Tue, Jul 31, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Facts and myth about prenatal nutrition

When you're eating for two, you have to be doubly careful what you eat



Ivy had been eating tuna sushi almost every day. But before becoming pregnant, she wisely had a checkup, which revealed high levels of mercury in her blood that could damage a fetus. Shocked, she stopped eating tuna and postponed pregnancy until the mercury had cleared out of her system.

Last month she gave birth to a full-term healthy boy.

Mercury from eating certain kinds of seafood is just one of many nutrition-related hazards that can confront a pregnant woman or one who wishes to become pregnant. At the same time, some pregnant women worry needlessly about nonexistent nutritional risks.

The March of Dimes, which strives to make every pregnancy as well-planned and successful as Ivy's, is making a new push to dispel nutritional misinformation and replace it with advice based on solid scientific evidence. Some of the advice may come as a distressing surprise to women, who may be fond of foods or drinks that could endanger their pregnancy.

For example, pregnant women are advised to steer clear of deli meats, including sliced turkey, unless they are fully cooked again before being eaten. But the March of Dimes, among other experts, suggests that it is safe to drink one or two cups of caffeinated coffee a day during pregnancy, whereas consuming too much herbal tea (and three or more cups of coffee a day) can be risky and may result in a miscarriage.

The organization is also concerned about the current notion among some women that it is OK to gain 18kg or more when pregnant with one baby. Excessive weight gain in pregnancy not only makes it harder to shed the extra kilos after childbirth. It also increases the risk to the mother of gestational diabetes, dangerous rises in blood pressure (pre-eclampsia), the need for a Caesarean delivery and postpartum infection. For the baby, a mother's excessive weight gain raises the risk of neural tube defects, birth trauma and fetal death near term.

Studies of tens of thousands of pregnancies showed that how much a pregnant woman should gain for the best chance of a healthy outcome for both mother and baby depends on how much she weighed before becoming pregnant.


Accordingly, the March of Dimes suggests that normal-weight women should gain 11kg to 16kg; overweight women 7kg to 11kg, and underweight women 13kg to 18kg. But a woman having a multiple birth should gain more weight depending on the number of babies she is carrying.

When a woman is eating for two, or better yet, when she is contemplating getting pregnant, is an ideal time to learn the principles of good nutrition and put them into practice. The basics of a healthy diet during pregnancy are the same as what everyone should eat at any time of life:

- Whole grains, like brown rice, whole wheat bread or whole oat cereal: 6 to 11 servings a day

- Dairy products, like low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt or hard cheese: 3 to 4 servings a day

- Protein, like meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts or eggs: 3 to 4 servings a day

- Vegetables, like broccoli, carrots, green beans, tomatoes or beets: 3 to 5 servings a day

- Fruits, like oranges, bananas or apples: 2 to 4 servings a day

The trick is to know what a portion means because "eating for two" does not mean a woman should double her caloric intake. Only 300 additional calories a day are needed to sustain a healthy pregnancy, provided those calories come from nutritious foods.

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