Why is eating healthily during pregnancy important?
Having a healthy balanced diet during pregnancy supports your own well-being and promotes the healthy development of your baby. Evidence also suggests that you may be able to prevent some illnesses and diseases in a child’s later life by making sure that the appropriate nutrients are received.
Do I need to eat for two?
No – this is a common myth!
To make sure you are getting the right nutrients for you and your baby, the most important thing you can do is consume a healthy balanced diet. The truth is, you don’t need any extra food during the first two trimesters and only around 200 calories more in the third trimester. This is equivalent to two slices of toast, or a yoghurt and a banana.
Having a healthy balanced diet along with making low-sugar choices could reduce risks to you and your baby.
How can I best protect and promote the growth of my baby?
The best way to protect your baby’s health is to go to all your antenatal appointments and consume a healthy balanced diet. This means having a variety of foods everyday such as fruit, vegetables, protein sources (pulses/beans and/or lean meat), starchy foods and dairy, but few foods that are high in fat sugar and salt. To find out more visit Have a healthy diet in pregnancy (NHS).
Being within a healthy weight range when you become pregnant and preventing excessive weight gain during pregnancy is important as it means you have a reduced risk of developing certain health conditions such as gestational diabetes, blood clots, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. Your baby is also likely to develop well, have a healthier birth weight and have fewer birth complications. However, whatever your weight, the most important thing is to have a healthy, balanced diet, so you and the baby receive all the nutrients required to grow healthily.
If you are pregnant and concerned that your weight is above the healthy range don’t try to lose weight. Weight loss and dieting during pregnancy won’t reduce your risk of complications and may not be safe. The best way to protect you and your baby’s health is to go to all your antenatal appointments. This is so your midwife, doctor and any other health professionals can help with any problems you might face and take steps to prevent or manage them. You can also try to eat a healthy, balanced diet and do some physical activity every day. Eating well and being active (and not smoking, drinking alcohol or taking party drugs) will be beneficial to you and your baby’s health regardless of your weight or body size.
If you are concerned about your diet or weight, you should speak to your midwife or GP. You can also use your antenatal appointments to seek advice on healthy eating and nutrition.
The role of sugar - How much is too much?
Consuming too many foods (whether healthy or unhealthy) can lead to weight gain, as this can cause us to consume more calories than we need. Having a diet high in sugary foods often leads to consuming too many calories overall, often without getting all the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Therefore it's important to be conscious of your sugar intake.
During pregnancy, try to stick to the usual maximum daily limit of sugar for adults, this is no more than 7.5 teaspoons of sugar. Visit the Measuring Sugar page to understand what 7.5 teaspoons means in terms of food and drink.
Reading food labels can be a great way to understand how much sugar is in the foods you consume.
Some ways of cutting down sugar consumption:
- Have fewer sugary drinks and foods. If you are used to drinking lots of fizzy drinks such as coca cola or lemonade, try unsweetened fruit juice mixed with fizzy water at mealtimes.
- Limit fruit juice to a glass (150ml) a day.
- If you have sugar in hot drinks, try to cut down on how much you have, until you don’t have any at all.
- Instead of biscuits and cakes, try currant buns, scones, malt loaf or fruit bread. You could also try making our low sugar cereal bars.
- Add dried fruit or fruit purée to dishes to sweeten them, instead of adding sugar.
- Choose wholegrain breakfast cereals instead of cereals that are coated in honey or sugar.
- Add your own flavouring – such as chopped-up fruit, or a little honey – to natural yoghurt, instead of buying flavoured yoghurt which is often very sweet.
- Where you can, make your own food. Processed foods such as dried soups, sauces, dried rice dishes, ready meals, ready-made desserts and packaged cakes and biscuits often have much more sugar in them than you would use in a recipe yourself. And many of these dishes are simple and cheap to prepare. Our feed your family for less booklet may help you with this.
- Many ready-made foods and drinks labelled ‘diet’, ‘low/reduced sugar’ or ‘no sugar’ contain sweeteners such as acesulfame-potassium (acesulfame-K), aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. While the NHS advises that sweeteners are safe in pregnancy it is better to choose unprocessed and minimally processed foods and drinks over ready-made meals and snacks, which are more likely to contain sweeteners and other additives.