Give your unborn child the healthiest start in life

Most of these calories should come from nutrient-rich foods that provide high value in -vitamins. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, -protein and healthy fats, all of which -contribute to the -developing -baby’s health, while helping mum to maintain a healthy weight, keep her cholesterol -levels in check and lower the risk of heart disease later in life.

During your pregnancy, ensure you eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Peter Cade / Getty Images
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Eating a balanced diet, rich in a variety of ingredients from all the main food groups, is essential for a healthy pregnancy and the development of the foetus.

But before you reach for the box of cookies or the carrot sticks – or both – did you know that what you choose to eat during those precious nine months could have repercussions that affect your newborn throughout ­childhood and beyond?

A woman’s diet during ­pregnancy should be much the same as before. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals, recommends that pregnant women eat about 2,200 to 2,900 calories a day, increasing intake gradually with each trimester.

Most of these calories should come from nutrient-rich foods that provide high value in ­vitamins. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, ­protein and healthy fats, all of which ­contribute to the ­developing ­baby’s health, while helping mum to maintain a healthy weight, keep her cholesterol ­levels in check and lower the risk of heart disease later in life.

Conversely, saturated fats and added sugars that provide no nutritional benefits should be avoided. This means saying no to fizzy soft drinks, biscuits, crisps, ice cream and creamy dressings.

Overindulging in the sweet stuff, and also undereating, can cause issues for mother and newborn, including gestational diabetes, a higher risk of pre-­eclampsia, pre-term delivery and high birth weight.

After delivery, a poor diet can also negatively effect the ­physical and mental health of the child.

Dr Anita Das Gupta, clinical ­dietician at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, says research suggests that babies born with high or low birth weights are more likely to become overweight or obese later in life, with all the associated health problems this can cause, such as ­cardiovascular conditions, high blood pressure and diabetes.

“What the mother eats during pregnancy has a great effect on the short- and long-term health of the child,” says Dr Gupta. “Poor nutrition ­during ­pregnancy could cause ­issues and abnormalities in the ­development of the child’s ­organs, including the brain.

“Poor nutrition can increase the risk of diabetes in the child, especially if the mother is already diabetic with uncontrolled sugar or gestational diabetes. With the increase in risk of diabetes, the risk of developing ­cardiovascular disease also ­increases.”

Dubai-based movement ­educator Sarah Jane Hackett, who is mother to 16-month-old Benedict, steered clear of junk food during her pregnancy to avoid gestational diabetes – three of her family members have the condition.

“I did my best to eat fruit in-­between meals to avoid ­becoming overly hungry and reaching for a quick, sugary fix,” she says. “I always took lunch to work so that I wouldn’t buy something unhealthy. It would consist of a fresh salad, a green apple (one of my cravings), and plain full-fat yogurt.

“I was active the whole time, I slept well and I managed to keep teaching into my eighth month. I still put on a lot of weight but Benedict was a super-healthy baby.”

Before you feel guilty about reaching for an occasional ­second helping of cake or vow to only eat vibrantly-­coloured healthy food, remember there is no such thing as a perfect ­regime, especially during ­pregnancy.

The key to a healthy lifestyle combines a generous helping of nutritious foods and a varied programme of exercise, a dose of common sense – and just a pinch of decadent indulgence.

Nutritional guidelines during pregnancy

Fruits and vegetables

Different-coloured fruits and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins and minerals. Leafy greens and citrus fruits are a store for folic acid, an essential pregnancy nutrient that can protect against spina bifida and premature delivery. Fruit and veggies are also packed with fibre, which prevents constipation and haemorrhoids, both common complaints during pregnancy.

Protein

Eggs, fish, nuts, beans, pulses and lean meat are all wise choices at least once a day. Eating salmon twice a week is also a good way to get your fill of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which will help to build strong bones and teeth, and promote the baby’s brain development. Avoid raw or undercooked eggs, and meat, poultry, fish or liver that is raw or partially cooked, as well as fish that is high in mercury, such as shark, tuna and swordfish.

Good fats

Fats are necessary for the body to function optimally. Fuel yourself with healthy fats from nuts, seeds and avocado, as well as sunflower and olive oils.

Carbohydrates

Whole grains contain vitamins and fibre, which provide energy and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Some of the recommended carbs include wholegrain bread, oats, potatoes and pasta. Choose sweet potato when possible, and brown bread and brown pasta over the white, processed choices.

Dairy

This excellent source of calcium is key for strong bones and teeth. Enjoy two to three servings a day of milk, calcium-fortified juices, yogurt and hard cheese. Avoid unpasteurised milk and soft cheeses, including blue cheese.

• This is the final story in our five-part series on preventing and tackling child obesity.

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