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Nutritional needs during pregnancy

There is no dearth of information about foods you must have and foods you must not have during pregnancy. Yet it helps to understand the basics of why and in what terms nutrition needs are altered or increased. This will not only help you to choose the correct foods but will also help you to keep away from piling up on unwanted food.

With this article, increase your knowledge about the basic nutrition requirements during pregnancy. Each trimester calls for focus on different nutrients but what we discuss here is only about the three basic requirements, viz. energy, protein and fats:

Energy: The energy needs are certainly increased owing to a number of factors like increased BMR (basal metabolic rate), growth of foetus and maternal tissues, etc. Because total energy expenditure does not change greatly and weight gain is minimal in the first trimester, additional energy intake is recommended only in the second and third trimesters. Approximately an additional 300 and 350 kcal are recommended during the second and third trimesters, respectively. Whereas, the additional first trimester requirements are about 150 calorie per day.1

Obtain these calories from nutrient dense foods which also confer other benefits. Select whole grain cereals products like wheat flour rotischapattis, parathas, rice, beans, pulses etc.
Typically 1 big idli or 1 dosa or 2 phulkas or 1 chapati will give 100 calories.

Protein: An additional protein intake is necessary during pregnancy to ensure optimum growth of the fetus. A protein intake above 80 grams daily is suggested by the Indian Council of Medical Research1 for the Indian population. Again, the incremental needs are not very high in the first trimester (1g per day) but they increase in the second and third trimester - about 7g/day and 27g/day respectively.

Adding pulses or legumes will help meet the protein requirements. Similarly, the greater use of milk or milk-based products, or non-vegetarian foods such as eggs or flesh foods can further increase protein intake. A combination of dal and rice is a very good vegetarian source of good quality protein in Indian diets.

It is important that the higher intake of protein recommended during pregnancy should come from a normal, varied diet, and NOT from commercial high-protein supplements.1

Fat: The general guidelines that imply for healthy lifestyle also holds good during pregnancy. Fat intake during pregnancy need not exceed 30g (visible fat).1 Avoid saturated fats and trans fats that are abundant in fried foods, bakery products and certain processed foods. Aim at obtaining PUFA and MUFA from sources like fatty fish, nuts and oilseeds. Edible plant foods have a low content of fat and SFAs (except nuts and oilseeds) and are fairly good sources of MUFAs and PUFAs. Animal foods (fatty dairy products like butter, ghee, whole milk, cream, fatty cheese and fatty meats) provide cholesterol and high amounts of saturated fats.

Though egg has high cholesterol it is a good source of certain essential fatty acids desirable during pregnancy. Fish, too, has less saturated fat and cholesterol and is a good source of PUFAs.

Avoid commercially fried, processed, ready-to-eat, packaged, frozen, premixed foods and street foods.


1.A Report of the Expert Group of the Indian Council of Medical Research. Nutrient requirements and recommended dietary allowances for Indians. National Institute Of Nutrition. Indian Council of Medical Research. Hyderabad.2009.