose lean meat and remove all visible fat, remove the skin from poultry and opt for lower-fat cooking methods – for example, grill instead of fry, and use light oil sprays instead of oil or butter.
For health it’s recommended that we eat two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily fish (eg, salmon, mackerel or sardines).
Health note: Avoid liver if you’re trying for a baby or are pregnant as this contains high levels of vitamin A, which can be harmful to a baby. Ensure meats are well cooked through. There are some types of fish which it's advised to avoid or limit in pregnancy.
Iron is important during pregnancy but many women can be at risk of becoming deficient, so it’s a good idea to build up your iron stores when trying for a baby.
As well as being a source of protein, lean red meat, poultry and fish are great sources of iron.
Iron is also found in some plant foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts and wholegrains, though it’s more difficult for our body to extract the iron from these foods than from animal sources. However, serving these plant sources with a vitamin C-rich food can help with iron absorption – for instance, you could pair the iron-rich spinach in your salad with some crunchy red bell peppers (a great source of vitamin C).
Drinking tea or coffee with your meals can reduce the amount of iron that’s able to be absorbed from your food, so it’s advised to avoid having these drinks with meals.
Iodine is less frequently talked about, but is an essential nutrient, particularly during pregnancy. Iodine is needed to produce thyroid hormones, which support healthy growth and metabolism. It’s vital for mums-to-be to have a good iodine intake as the growing baby gets all their iodine from mum and continues to do so if they are exclusively breastfed after birth. Iodine is essential for the development of a baby’s brain, cognition, and motor abilities.
You should be able to get all the iodine you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. The main dietary sources of iodine are fish and seafood, and dairy products such as milk and yogurt. Small amounts are also in nuts and some fruits and vegetables. While a healthy intake of iodine is important, it can be harmful if intakes are too high. Seaweed is a particularly rich source of iodine and could easily provide excessive amounts, so it’s recommended not to eat seaweed any more than once a week, particularly during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Those following diets with limited intake of fish and/or dairy (such as vegan diets) will need to be particularly mindful of their iodine intake and it’s recommended that they discuss this with their GP or midwife. Read more about vegetarian and vegan diets here.
Milk, cheese, yogurt and fromage frais are all dairy foods rich in calcium and other key nutrients that are important for both you and your baby.
If you’re trying to manage your weight, choose low-fat options where possible. Reducing the fat content doesn’t reduce the calcium content. For example, skimmed milk is actually higher in calcium than full-fat milk.
Non-dairy foods that are a good source of calcium include soya yogurt with added calcium, tofu (made with calcium sulphate), sardines, curly kale, rocket and watercress.
Health note: It’s advisable to avoid some soft and mould-ripened cheese during pregnancy. Read more about food safety in pregnancy here...
High fat and sugar foods
The foods we all know and love. Chocolate, crisps, biscuits, pastries – you don’t need to cut these out altogether, but reducing/limiting the amount you eat will help when managing your weight and be better for your health. Plus, these foods tend to be pretty low in other nutrients.
Try these nifty swaps to help reduce calorie intake:
|Swap this||For this|
|Regular mayonnaise||Extra-light mayonnaise|
|Regular salad dressing||Fat-free dressing|
|Whole milk||Semi-skimmed/skimmed milk|
|Regular yogurts||Fat-free yogurts|
|Tuna in oil||Tuna in brine/spring water|
|High juice cordial||No-added-sugar cordial or fruit-infused water|
|Oil||Low-calorie oil spray|
|Regular cola||Diet cola|