Indian diet for a healthy pregnancy

Pregnancy is a special condition in the life of a woman – it changes her life, elevates her image and makes her existence more purposeful! It is a stage when a few lifestyle changes have to be made to accommodate the new life within and for the developments in the woman.

Lifestyle changes normally deal with the individual’s activity, diet, social, emotional and mental aspects. Is it necessary to change lock, stock and barrel with pregnancy? Of course, not. It is necessary to make adjustments and this may be the reason Indian culture has always shown so much interest in the mother-to-be, more so for the first pregnancy.

Now, what exactly are the changes to be made in the area of diet and nutrition?

To start with, just as the foundation should be strong and suitable for any new project, the mother-to-be should be in good health. Similar to medical advice against the use of drugs, cigarettes  and alcohol, dietitians will advise against consuming excess of fast food, fried food, sweets and sweet drinks.

Healthy home-cooked food with plenty of nutritious vegetables and fruits should form the balance with the permitted proteins, fats and carbs.

Energy/Calorie requirement
The energy requirement should be kept at the normal level in the first three months, i.e. the first trimester. At this stage, the foetus is very small and should not be considered as another person to be fed. So, there is no increase in the calorie content of the diet. Otherwise, the weight increase will begin from this stage itself.

The total weight increase during the full pregnancy should be restricted to an average 25 to 30 lbs.or 12Kg. Further, some women have ‘morning sickness’ due to hormonal imbalance and are not able to retain any food during this trimester. Care should be taken to monitor their food intake and fluid intake.

The calorie increase in pregnancy is just 300 calories per day and this should gradually happen from the second trimester. In the third trimester, the quantity of the meal should be restricted as the stomach is not capable of holding much and feels full too soon. Small and concentrated, frequent meals could be provided. Fasting should not be permitted as there is a rapid fall in circulating glucose, insulin and gluconeogenic  amino acids than in the non-pregnant state.

Protein requirement
Proteins are required for extra growth of the foetus, uterus, breast, placenta, amniotic fluid and increase in plasma proteins to transfer amino acids to the foetus. The best sources of protein are animal proteins like milk, meat, eggs, sea-foods, poultry and cheese. Vegetable proteins are also good when combined as mixed cereals and mixed pulses. If the normal requirement is 1g/ Kg body weight, the increase is by 15g of protein.

Fat and carbohydrate requirement

These need not be unduly increased. They are increased a bit to make up the necessary increase in calories for the energy requirement. Maternal love for the pregnant daughter should not be showered with large servings of rice!

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Mineral and vitamin requirement

Among the minerals, iron is the most important. The requirement is raised from 30mg to 38mg/day. A 60mg iron supplement with 500 microgram folic acid is recommended. Folic acid is very essential and can be taken as a supplement. Food sources are eggs, leafy vegetables, oranges, legumes, whole grain cereals and wheat germ.

Calcium requirement

It is needed for the mineralization of the fetal skeleton. If 500mg calcium is the normal requirement, it has to be stepped up by another 500mg along with vitamin D. Foods rich in calcium are milk, cheese, paneer, green leafy vegetables. Among cereals, ragi is a better source.
Other trace minerals

Minor minerals like zinc, iodine, magnesium, manganese and chromium are required in minute doses and will be easily met with a balanced diet.
Vitamin C requirement

It is just 40 mg/day but as its losses are high, an extra 40mg will be useful. But excess is not utilized by the body.

Other vitamins

Other B-complex vitamins are also met with milk, meat, eggs, yeast, liver, nuts, whole grains, tomatoes and fruits.
Basically, a balanced diet with a higher content of protein, vitamins and minerals is all that is required for pregnancy. As a foetus is dependent on the mother and draws all its requirements from her, these changes have to be made. The environment for eating the meal should be pleasant and the timings should also be maintained. Sometimes, the hormonal changes cause cravings for particular foods and these cravings can be satisfied, within limits.

Pregnancy is a beautiful experience for most women. It should be treated with dignity and love.

Some suitable foods
In Karnataka, there is a practice of having roasted mixed pulses, called ‘Hurigallu’. I consider this a very healthy dish which will increase protein without adding too much carbohydrates.

Spicy powders and thokkus made with curry leaf, mint, coriander and other edible leaves will increase vitamin C, A, B, folic acid, calcium and iron.

Mixed cereal and pulse attas for porridge are also a good source of protein.

Nuts are a good source of essential nutrients and make an excellent snack for in between meals. They can be added to the dishes, as is common in India.

Malathi Mohan

The author is a retired professor of WCC, Chennai; retired Dean, Academy of Fitness Management, Chennai and Past President, Indian Dietetic Association

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