Eating a balanced diet during pregnancy

Being pregnant is a special time in your life, and it’s a time when many women think about their diet. What you eat can not only influence your own health, but it can also affect the short- and long-term health of your baby, so it is important that you eat a healthy, balanced and varied diet when you are pregnant. The basic principles of a healthy diet stay the same. You can still eat a diet that includes: meals that are based on starchy foods (choosing wholegrain varieties or potatoes with their skins on when you can) plenty of fruit and vegetables (try to eat a variety of types moderate amounts of beans and other pulses, fish, eggs, lean meat and other proteins (like tofu) moderate amounts of dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese (or dairy alternatives fortified with calcium and other nutrients, such as iodine) It is best to eat limited amounts of foods and drinks that are high in bad fats and refined sugars, if at all.

As well as having a healthy diet, it is also important to be aware of food safety and hygiene. There are certain foods and drinks that you should avoid or be careful with how much you eat or drink when pregnant.

Adult nutrition Every day we are bombarded with nutrition and health messages and a seemingly endless array of concerns about lifestyle and diet. Healthy eating and a healthful way of life are important to how we look, feel and how much we enjoy life. The right lifestyle decisions, with a routine of good food and regular exercise, can help us make the most of what life has to offer. Making smart food choices early in life and through adulthood can also help reduce the risk of certain conditions such as obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, certain cancers and osteoporosis.

Key factors of a healthy diet

1. Enjoy the wide variety of foods This concept is the most consistent health message in dietary recommendations around the world. We need more than 40 different nutrients for good health and no single food can supply them all. That's why consumption of a wide variety of foods (including fruits, vegetables, cereals and grains, meats, fish and poultry, dairy products and fats and oils), is necessary for good health and any food can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. Some studies have linked dietary variety with longevity. In any event, choosing a variety of foods adds to the enjoyment of meals and snacks.

2. Eat regularly Eating is one of the life's great pleasures and it is important to take time to stop, relax and enjoy mealtimes. Scheduling eating times also ensures that meals are not missed, resulting in missed nutrients that are often not compensated for by subsequent meals. This is especially important for school children, adolescents and the elderly. All mealtimes offer the opportunity for social and family interaction. Soo the aim is to make healthy choices you can enjoy.

3. Balance and moderation Balancing your food intake means getting enough, but not too much, of each type of nutrient. If portion sizes are kept reasonable, there is no need to eliminate favourite foods. There are no "good" or "bad" foods, only good or bad diets. Any food can fit into a healthy lifestyle by remembering moderation and balance. Moderate amounts of all foods can help ensure that energy (calories) intake is controlled and that excessive amounts of any one food or food component are not eaten. If you choose a high healthy fat snack, choose a lower bad fat option at the next meal. Examples of reasonable serving sizes are 75 -100 grams (the size of a palm) of meat, one medium piece of fruit, ½ cup raw pasta or one scoop of ice cream (50g) Try to include some protein along with the sugars to avoid Insulin Spikes. Ready-prepared meals offer a handy means of portion control and they often have the energy (calorie) value listed on the pack.

4. Maintain a healthy body weight and feel good A healthy weight varies between individuals and depends on many factors including gender, height, age and environment. Excess body fat results when more calories (as well as bad quality) are eaten than are needed. Those extra calories can come from any source - protein, fat, carbohydrate or alcohol. Physical activity is a good way of increasing the energy (calories) expended and it can also lead to feelings of well-being. The message is simple: if you are gaining weight eat more inteligent and be more active.

5. Remember to eat your fruits and vegetables Many Europeans do not meet the recommendations of fruits and vegetables. Numerous studies have shown an association between the intake of these foods and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. An increased intake of fruits and vegetables has also been associated with decreased blood pressure. People can fill up on fresh fruit and vegetables because they are good sources of nutrients and the majority are naturally low in fat and calories. Nutritionists are paying much more attention to fruits and vegetables as "packages" of nutrients and other constituents that are healthful for humans. The "antioxidant hypothesis" has drawn attention to the role of micronutrients found in fruits and vegetables like vitamins C and E as well as a number of other natural protective substances. The carotenes (beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene), the flavonoids (phenolic compounds that are widespread in commonly consumed fruits and vegetables such as apples and onions and beverages derived from plants like tea, cocoa and red wine) and the phytoestrogens (principally isoflavones and lignans), are being demonstrated to have beneficial roles in human health.

6. Drink plenty of fluids Adults need to drink at least 1.5 litres of fluid daily, even more if it’s hot or they are physically active. Plain water is a good source of liquid but variety can be both pleasant and healthy. Alternative sources are natural juices, tea and coffee.

7. Fats in moderation Fat is essential for good health. Fats provide a ready source of energy and enable the body to absorb, circulate and store the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat-containing foods are needed to supply "essential fatty acids" that the body cannot make. For example, oil-rich fish and fish oil supplements are rich sources of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These, along with omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-6 PUFAs) such as linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA), must be consumed in the diet. Too much fat however, especially saturated fats, can lead to adverse health effects such as overweight and high cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Limiting the amount of bad fat, especially saturated fat in the diet -but not cutting it out entirely- is the best advice for a healthy diet.

8. Balance the salt intake Salt (NaCl) is made up of sodium and chloride. Sodium is a nutrient and is present naturally in many foods. Sodium and chloride are important in helping the body to maintain fluid balance and to regulate blood pressure. For most people, any excess sodium passes straight through the body however in some people it can increase blood pressure. Reducing the amount of salt in the diet (if and where the case) of those who are sensitive to salt may reduce the risk of high blood pressure. The relationship between salt intake and blood pressure is still unclear and individuals should consult their doctor for advice.

9. Start now - and make changes gradually Making changes gradually, such as eating one more fruits/portion of vegetables each day, cutting back on portion sizes, or taking the stairs instead of the lift, means that the changes are easier to maintain.

P.S: The best change to make is the one that you choose to make and the one that you know YOU CAN stick with it!