Eating for two during pregnancy

Me, pregnant, eating

“You are so thin, you must eat” and “The little creature inside you needs food” are just some of the sentences a pregnant woman hears during the 9 months of gestation. At the same moment, she usually hears “You are gaining too much weight” and “You are too big”.

On Instagram, Alice (@scied_alices), asked me to comment on the “eat for two”-myth.

The topic of diet and nutrition during pregnancy is actual and of great interest. If you search “eating for two in pregnancy” on Google Scholar, you will get more then 10,000 hits only related to the year 2020. In 2016, Tielemans wrote her PhD thesis on the topic.

Maternal nutrition and gestational weight gain are factors linked to pre-eclampsia and preterm birth; moreover studies show that maternal nutrition during pregnancy has an impact on the well-being of the child later in life. Tielemans’ data showed that women with a higher vegetable protein/potassium ratio had lower blood pressure and that assumption of vitamin B12 helped women to avoid preterm delivery. A very interesting finding is that pregnant women with a higher protein intake had 6-year-old children with a higher fat-free mass, underlining the importance of maternal nutrition for the health outcomes of children.

In 2016 Lowensohn and collaborators wrote the final guide for the correct maternal nutrition for the optimal fetal development.

Here the main points:

  • Calories: the additional caloric increment of maternal nutrition should be around 125 kcal/day in the first semester, 300 kcal/day in the second and 500 kcal/day in the third.
  • Protein: protein intake should increase from an avarege of 25 g/day inn non-pregnant women to an average of 71 g/day in pregnant ones. Both animal protein (meats, seafood, eggs, dairy products) and vegetable one (beans, lentils, nuts) should be consumed.
  • Carbohydrates: pregnant women should consume around 175 g/day, very important is that these carbohydrates have low glycemic index, such as the ones found in whole grains, nonstarchy vegetables, fruits and peas.
  • Fat: maternal nutrition should include around 30% of total calories as fat. Fundamental is the type of fats: omega-3 and -6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are beneficial for both mother’s and fetus health and can be found in seafood and walnuts.
  • Iron: mild anemia is very common during pregnancy, because most of the iron is used for the fetus development. Take iron supplements if the doctor suggests you to do so.
  • Folate (B9 vitamin): it is crucial for the correct fetus development. If you are planning of getting pregnant, take folate supplements 3-4 months before the beginning of pregnancy.
  • Iodine: the fetus starts producing its own iodine around the 10th-12th week of gestation, thus it is important to include in the diet foods such iodized salt, seafood, kelp and diary products.
  • Calcium: it is fundamental for the bone structure and can be found in diary products, kale and broccoli.
  • Vitamins: particular attention should be given to vitamin A, B6, B12, C, D (diary products, salmon, egg, margarine) and E (vegetable and fish oils).

To conclude, if you are pregnant, you don’t have to eat for two. The calories intake is only slightly increased compared to your usual diet.

The most important advice is:

eat as diversified and multicolored as you can.

References:

Lowensohn et al., (2016), “Current Concepts of Maternal Nutrition”, 10.1097/OGX.0000000000000329

Tielemans (2016), “Eating for Two in Pregnancy”, https://repub.eur.nl/pub/80025/

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