If you could improve your child’s mental capability and growth rate as well as their bone density just by enjoying some safe fish meals and some daily dairy through your pregnancy, would you? And what about how you’re feeling in yourself through the pregnancy – your mood? Would you make just a few adjustments to your diet? It works out that by enjoying a Mediterranean style diet you can achieve all of these goals in a delicious way. Let’s find out how!
Boosting baby’s brain
We know that omega-3 fatty acids are linked with brain development in the foetus, particularly in the third trimester and for the first 18 months of life. But due to possible risks from mercury it appears that many women do not consume enough for best outcomes in their babies. Some too don’t realise that pregnant women actually need more omega-3s than the general population.
A good number to aim for is three serves per week, although four serves wouldn’t go astray if you can manage it.
What about the mercury in fish?
Whilst it is good advice to limit serves of mercury containing fish there are actually many safe fish that are also high in omega-3s. The NSW Food Authority tells us that these include canned salmon and tuna in oil, sardines, mackerel, herring as well as Atlantic salmon and Silver Warehou.
These can be easily included in meals as a protein serve, served on wholegrain toast or crackers with a squeeze of lemon and freshly ground black pepper, built into fresh salads and used in oven bakes.
Boosting baby’s bones
During pregnancy, women need much higher requirements in terms of vitamins and minerals to be able to adequately support the growth of the baby. Calcium is one of those major mineral that we require.
Calcium has many different important roles within the body, including blood clotting, muscle contraction and relaxation and the formation of bones. During pregnancy, intake of calcium is essential to ensure proper bone formation, nerve and muscle development as well as a healthy heart and heart rhythm. If an inadequate amount of calcium is consumed during pregnancy, then the growing baby will draw calcium from the mother’s bones for their own developing needs. This can be detrimental to the mother’s health in the future, potentially causing osteoporosis from lack of calcium stores in the bones.
Where do I get my calcium?
Calcium can come from a variety of different foods, with many being non-dairy sources and an adequate contributor to the recommended daily intake. There are plenty of dairy, non-dairy, fortified products and regular plant based food options available.
How much calcium do I need each day?
During pregnancy, the calcium requirement for women is 1,000mg per day. Within the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, 25% of your calcium intake is going straight to the baby! Therefore, if you aren’t consuming the recommended amount, calcium is drawn from your bones to ensure the baby has its requirements for healthy growth and development. You don’t want that happening!
It is recommended during pregnancy to consume 2 ½ to 3 ½ serves of dairy / non-dairy products per day to get the essential calcium and protein intake you need. For example;
- 2 slices of hard cheese = 1 serve
- 1 cup of milk / dairy alternative milk Eg: soy = 1 serve
- 1 small tub yoghurt = 1 serve
Do I only need to check for calcium in non-dairy sources?
It is important to ensure when consuming non-dairy foods (plant based), that we still make sure they are nutritious and that they replicate the nutrients we can get from dairy sources. The most beneficial non-dairy milks are fortified with calcium, contain approximately 8g protein, 400mg potassium and 300mg calcium per serve. This is why ‘milks’ such as nut milks are often not suitable.
Hopefully now you’ll have a better feel about how to build your baby strong bones whilst maintaining the strength in your own bones, how much to have and where to get it from.
Improving your mood in pregnancy
Are you feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed during your pregnancy? Many pregnant women experience these thoughts during their pregnancy journey as a result of a mixture of different factors which can be wide ranging and can overlap to add extra stress.
In this section we’ll help you understand how oxidative stress and inflammation contribute to these stressors that you’re already experiencing, and what the best foods are for you to combat them to help you enjoy your pregnancy with fewer worries.
Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
Oxidative stress is when molecules called free radicals increase in number and begin to damage the healthy tissue in our body, especially in our brain. Inflammation is when there is a lot of pressure on the brain once again causing damage to the brain and how it functions properly.
This damage caused by oxidative stress and inflammation affects our mood causing anxiety and depression. By choosing more of the foods we’ve listed below you can provide your body with more antioxidants which form a barrier around the brain to fight off the free radicals, helping to prevent damage to the brain. This protection of the brain from these foods has a positive effect on our mood especially reducing symptoms of anxiety depression.
5 Foods to Boost your Mood with Food during Pregnancy
- Whole Foods– Consuming a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, baked beans, etc) and nuts within the daily diet provides the body with antioxidants and other nutrients which help fight against cell damage in the brain which effects mood and emotions.
- Choose Omega 3s– Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids have a profound effect on decreasing rates of inflammation in the body especially in the brain. Inflammation in the brain can cause mood changes and depressive feelings, therefore with a decrease in inflammation a boost in mood will occur. Deep sea fish such as salmon and sardines are great sources of Omega- 3s.
- Lean proteins and dairy (or alternatives as explained above) – Including a variety of these foods provides the body with protein for active growth of the baby. Once digested this protein can help also to maintain blood sugar levels to help moderate energy levels as well as stabilising mood through the breakdown of the protein into amino acids, especially tyrosine. Tyrosine has an effect on increasing the levels of hormones to positively enhance our mood. This can also be achieved on a vegetarian diet, but you will need to discuss this further with your dietitian.
- Daily probiotic and prebiotic– Probiotics are the good bacteria within out gut, that aid in digestion of the food we eat but also inhibit harmful bacteria, therefore promoting a healthy digestive tract and overall benefiting the immune system. Examples of probiotic foods include: yoghurt and sauerkraut. Prebiotics are the healthy foods that resist digestion so they can make it through to the large intestine where they feed the probiotics (good bacteria). By feeding the probiotics their population number increases therefore working more effectively in digestion. Studies have shown that consuming prebiotics every day can reduce the stress hormone (cortisol) hence improving your mood. A healthy gut results in a healthy brain and therefore mood, so ensure you’re eating foods like whole grains, legumes and foods made with these every day.
- Limit processed and high saturated fatty foods– Limit highly processed, refined and high fat foods such as cakes, biscuits, deep fried foods, burgers etc. These foods provide energy but no nutrients for the pregnancy and contribute to excess weight gain and inflammation. Highly processed foods can negatively impact the brain through cell damage, therefore decreasing mood boosting hormones.
Take Home Message
By increasing your intake of nutritious foods such as a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, wholegrains, nuts, legumes, dairy (or alternatives), omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and limiting highly processed foods during pregnancy you can have a positive effect on your gut bacteria and protect your brain from free radicals and inflammation resulting in a positive effect on mood and a decrease in symptoms of depression. And you’d be doing your baby the world of good too. Definitely a Win-Win!
If you are unsure about whether you’re getting enough of these foods in your diet then download the free app ‘EasyDietDiary’ and keep a food diary for 7 days in it as accurately as you can. Under ‘Settings’ add the email address ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ and our dietitians will be pleased to analyse your diet for you.
As we are all different and face unique challenges when it comes to optimising our nutrition, let me assure you that our dietitians keep on top of all this with regular study so we can provide you with the advice that will help you personally to address these issues and help your beautiful, amazing body to create the miracle of life.
Marchini Nutrition, member of Nutrition Plus – the worldwide early life nutrition specialist dietitians, provides scientific yet practical advice in a professional and compassionate way to ensure you and your family are at their best from fertility through to postpartum – the important first 1000 days of your baby’s life.