A Guide To Good Eating During Pregnancy - First Trimester
When it comes to food choices the early stages of pregnancy can be a challenging time. Nausea is common and many women lose their appetite. While you do not need extra calories there are a number of key nutrients to focus on including folate, iodine, iron and calcium – all crucial for maternal health and the health of a developing foetus.
An adequate intake of folate – found in leafy green vegetables, wholegrain cereals and legumes – is crucial during the early stages of pregnancy and assists in preventing neutral tube defects. Folate also helps cellular metabolism and red blood cell development which play key roles in energy metabolism. While pregnancy supplements often meet daily folate requirements in pregnancy, maintaining an optimal dietary intake should always be the primary goal. This is as we receive much more than just nutrients when we consume folate via natural foods. Even if you are not consuming a significant amount of food at this time, a serve of leafy green vegetables, an orange, some avocado and a fortified cereal will tick the box for dietary folate during the early stages of your pregnancy.
Iodine is a nutrient less frequently spoken about – yet it is a nutrient that up to 50 per cent of pregnant and breastfeeding women are deficient in. Iodine plays a crucial role in the functioning of the thyroid gland and low levels over time – from a low dietary intake – can result in fertility issues, mental retardation, lower infant IQ and miscarriage. For these reasons ensure both supplements and diet include iodine. Foods rich in iodine include seaweed, salmon, eggs, iodised salt with smaller amounts in milk and bread made using iodised salt.
Iron deficiency in women of childbearing age is common – with 20 per cent of adult women reporting low iron or low iron stores. Low iron levels can leave you feeling exhausted and when coupled with the added pressures of pregnancy can exacerbate feelings of fatigue. If you are a read meat eater – it is important to consume small servings of iron rich lean red meat at least three to four times per week. A small serve of lean mince, a lamb cutlet or a small piece of steak is all you need to ensure your rapidly increasing blood volume has access to adequate iron to transport oxygen around the body. You do not need iron a lot, you just need it regularly.
Finally, do not forget to check in on the amount of dietary calcium you are consuming. Calcium is necessary for skeletal growth and plays a crucial role in heart and muscle function. All you need is a serve of milk, yoghurt and cheese each day to tick this nutritional box. Research suggests Australian women are consuming less calcium rich dairy due to concern about weight gain and sugar content. It is important to remember while milk contains the naturally occurring sugar lactose, it is present in relatively small amounts and milk, cheese and yoghurt are the richest natural sources of dietary calcium. If you are finding it difficult to tolerate foods at this stage of your pregnancy be sure to eat small meals frequently to help manage feelings of nausea. Milk based drinks, soups, frittatas and small amounts of minced meat are all nutrient rich ways to get your key nutrients and are relatively plain and simple foods.