1. Enough calories for two
The total energy cost of pregnancy
is estimated to be around 76,000kcal (calories). It sounds like a lot,
but don’t reach for the biscuit tin just yet. Changes in your
metabolism and a reduction in activity levels mean that you don’t
actually need to increase your calorie intake very much during
pregnancy. In fact, for the first six months, women with a healthy
pre-pregnancy weight don’t need any extra calories at all. Then, during the final three months, when the baby is growing rapidly, they need only 200 extra calories a day.
Appetites vary greatly and
some women find they are incredibly hungry at the beginning of
pregnancy even though their baby is no bigger than a raisin. This is
due to hormonal changes and adjustments the body is already making.
Usually this settles down as pregnancy progresses. Energy requirements
also vary from person to person according to a variety of factors,
including their weight and level of physical activity.
2. The five food groups
A healthy vegetarian diet for
pregnancy is much the same as a healthy diet for anyone. It includes
eating foods from the five different food groups in approximately the
proportions shown in the ‘eatwell plate’ overleaf. Using this model can
help you plan well-balanced meals. Not every dish has to fit in
perfectly, but you should aim for approximately these proportions over
a few days. It is a very rough way of ensuring you get most of the
nutrients you need and the right balance of macronutrients (protein,
carbohydrates and fats). Each food group also tends to provide
different micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals), so if you don’t eat
much from one group in particular, you could be missing out some of
1 Fruit and vegetables
Try to eat at least five portions of
a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. This can include fresh,
frozen, canned and dried products, as well as juices and smoothies. So,
your five-a-day could come from a glass of orange juice with breakfast,
nuts and raisins mid-morning, salad in a sandwich, and cauliflower and
chickpeas in a curry. Fruit juice only counts as one of your
five-a-day, no matter how much you have, and the same goes for beans
and other pulses. This is because juice contains less fibre than whole
fruits, and pulses have fewer micro-nutrients than other vegetables.
vegetables don’t have to be expensive. Good old carrots provide plenty
of health benefits at a fraction of the cost of foods such as
blueberries. However, try to eat as wide a variety of differently
coloured fruits and vegetables as possible. That way you are more
likely to get a full range of different vitamins, minerals and
Fruit and vegetables are a valuable
source of fibre, which is important for digestion and preventing
constipation. Adults should consume about 18g of fibre (technically
known as non-starch polysaccharides, or NSP) per day. A piece of fruit,
such as one apple or orange or a portion of carrots, supplies about 2g.
Some vegetables, such as peas, supply more, about 3.5g per portion.
2 Starchy foods
Foods such as breakfast cereals,
bread, rice, couscous, potatoes and pasta provide starchy
carbohydrates, also known as complex carbohydrates or good
carbohydrates. The other kind of carbohydrates is sugars or ‘simple
carbohydrates’, which are found in foods such as white sugar, biscuits
and fizzy drinks. Starchy foods should make up about a third of your
diet. They are the main source of energy (calories) in our diets and it
is good to base each of your meals around one of these foods. It is
suggested that about 50% of a person’s calories should come from
carbohydrates. They contain fewer calories per gram than fat, making
carbohydrate-rich foods better than fatty ones for avoiding excess
weight gain. The fact that vegetarians tend to eat more carbohydrates
and less fat than non-vegetarians partially explains why they are
It is generally better to eat
unrefined starchy foods rather than refined ones. That means foods like
wholemeal bread, brown rice and pasta, and wholegrain breakfast cereals
(such as bran flakes and muesli), rather than white
bread, white rice and pasta, and cornflakes. Wholegrain products
provide extra fibre, as you can see in the table below. There are two
different types of fibre: insoluble and soluble fibre. Foods such as
bran flakes provide insoluble fibre, generally known as roughage, which
helps food move through the digestive system, so you don’t get
constipated. Others, such as oats, provide soluble fibre, which helps
to stabilise blood sugar levels.
||Fibre content (g)
||Glycaemic load (GL)
|Bran flakes (40g bowl)
|Cornflakes (40g bowl)
|Granary bread (2 slices)
|White bread (2 slices)
|Brown rice (180g)
|White rice (180g)
Source: Data taken from various sources including the UK Nutrient Databank © Crown copyright 2012
The impact that a carbohydrate-rich
food (‘carb’) has on blood sugar or blood glucose levels is known as
its glycaemic index, or GI. Low-GI foods such as oats and lentils are
broken down slowly, so they keep you feeling fuller for longer. As the
carbohydrate is released gradually, they produce only a small
fluctuation in blood glucose. High-GI foods, by contrast, result in
blood sugar levels increasing more rapidly and to a higher level, and
then dropping off more steeply. High-GI foods include refined starchy
foods such as white bread and also sugary foods like cakes, biscuits
and sugary drinks. Less refined foods tend to have a lower GI. For
example, the GI is lower for muesli than for bran flakes, which in turn
have a lower GI than cornflakes. Likewise, granary bread has a lower GI
than wholemeal bread, which has a lower GI than white bread.
To directly compare one food with another, the glycaemic load (GL) is probably more useful as it takes into account the
amount of carbohydrate in a typical portion. This makes it easier to
assess a food’s impact on blood glucose levels. If you want to find the
GI or GL of particular foods, there is a wide variety of apps and
guidebooks available. Consuming low-GI or low-GL foods as part of a
healthy (but not low-calorie) diet has several advantages. Women
consuming more low-GI foods are less likely to put on too much weight
and there is less risk of their baby being very large. Low-GI diets
also reduce the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect,
particularly among overweight women.
As well as helping to stabilise
blood sugar levels and providing more fibre, unrefined cereals
naturally contain higher levels of certain vitamins and minerals.
Wholemeal bread, for example, contains 50% more iron and vitamin B6
than white bread and more than twice as much potassium and zinc.
Unfortunately, high-fibre foods also contain phytate, which binds to
certain minerals, including calcium, iron and zinc, and reduces the
amount that can be absorbed. Therefore having a very high fibre diet,
with foods such as brown rice and lentils, at every single meal isn’t
necessarily a good thing for maximising mineral absorption. If you eat
only unrefined starchy foods, then it might be worth occasionally
having white rice or pasta instead. Bran has particularly high phytate
levels and is best avoided .
‘Could eating burned toast stunt your unborn baby’s growth?’ asked the Daily Mail in 2012. The question arose following a study of acrylamide carried out in 11 maternity units across Europe.
Acrylamide is a
chemical that is produced naturally when starchy foods such as potatoes
and bread are fried or baked at high temperatures. In the past, it has
been linked with cancer, but this study looked at it in relation to
pregnancy. The researchers found that mothers who
ate more chips and baked goods had babies with higher levels of
acrylamide in their blood. They also found that babies with higher
acrylamide levels had lower birth weights and head circumferences. This
is the first study to find such an association, and more work is needed
to see what is really going on.
The FSA has said
there is no need to avoid acrylamide in pregnancy. Even if you wanted
to, it would be virtually impossible, as it is found in so many foods.
Crisps and chips have particularly high levels, but it’s also present
at lower levels in bread, breakfast cereals and crisp breads. If you
eat a well-balanced diet, you shouldn’t have an especially high intake.
As an extra precaution you may want to avoid overcooking your chips or
toast, and instead have them paler.