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5 KEY NUTRIENTS FOR HEALTHY PREGNANCY

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

 

Eating a healthy balanced diet is crucial to support the optimal development of your baby during pregnancy. Your body has a greater demand for nutrients which can be met by making wise food choices. Dietitian Sally Shi-po Poon explains the 5 key nutrients for a healthy pregnancy.

 

  1. Folic acid

Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B vitamin that is important for pregnant women. Taking folic acid regularly before pregnancy and during pregnancy helps prevent major birth defects of the fetal brain and spine called neural tube defects. The requirement for folic acid increases from 400 micrograms (mcg) daily for non-pregnant women to 600 mcg daily during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends all pregnant women and all women who may become pregnant should take a daily vitamin supplement that contains folic acid.

Major food sources of folate include spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, avocado, oranges, papaya, peanuts, and breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid.

 

  1. Iodine

The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones which are required for proper growth and brain development of your baby. The World Health Organisation recommends 250 mcg iodine daily during pregnancy. You should consider taking a prenatal supplement containing iodine, as it is difficult to get enough iodine from food alone when you are pregnant.

Seaweed, seafood, egg yolk, dairy products and iodised salt are main sources of iodine. Kelp, in particular, contains a very high level of iodine and eating too much can affect the thyroid function adversely. You should consume kelp in moderation and no more than once a week.

 

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in seafood. Omega-3 fatty acids include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA is important for the visual and cognitive development of your baby. Pregnant women should aim to attain an average daily intake of at least 200 mg DHA, which can be achieved by eating 8 to 12 ounces of fish or shellfish per week.

From the food safety point of view, avoid all raw and undercooked seafood including sushi made with raw fish.

People who do not eat seafood can eat foods rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA), such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil. Our body can produce DHA out of ALA, but the conversion rate seems to be very low. You can consider taking a DHA supplement if you do not eat seafood.

 

  1. Iron

Iron ensures optimal growth and brain development and prevents anaemia. Your body needs more iron during pregnancy and the daily recommended intake of iron is 27 mg.

Iron is found in most prenatal supplements. You should also eat a variety of iron-rich foods including red meat, poultry, fish, egg yolk, lentils, kidney beans, nuts, raisins, and iron-fortified breakfast cereals. Iron can be absorbed better if foods are eaten with vitamin C-rich foods, such as guava, oranges, kiwi fruits, sweet peppers, and tomatoes.

 

  1. Calcium

Calcium is required to build your baby’s bones and teeth. Pregnant women require 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Inadequate calcium intake during pregnancy may increase the risk of preterm labour and gestational hypertension.

Milk, cheese and yogurt, are the best sources of calcium. Pregnant women are advised to consume two glasses of milk or calcium-fortified soy milk daily and choose calcium-rich foods such as Chinese cabbage (bok choi), kale, broccoli, sardines, and tofu made with calcium sulfate.

Vitamin D improves calcium absorption and is essential for bone health and development. Pregnant women need 600 International Units (IU) or 15 mcg of vitamin D a day. Expose to sunlight regularly and consume vitamin D-rich foods such as salmon and fortified food products can help you get enough vitamin D.

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/5-key-nutrients-healthy-pregnancy

THINKING OF STARTING A FAMILY? READ THESE HEALTH TIPS FIRST

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after one year (or longer) of regular unprotected sex. It is said to affect 1 in every 6 couples. While couples cannot control all of the factors causing infertility, they can control their eating habits and lifestyle as these can have significant impacts on the ability to get pregnant. The following are important steps to help you get ready for the healthiest pregnancy possible.

 

1. Maintain a healthy weight

In women, being underweight, being overweight or exercising too much may lead to infertility, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In men, obesity is also associated with infertility due to lowered sperm count and motility, according to the National Infertility Association. Therefore, couples should maintain an optimal body weight as well as waist circumference to increase the chance of getting pregnant.

Healthy Weight Ranges

Boyd Mass Index (BMI): 18.5-24.9 (Caucasian); 18.5-22.9 (Asian)
Waist Circumference: <94cm for men and <80cm for women (Caucasian); <90cm for men and <80cm for women (Asian)

Sadly, there is no magic solution to sustainable weight loss. To lose weight successfully, you need to make healthier food choices, eat a balanced diet with portion control, and be physically active. Furthermore, adherence to healthy diets favouring whole grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry, and seafood are associated with better fertility in women and better semen quality in men, according to a review published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2017.

Avoid going on a fad diet where you eat a very restrictive diet for a short period of time and often lose weight quickly. Most people on this style of diet get fed-up very soon, start over-eating, make poor food choices and regain the weight they lost. Fad diets can also deplete your body of the nutrients it needs for healthy pregnancy. Consult a dietitian who can help you lose weight in a way that suits your lifestyle.

 

2. Get plenty of iron from plants

A diet rich in plant-based iron may reduce the risk of infertility, according to results from The Nurses’ Health Study II. Plant foods that are rich in iron include lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu, black sesame, cashew nuts, spinach, fortified cereals, and whole grains. To absorb the most iron from the foods, avoid drinking coffee, tea or milk with meals and add vitamin C from guava, orange, kiwi, lemon, or bell peppers to your meals to enhance iron absorption.

 

3. Go low GI

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility. PCOS affects between 6% and 12% of women overall, which appears to be more common among overweight women. Women with PCOS often don’t have menstrual periods, or they only have periods on occasion. Because the eggs are not released, most women with PCOS have trouble getting pregnant. Research shows that weight loss of 5% is associated with improvement in amenorrhoea (absence of menstruation) for overweight women with PCOS.

Healthy eating tips for women with PCOS:

  • choose high-fibre, low-glycaemia index (GI) carbohydrates – at least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains such as whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown rice;
  • limit added sugars and refined grains such as sugary beverages, cakes, white bread and white rice;
  • choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as avocados, olive oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, and sardines; and
  • limit saturated and trans fats such as butter, lard, stick margarine, shortening, and partially hydrogenated oil.

 

4. Stop drinking and smoking

Alcohol and smoking can damage the eggs and sperm, and reduce the fertility of both males and females. Therefore, if you and your partner are serious about trying to start a family, you should consider avoiding alcoholic drinks and quitting smoking to increase the chance of pregnancy.

 

5. Increase your folic acid intake

Folic acid won’t boost your fertility, but taking folic acid regularly before becoming pregnant and during pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects (malformations of the spine, skull, and brain) in babies. Therefore, all women who could become pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily from supplements. In addition, choose foods that are rich in folic acid, including asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spinach, mustard greens, oranges, peanuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, liver, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals.

 

For more information about eating for fertility, consult a dietitian for personalized advice and diet plan.

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/thinking-of-starting-a-family-health-tips

WHY A COLOURFUL DIET IS GOOD FOR YOU

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

We’re always hearing that we should “eat the rainbow”, but what does that mean and why is a colourful diet so highly recommended by dietitians all over the world? Not only are they appealing, the phytochemicals that give foods their colour are packed with nutritional benefits. I have grouped the foods into 5 categories according to their predominant phytochemical group: red, orange, green, purple, and white.

 

1. Red

Lycopene is the predominant pigment in red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruits. It is a powerful antioxidant that may help prevent prostate cancer and heart diseases. Lycopene is better absorbed when it is cooked with some oil, such as tomato sauce with olive oil.

 

Astaxanthin, which is found in the red pigment of crab, salmon and prawns, has been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Its antioxidant activity was found to be 10 times more than zeaxanthin, lutein and beta-carotene.

 

2. Orange

Beta-carotene is a pigment found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrot, cantaloupe melon, mangoes, orange peppers, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes. In the body, beta-carotene converts into vitamin A, which is needed for good vision, a strong immune system, and healthy skin. Food processing and cooking help release beta-carotene from the food matrix and make it easier to absorb. Moreover, its absorption requires the presence of fat in a meal, such as canola oil, almonds, flaxseed or pumpkin seeds.

 

3. Green

Green cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and kale are good sources of sulforaphane and glucosinolate, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  These vegetables also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help protect eyes from sunlight damage and reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Lutein and zeaxanthin are better absorbed with fats, so be sure to eat the vegetables with some avocado, cheese, walnuts, sunflower seeds or olive oil. Green vegetables are also excellent sources of vitamin K and folic acid. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy, and vitamin K plays a major role in blood clotting.

 

4. Purple

Anthocyanins are pigments that appear purple or blue, which are found in eggplant (especially the skin), blueberries, blackberries, prunes, plums, black rice, purple sweet potato, and purple cauliflower. The darker the colour, the higher the anthocyanins concentration. Boiling vegetables can increase the loss of water-soluble nutrients such as anthocyanins and vitamin C, therefore baking and steaming are preferred as they can retain more of the nutrients, as well as the flavour and colour.

 

5. White

Anthoxanthins are the white or colourless pigments found in bananas, cauliflower, garlic, shallots, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, and turnips, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease.  Garlic contains allicin, which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and heart-protective properties. Allicin is produced when fresh garlic is finely chopped or crushed. Garlic provides an alternative to salt in cooking, along with other herbs and spices. Eating less salt is important for preventing high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke.

 

Including a variety of colourful foods in your diet seems to equal better overall health.  Start planning some colourful recipes tonight and have a healthy start in 2018!

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler:  https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/why-a-colourful-diet-is-good-for-you#page-1