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What to Eat During Pregnancy: The New Rules According To Experts

No sooner does a woman break the news that she is pregnant than she is bombarded with a list of things she must eat or avoid, from alcohol to sushi, blue cheese to Parma ham. The advice is ever changing and still controversial. But what’s becoming clear is just how crucial a woman’s diet is to her child’s future health.

Last month, scientists from King’s College London and the University of Bristol reported that a high-fat, high-sugar diet during pregnancy could alter a growing foetus’ DNA, leading to brain changes that raise the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At five months, a foetus begins to recognise flavours in the amniotic fluid from the food and drink their mother is consuming. Scientists now believe that the tastes that babies are exposed to in the womb can determine the foods they prefer in later life.

“Following a healthy, balanced diet isn’t just good for you and your baby’s health – early research suggests maternal diet in pregnancy could have both a positive and negative influence on your child’s taste preferences,” says Sian Porter, spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association. While all pregnant women should take vitamin D throughout pregnancy, and folic acid during the first 12 weeks, Porter says it’s better to get vitamins and nutrients from food.


“You shouldn’t really try to lose weight while you’re pregnant, but it’s important not to eat too much, too,” says Porter. “Normal weight gain for women is about 12kg during pregnancy, but most of that should come from the baby.” Gaining excessive weight during pregnancy raises the risk of complications such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, and the need for a caesarean section. Government advice states that pregnant women need to eat only an extra 200 calories per day in the last trimester.


Pregnant women must avoid anything that carries a risk of food poisoning such as rare or undercooked meat, including cured meats, unpasteurised cheeses, unwashed salad or vegetables and raw fish and shellfish, as the infection, and ensuing dehydration and fever, can harm a growing baby.

Pregnant women have also long been told to eat only eggs that are thoroughly cooked, because of the risk of salmonella. But this summer, the Food Standards Agency said British eggs with a “Red Lion” stamp were now free from the bacteria, and could be safely eaten runny or raw during pregnancy.


A series of studies has shown that oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, is beneficial in pregnancy: one recent trial by the University of Southampton found that children born to women who regularly ate salmon during pregnancy were less likely to develop asthma.

However, mothers-to-be should limit the amount of oily fish they eat to two portions a week, because it contains pollutants that can harm the development of a foetus. Some fish, including shark, swordfish and marlin, should be avoided completely because they contain high levels of mercury. Confusingly, though, sushi is to be avoided during pregnancy, because raw fish, including salmon, can carry small parasitic worms that can cause infection.


Alcohol during pregnancy, particularly in the first 12 weeks, has been linked to miscarriage and an increased risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Government advice is to avoid alcohol – which concurs with advice in many other countries, including the United States and France – and if you do decide to drink, to consume no more than one to two units once or twice a week.


Not only is exercise safe in pregnancy, it’s also excellent for the health of mother and baby, protecting against depression, weight gain and diabetes, and improving strength and stability, which helps to prevent common problems such as back pain. Professor Whyte says that in our modern, sedentary culture, pregnant women should be given recommendations on exercise by health professionals in the same way as they are about diet and issues such as avoiding alcohol.

Whatever your exercise, whether it’s running, swimming or weightlifting, it’s important to work at or below, a moderate intensity to avoid overheating, dehydration and injury. Professor Whyte says that women should measure their exertion on a scale of one to ten, with one being how you feel when sitting down watching television, and 10 being the hardest that you have ever exercised, and stick to the magic number – seven – or lower. Another method is to exercise only to a level where you can still manage to hold a conversation.

The content was originally published at Stemlife Regen Magazine on January 2017.


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