The National Nutrition Week, observed every year in India from September 1 to 7, emphasises on the importance of eating a healthy and balanced diet for improving overall health among all age groups. Eating a balanced diet is essential specifically for pregnant women because whatever they eat becomes the only source of nutrients for the growing baby. But what should be consumed and what should be avoided is always a big question for most expecting mothers.
A deficiency of any of the nutrients can lead to birth defects in children. Poor nutrition both before and during pregnancy is recognised as an important cause of low birth weight. A child born underweight may have impaired immune function and an increased risk of serious health conditions such as diabetes and heart diseases in their later life.
Essential nutrients requirement in pregnant women
Iron: Iron is important as it helps to deliver oxygen to the baby. Some of the rich sources of iron are red meat, peas, dried beans, and iron-fortified cereals. As per the Ministry of Health, the government of India has now suggested the intake of around 100 milligrams of elemental iron with 500 milligrams of folic acid in the second half of pregnancy for at least 100 days period.
Calcium: Calcium is needed to build strong bones and teeth. Sources of calcium include cheese, yogurt, milk and sardines (a type of small fish). A pregnant woman needs around 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day. Calcium supplement is not mandatory to be consumed by every pregnant woman but is one of the common supplements given during pregnancy, depending upon the health status of the mother.
Vitamin B6: This vitamin helps the body to use fat, protein, and carbohydrates properly. Vitamin B6 can be found in pork, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, bananas, whole grain cereals, etc. Health experts recommend that around 1.9 mg of vitamin B6 must be consumed by a pregnant woman every day.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for calcium to absorb properly by the body and therefore, also helps build a baby’s bones and teeth. Vitamin D can be obtained by consuming milk, fish and sitting in the sun. A pregnant woman needs around 600 international units or 0.015 milligrams of vitamin D every day.
Folate: This vitamin is necessary for the production of proteins and blood in the body of the developing foetus. Folate also helps to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (a type of birth defect). Folate can be found in green leafy vegetables, orange juice, legumes (lentils, peas, and beans) and nuts. A pregnant woman must consume at least 400 micrograms of folate every day during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to lower the risk of neural tube defects. However, a pregnant woman must take 600 micrograms every day.
Iodine: Iodine is a prerequisite for the production of foetal as well as maternal thyroid hormones that regulate the development of the foetal brain and nervous system. In India, a pregnant woman is recommended to consume at least 250 micrograms of iodine every day.
Vitamin A: The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin A during pregnancy is around 3000 IU of retinol. It is imperative for growth and development, visual health and for boosting the immunity of the growing foetus. Vitamin A can be found in meat, beans, carrot, poultry, spinach, kale, etc.
Proteins: Proteins are essential for the development and growth of the foetus. Proteins have an effect on the growth of the brain and tissues of the developing baby. Proteins also help breast and uterine tissues to grow and play a vital role in increasing blood supply in the body. It is usually recommended that a pregnant woman must consume 60 – 100 grams proteins every day or nearly 30 gms more protein per day than her pre-pregnancy diet. Foods rich in proteins include fish, meat, poultry, beans, cheese, tofu, milk, seeds, and nuts.