Tweak your lunch to avoid pregnancy side effects, says nutritionist Louise Pyne
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Louise Pyne is a registered nutritionist with a focus on women and children’s health, louisepyne nutrition.com
YOU’RE probably already eating a pretty healthy diet to provide your baby with the nutrients he needs to grow and develop. But how about sharpening it up so that it improves your health too? Nutrients in some foods can double up as home remedies for a whole range of pregnancy ailments. Better yet, we’re not talking about expensive superfoods: all of these fix-it foods are everyday ingredients readily available in your local supermarket!
Headaches are common in pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, and can range from mild pain to full-blown migraines. They can be caused by a variety of factors, including dehydration, stress, tight muscles, fluctuating hormones and increased blood fl ow. If you’re experiencing strong, persistent migraines, consult your GP, but otherwise eating more spinach could relieve your pounding head. Magnesium, a mineral found in spades in spinach, has been shown to improve blood fl ow to the brain, acting as a headache preventative. It’s also a relaxant: nerves often get overexcited during a headache and foods containing magnesium could help quell this reaction. Its calming effect may reduce stress levels too. Frozen spinach often contains more magnesium than fresh, which may well have been held in storage for a while, unless it’s grown locally. Generally, the darker the leaves, the more nutrients. And it’s more nutritious cooked than raw, so try steaming it lightly. The recommended daily allowance of magnesium is 300mg, and piling your plate with 100g of cooked spinach will give you over a quarter of your quota. Eat it at least three times a week to boost your levels.
Another common pregnancy side effect is constipation, which is caused by high progesterone levels. Eating more fibrous foods can help. According to the latest government guidelines, we should be eating around 30g of fibre every day, but most of us only manage just over half that. An apple a day will certainly help. Apples contain a clever combination of fibre: insoluble fibre in the skin has a natural laxative effect, while soluble fibre in the flesh aids digestion. Just one apple contains four gm of fibre, and is also 86 per cent water, which also aids food digestion.
Many pregnant women suffer foot and leg cramps during the third trimester when the effects of carrying extra weight are in full force, impeding circulation and causing muscle contractions which create the painful spasms. Often worse at night, cramps may be a sign of dehydration or a deficiency in nutrients such as potassium. Eating potassiumrich foods like avocado could provide relief by improving blood fl ow around your body and regulating the muscle contractions. We need 3,500mg of potassium a day and just half an avocado will provide more than a seventh of this. Factor in further potassium-rich options like a medium-sized banana and a cup of coconut water in our recipe, left, and you will reach just under a third of the daily guidelines. Incorporate these into your diet at least three times a week and up to five times if cramps are severe.
Affecting eight out of 10 women, heartburn and indigestion are very common during pregnancy. The burning, bloated feeling is a result of elevated progesterone produced in the early stages of pregnancy. Progesterone relaxes muscles, meaning stomach acid can leak through the valve of your stomach and into your oesophagus.
You may find that the symptoms are worse during the first trimester when progesterone levels are at their highest, although many women experience acid reflux from around week 27 onwards as their growing bump takes up more and more abdominal space. But there’s an easy fix! Lemon works as a natural antacid to readily treat symptoms. Although generally thought of as acidic, it has alkaline effects when eaten, and naturally helps to balance out acid levels, minimising indigestion. It’s best consumed on an empty stomach first thing in the morning to increase the production of digestive juices to neutralize the acid. Try it half an hour before meals too if symptoms are severe. Fresh lemon juice is best.
Pregnancy makes you more susceptible to infections such as thrush, which is caused by an increase in vaginal discharge. You should always consult your GP if you get an infection, but it’s also worth taking preventative measures from the get-go. Eating natural yoghurt rich in probiotics is one of the most effective dietary cures to help combat thrush. Probiotics are good bacteria which live in your vagina as well as your digestive system, so eating foods rich in this protective bacteria will internally restore the correct balance of organisms. So if you’re susceptible to thrush, ensure that yoghurt forms part of your daily diet. Read the label and choose probiotic yoghurt which contains the species lactobacillus acidophilus, as this is the main type of microfl ora in the vagina.