Starting with this article, for the next few months I will be writing about nutrition as it affects our life cycle, starting with eating for a healthy pregnancy.
Next month, I will focus on infancy, childhood and adolescent nutrition. Ill finish in December with adulthood and senior nutrition needs.
Each life cycle has different nutritional needs based on how our bodies are changing physiologically during that period. Although this article on pregnancy focuses on women, both a mans and a womans fertility is affected by nutritional status. So if youre a couple trying to get pregnant, remember you both need to eat a healthy diet.
Good nutrition for pregnancy should begin before you ever get pregnant. There are a few guidelines to follow in preparation for a healthy pregnancy:
b Maintain a healthy body weight. Both underweight and overweight are associated with infertility. Overweight and obese men have low sperm counts and hormonal changes that reduce fertility. Excess body fat (and very low body fat) in women disrupts menstrual regularity and ovarian hormone production.
b Eat a balanced and adequate diet. Malnutrition reduces fertility and impairs the early development of an infant.
Current nutritional guidelines from the American Dietetic Association for pregnant women are to eat foods high in iron and folate, take in adequate calories, and increase protein and essential fatty acids intake.
Pregnancy increases a womans metabolic rate, or how many calories are needed over the course of the day. The increase is about an additional 340 calories per day for the first and second trimester, and an additional 450 per day during the third trimester. Nutrient-dense foods are recommended, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein because the additional nutrients are needed more than the calories to support the developing fetus.
Pregnancy also demands additional iron to support the added blood volume, growth of the fetus and blood loss during childbirth. Iron-rich foods include lean meats (only animal protein provides heme-iron, which is most easily absorbed), and plant foods (plants contain nonheme iron, which isnt as readily absorbed by our bodies). Iron from plant foods should be eaten with foods containing vitamin C, such as tomatoes or citrus fruit, which increases the absorption of nonheme iron. Recommendations for iron intake are 27 milligrams per day (18mg/day for nonpregnant women).
The B vitamin folate, which is critical in reducing the risks of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, is also crucial during pregnancy. Folate supplements taken one month before conception and continued throughout the first trimester of pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects. Before pregnancy, women should take 400 micrograms of folate daily, and, during pregnancy, 600 micrograms are recommended. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of folate in the diet, so increasing your intake of plant foods while also taking a supplement is the best way to ensure an adequate supply.
Most multivitamins for women contain 400 micrograms of folate, and prenatal vitamins contain 600 micrograms.
Jeanine Justice has 20 years of experience in nutrition. She is currently the coordinator for Healthy Lifestyle La Plata Coalition. Reach her at jeanine@swcommunity foundation.org.