I have recently taken on a new challenge when it comes to eating well in Shanghai. Eating healthy while pregnant! Nutrition during pregnancy is critical no matter where you are but there are additional challenges here in Shanghai due to concerns about food borne illnesses and elevated levels of potentially harmful substances in some foods. All in all, it makes being pregnant in Shanghai very challenging from a nutrition perspective!
I never really appreciated what pregnant women go through – the food cravings, the aversions – until now. It’s a constant battle between what I want to eat and what I should eat. When it comes to food cravings let’s be honest – it’s very unlikely you are yearning for a certain food because of a nutrient deficiency. For example, white beans and chocolate are both rich in iron but chocolate is what we seek out. Scientists are uncertain what causes our pregnancy cravings but believe that elevated hormones may be to blame. It could be a mix of psychological and physiological factors as we could also be longing for certain comfort foods to offset some of the discomforts of pregnancy. While the true reasons for our cravings are unknown, everyone can agree that it’s important to eat healthy during pregnancy. I recently gave a nutrition presentation to several expectant ladies here in Shanghai. It was organized via Marie & Jey’s ‘Belle Maternity’ program – providing fabulous prenatal yoga and postnatal pilates. See link at the end of the post. Here are my five simple tips from that talk.
- Eat lots of Nutrient dense foods: It can be easy to overeat during pregnancy, especially with all the cravings and an increased appetite. Sticking with nutrient dense foods not only provides all the proper nutrients for you and your growing baby, but will help keep you fit and full. In summary, try to eat less junk. 😉
- Avoid nutrient deficient foods: Reduce unneeded extra calories by cutting down on foods high in fat and added sugars such as sugary drinks, sweets, refined carbohydrates, and fried foods. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the occasional sweet treat, but don’t go crazy.
- Optimize Iron Intake: During pregnancy, iron needs increase since you’re making more red blood cells to carry enough oxygen through both you and your baby’s body. Make sure you’re eating enough iron rich foods, such as legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, white beans and lentils), vegetables / dried fruit (spinach, peas, dried prunes, dried apricots) and grains (quinoa and fortified breads and cereals). Even dark chocolate is packed with iron!
- Make sure you get all your Folic acid: Folic acid is needed for long-term health and to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Make sure to take a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid and eat foods rich in folate, such as green leafy vegetables, asparagus, legumes, sunflower seeds and fortified grain products.
- Up your fiber intake: A fiber rich diet is always important for good digestion, and since pregnant women are prone to constipation, we may have to increase our fiber intake to avoid problems such as hemorrhoids. Replace white rice, bread and pasta with brown rice and whole grain products for an added fiber boost.
Whole fruits and vegetables are a great source of fiber. Prunes are particularly good for keeping things moving. If you are constantly struggling with morning sickness and nausea (like me!), consider tossing everything in a blender for a quick healthy smoothie.
Until the next time – Eat Well Shanghai! – Jessica W. 😉
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