Prenatal Nutrition

If you are reading this and are already pregnant – congratulations! If you have decided you’re going to start trying for baby, this is a very exciting time and I urge you to read my previous blog ‘Food for Fertility’. Before we get going, this article is based on evidence based research and should not be considered as personalised advice. If you have any specific concerns about your diet whilst pregnant please seek help from your GP, Midwife or Registered Nutritionist / Dietitian. 

Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, you have likely experienced some of the side effects (fatigue, nausea, mood swings etc.). Our bodies go through physical and hormonal changes when growing a baby and it is important to support yourself nutritionally.   

Your body will require increased nutrient intake when pregnant however the ‘eating for two’ myth does not apply here. Think quality over quantity. The current NHS guidelines advise that you should eat the same (healthy) amount as you would do normally, until you get to your third trimester and consume around an extra 200kcals. This is an estimate and equates to 1-2 extra snacks. 

What to eat… 

There is no specific ‘pregnancy diet’ however there are some key food groups and nutrients you will need to consider. 

Carbohydrates

Particularly, in the first trimester, carbs seemed to be the only thing some women can stomach.  Carbs are needed to provide you and your baby with energy and may also help with nausea in the first 12(ish) weeks. Choosing wholegrain carbs is a good way to increase your fibre intake and may help support your digestion (as this is often affected during pregnancy). 

Protein

It is important to consume enough protein in pregnancy to support the growth and development of your baby. It also plays a role in making antibodies to support their immune system. In line with the current guidelines, its advised to consume 1-2 portions of oily fish a week (salmon) as this is important for omega 3 consumption, and a good variety of both meat and plant proteins. Plant proteins such as beans, pulses, tofu and nuts contain an abundance of nutrients and fibre. 

Dairy

Calcium supports the formation and maintenance of your baby’s teeth and bones (and is needed for the health of your own teeth and bones too). The BDA recommend 3 portions of dairy a day (200ml glass of milk, 150g yoghurt, 30g cheese) as it is a great source of calcium. Non dairy sources of calcium include: tahini, spinach, broccoli, tofu, beans, sardines, almonds and dried fruit.

Fruit and vegetables

Try to consume at least 5 fruits or veg a day and switch up the variety as much as you can for a diverse range of nutrients. Soups and smoothies are a great way to sneak in veggies if you are feeling a little nausea. 

Prenatal supplements: Pre natal supplements are essential. 400mcg of Folic Acid is advised 1-3 months prior to conception and in the first 3 months of pregnancy. You should choose a prenatal supplement to take throughout your pregnancy that also contains 10mcg Vitamin D and 150mcg Iodine. Additional Vitamin A is not advised and you should always check with your GP if you are unsure in regards to which prenatal supplement to choose. If you are vegan / vegetarian you may want to also consider a prenatal supplement that includes omega 3 as well as B12. 

Morning sickness

The dreaded morning sickness! It is estimated that around 70% of women will suffer with nausea and or vomiting in the first 12-14 week of pregnancy. Although it may deter you from eating, an empty stomach can actually make nausea worse so try and eat small and frequent meals (even if it’s just some crackers!). Some additional things you may want to try are:

  • Avoiding foods with offensive smells
  • Limit fried or spicy foods
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day
  • Eat plain carbs first thing in the morning
  • Try ginger tea 
  • Have someone else prepare your meals if possible

Caffeine in pregnancy 

The research around caffeine in pregnancy in relatively inconclusive however the available research we have suggests that it should be limited. This is because Foetuses are less able to break down caffeine than adults, and thus may be exposed to the same stimulant effect as the mother. Research by the CARE Study Group in 2008 suggests that small amounts of caffeine (up to 100 mg/day) are safe during pregnancy, but high levels (greater than 200 mg/day) increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and low birthweight babies. So, what does 200 mg/day look like?

  • The average ‘coffee shop’ cappuccino contains around 150-190mg however depending on the coffee beans this may be more or less so be cautious.
  •  A cup of instant coffee is around 95mg
  • A cup of green tea can be between 65-90mg
  • A cup of breakfast tea is around 60mg
  • 50g of dark chocolate (>60%) is around 45mg
  • 50g milk chocolate 10mg
  • Can of coke 35mg 

Remember that energy drinks often contain high amounts of caffeine too, and so do over the counter remedies for cold or flu. 

additional tips  

  • Avoid alcohol throughout pregnancy.  Within minutes of consumption, alcohol travels in mother’s bloodstream and crosses the placenta. When the foetus is exposed to alcohol there is an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and pre-term birth.
  • Don’t smoke 
  • Ensure all meats are cooked properly 
  • Practice good hygiene around food
  • Eat freshly prepared foods
  • Wash all fruits and veggies
  • Avoid soft cheeses and unpasteurised dairy (hard cheese are fine)
  • Stay active when you can 
  • Stay hydrated
  • Do not consume high mercury fish: Swordfish, marlin, shark
  • Consult your GP and / midwife if you have any specific concerns 

  

References

https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/pregnancy/healthy-eating-pregnancy

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20045082

https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/pregnancy-diet.html

Veggie Fritters

These are the perfect lunch recipe and are a great way to get more veggies in!

Ingredients

  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 medium zucchini / courgette, grated
    1 egg (flaxseed if vegan)
  • 6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 garlic powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 

Method

  1. Drain as much water from the zucchini as you can and mix all the ingredients in a bowl and yield 5-6 fritters.
  2. Heat olive oil in a pan and cook on each side for a few mins. Place on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 12-15 mins at 180 degrees celcius.

Lentil Bolognese

A warning vegan recipe – Super easy, a good source of plant protein and it makes for tasty leftovers!

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 x 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 240g dried red or green lentils
  • 80ml vegetable broth
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Spaghetti to serve (I used black bean spaghetti)

Method

(Serves 3-4)

  1. In a large pan over medium heat, sauté the onions and carrots in olive oil for 5 minutes.
  2.  Add the garlic and dried thyme and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato paste, broth, and tomatoes and stir to incorporate well. Add the lentils and mix well for 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and let simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
  5. Cook spaghetti according to the pack instructions.
  6. Divide the cooked spaghetti amongst 4 portions and spoon the lentil mixture on top of each. Enjoy!

Single Serve Banana Bread Mug Cake

Fancy a quick, easy, single serve snack, or a dessert for one? This is your go-to!

Ingredients

  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp ground almond
  • 20g walnuts, chopped
  • Toppings: Berries, almond butter

Method

  1. Choose a microwave safe mug and mix the egg and mashed banana.
  2. Add the cinnamon and ground almonds and mix well then stir in the walnuts.
  3. Heat in the microwave for 2 minutes, at 30 second intervals (keep an eye out so it doesn’t overflow). Top with toppings and enjoy!

Food for Fertility

Research suggests that fertility issues can affect around 15% of couples. Genetic, behavioural and environmental factors may impact fertility in males and females and improving your diet can be a simple and inexpensive way to support fertility. If you are worried about conceiving, please consult your GP.

Although making changes to your diet does not guarantee conception, we know from a body of research that it may have a positive impact and increase chances of falling pregnant. Improving your diet from a nutrional point of view, can not only enhance your own health but benefit your baby too. 

It is important to note that both males and females have a role to play when it comes to fertility. Often when couples have trouble conceiving, it is assumed that the problem lies with the female which is not always the case… It takes two to tango! 

Healthy eating patterns adopted before pregnancy are more likely to define in the food environment in the household once a child is born and eating a nutrient rich diet in preparation for pregnancy may increase your likelihood of getting pregnant. 

Whilst there is limited evidence for a specific ‘fertility diet’, health professionals remain confident that by promoting a well-balanced diet that includes lots of wholegrain carbohydrates, plant protein, fruits, vegetables and essential fats, they are making a significant contribution to the health of women and their partners and one that may encourage fertility. Nutrition is arguably the most influential non-genetic factor contributing to foetal development.

So what does the research tell us? 

What a mother eats before and during pregnancy directly impacts the nutrients that are supplied to her growing baby and therefore has a primary influence on foetal nourishment throughout each stage of gestation. Macronutrients provide energy and protein for foetal growth, while micronutrients are involved in the metabolism of macronutrients, and the structural and cellular metabolism of the foetus.

One study followed over 116000 women and demonstrated higher fertility rates in women that had diets rich in monounsaturated fats, vegetable proteins and fibre from wholegrains. Data from this study also revealed that women who consumed higher amounts of non-haeme iron (iron from plant-based sources) from foods like nuts, beans and vegetables are at decreased risk of ovulatory infertility.

Interestingly, some research has suggested that consumption of full fat dairy is associated with better fertility outcomes.

Women are also advised to take prenatal supplements prior to conception however the guidelines may differ depending on what country you are in. 

Dietary supplements:

  • 400mcg Folic Acid is advised one month before conception and in first trimester
  • 150mcg Iodine for those considering pregnancy and pregnant 
  • Iron through adequate food sources or supplement 
  • 10mcg Vitamin D daily during pregnancy 
  • Multivitamins are not advised unless other known deficiencies 

What about men?

In men, it was found that consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids was important for sperm quality and quantity. Sperm production is improved with diets rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats but reduced with diets rich in saturated and trans fats. In regards to sperm quality, it is thought that zinc and folate are particularly important in terms of supporting sperm motility and the synthesis of genetic information found in sperm. Oysters, lean red meat, nuts, beans and wholegrains are all good sources of zinc and fruits, veg (especially leafy greens) and cereal products are good sources of folate. 

Sperm also need to be protected from free radicals once they are formed. Antioxidants are molecules that can protect against this damage by neutralising the free-radicals. Antioxidants include nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium and a large number of other compounds found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER

  • Whilst excessive amounts of intense exercise are not advised, being physically active has been associated with increased rates of fertility. You do not have to get yourself to the gym every day to stay active. Consider taking long walks, workout classes or any type of movement you enjoy!
  • Trying for a baby can be stressful and you might be constantly thinking about whether or not you have fallen pregnant. Try to relax. Research suggests that high stress levels may affect your cycle thus making it harder to know when you are ovulating. 
  • The link between caffeine consumption and fertility is inconclusive however some studies have seen increased amounts of caffeine decrease fertility rates. Consider limiting your intake to 1-2 cups of coffee a day and remember tea and chocolate contain caffeine too.
  • In regards to overall diet, research suggests that a Mediterranean style diet may be the most beneficial. Although researchers are not entirely sure what is it specifically about this diet that seems to best support fertility, it demonstrates that a balance of fibre, essential fats and antioxidants are important. 

Key Takeaways

  • Antioxidants for both men and women are important for pre-conception 
  • Diet in women can affect ovulation, foods that can improve: wholegrain carbs – quality over quantity, increased fibre, healthy fats (Monounsaturated) – nuts, oils, avocado etc.
  • Eating more plant protein over animal protein may boost fertility 
  • Consume plant-based protein and non-haeme iron
  • Choose low-GI carbohydrates
  • Prenatal supplements are important
  • Maintain hydration by consuming plenty of water
  • Achieve a healthy weight (for you)
  • Be physically active
  • Cut down on caffeine
  • Avoid alcohol 
  • Take time to relax 

pre conception weight  

My practice with private clients sees me work with individuals to prioritise their health. When weight loss is one’s primary goal, nutrition can often be neglected and we know from a body of research that weight loss diets are usually not sustainable. Whilst research suggests that being significantly overweight or underweight may make getting pregnant more difficult, a healthy weight is hard to define using just numbers. The research tells us that being overweight or underweight may affect the hormones that regulate ovulation. Following nutrient recommendations and making sure you have a well balanced diet is a good way of ensuring you are supporting your health prior to conception but if you are worried about your weight, please seek advice from a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian. 

Please also note that if you are suffering with an eating disorder, you will need to seek additional support to help restore a healthy weight if you are thinking about pregnancy. 

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3717046

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4981818

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28844822

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28844822

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5733907

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3192363

https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/your-stories/warnings-fertility-eating-disorder-treatment

Plant Based Buddha Bowl

This is a favourite of mine to whip up for lunch or dinner! Packed with a variety of nutrients and rich in plant protein!

  

Ingredients

  • 170g tempeh, cut into cubes
  • 160g mixed sweet potato & butternut squash (cut into cubes)
  • 160g broccoli
  • 160g kale (washed & dried) 
  • Avocado oil
  • 2 tbsp miso paste
  • 50g grated cheese (optional)
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

(Serves 2)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and place the cubed pots and squash on baking paper on a baking tray. Drizzle them in avocado oil and season with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for 40 mins, tossing halfway through.
  2. Place the kale on a separate baking tray and drizzle with oil, season and tossed in the nutritional yeast. Bake for 8 minutes so its nice and crispy!
  3. In a pan, heat a dash of avocado oil over a medium – high heat and add the tempeh and broccoli to the pan. Cook for around 8 minutes, tossing it around the pan then add the miso. Cook for 1 more minute then serve in a bowl with the kale, sweet pots and butternut squash. Option to top with grated cheese – ENJOY!

Date Caramel Snack bars

No words can explain how dreamy and delicious these bars taste! Perfect for snacking and will satisfy your tastebuds when you feel like something sweet!

 

Ingredients

  • 16 dates
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds 
  • 150g dark chocolate

Method

(Makes 6 bars)

  1. Add the dates and peanut butter to a food processor and blitz until well combined (a little lumpy is okay). Add the vanilla, cinnamon and almonds and pulse until its all mixed together.
  2. Line a 1lb loaf tin with baking paper (or use a silicone one like I do) and transfer the mix into the tin, pressing it down to cover the bottom of it easily. Leave in the freezer for 1 hour.
  3. Melt the chocolate. Once bars are ready, remove from the tin and cut into 6 squares. Cover each bar with melted chocolate and place on baking paper on a baking tray then leave in the fridge or freezer to set. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Blondies

This is a super nutritious snack recipe that you can slice up and take on the go. I always recommend them as breakfast slices served with yoghurt!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup baked and mashed sweet potato 
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
  • 5 tbsp almond milk
  • 1 tbsp coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds 
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp pumpkin spice 
  • Chopped nuts to sprinkle on top

   

Method

(Makes 9 bars)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Line a baking tin with baking paper 
  2. In a bowl, mix the mashed sweet potato with the almond butter, vanilla and spice. Add the coconut flour, ground almonds and baking paper then mix in the milk.
  3. Sprinkle some chopped nuts on top then bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes then slice up and enjoy!

Sweet Potato & Mixed Bean Stew


This is the ultimate cosy autumnal recipe! Fab for batch cooking and freezing!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Ingredients

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, chopped into cubes (you can leave the skin on)
  • 200g green lentils
  • 1 x 400g tin black beans
  • 1 x 400g tin kidney beans
  • 1 x 400g tin butter beans
  • 1 x 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 250ml vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

(Serves 4-6)

1. In a large pan, heat the olive oil over a medium to high heat. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes then add the spices.
2. Add the tinned tomatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils and vegetable broth and bring to a low to medium heat. Drain and rinse the 3 different beans and add to the pan. Cover the pan and leave to simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring every so often.
3. Top up with water if it starts to become a little dry. Make sure the sweet potato is soft and you can serve up! ENJOY!