Tweak your lunch to avoid preg­nancy side ef­fects, says nu­tri­tion­ist Louise Pyne

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Tweak your meals to avoid preg­nancy pit­falls

Louise Pyne is a reg­is­tered nu­tri­tion­ist with a fo­cus on women and chil­dren’s health, louisepyne nu­tri­

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 flow. 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 flow 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 flow 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 mi­croflora in the vagina.


Morn­ing sickness is one of the most com­mon preg­nancy com­plaints. Thank­fully it usu­ally be­gins to ease af­ter the first trimester once lev­els of the hor­mone hu­man chori­onic go­nadotrophin (HCG) drop. Gin­ger could help you feel bet­ter. It’s been used for cen­turies to help re­lieve nau­sea. It in­creases the se­cre­tion of var­i­ous di­ges­tive en­zymes that help to neu­tralise stom­ach acid and set­tle tummy trou­bles. Gin­ger also con­tains a spe­cial om­pound called gin­gerol, which helps to block re­cep­tors linked to nau­sea, so will ease your sickness. Eat­ing fresh gin­ger is per­fectly safe dur­ing preg­nancy, so use the fiery root when morn­ing sickness strikes: grate it into a stir-fry or make a tea by steep­ing a few slices in hot wa­ter.

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