Indian Diet during Pregnancy
Nurturing a new life with you is both a joy and responsibility. Pregnancy comes with its own share of sweet surprises, challenges and new learning. The pregnancy period of nine-month is a crucial period for the baby as well as the mother.
In the Indian context, it is a cause of celebration for the entire clan. The Indian community is relatively tight-knit. From close family to distant relatives and the neighbourhood aunts, everyone becomes a little more caring for the new mother, vending out personal experiences and wisdom on what to eat and what to avoid.
Not to forget the quintessential grandmother’s or mother’s advice on a healthy pregnancy. New mothers get a barrage of information from friends and family to follow a healthy Indian diet during pregnancy.
Pregnancy nutrition is crucial as consuming a balanced diet for pregnancy helps in steady weight gain for the baby’s development and ensures the mother gets the right amount of calories to meet her daily energy needs for each trimester.
Essential nutrients for a healthy Indian diet during Pregnancy
Indian cuisine is rich in legumes, pulses, grains and regional fruits and vegetables, making it quite a breeze to plan a healthy Indian diet during pregnancy. Below is a list of nutrients that constitutes a balanced diet for pregnancy:
Folic Acid: Medical practitioners usually prescribe folic acid or folate months before the actual gestation for a planned pregnancy. The deficiency of folic acid gives severe complications for the baby, including congenital disabilities, preterm delivery, and even miscarriage, making it a vital prenatal vitamin.
Regular consumption of the right amount of folate ensures the baby’s neural tube’s development to the spinal cord and the brain and avoid neural tube defects like spina bifida and even nerve damage and cleft palate. Folate works with vitamin B12 and improves the count of red blood cells and the risk of anaemia.
Folic acid or folate at its natural state is present in greens like spinach and beans and fruits like grapefruits, strawberries, avocado and oranges, pulses, and lentils like kidney beans. Certain store-bought foods are fortified with folic acid like breakfast cereals, plant-based drinks such as almond milk, soy milk and the like.
While trying to conceive and during the first trimester, you should have at least 400 mcg of folate and the second and third trimester, up to 600 mcg. Nutritionists also recommend folate while breastfeeding, and that needs to be approx — 500 mcg.
indian diet during pregnancy
Calcium: Next to folate, which helps with the nervous system and brain development, is bone development and density, which depends on the right calcium intake. Calcium deficiency comes with a risk to the mother as well as the baby.
The body draws out necessary calcium from the mother’s calcium deposit in her bones, making her bones brittle. Indian diet during pregnancy is naturally rich in calcium with cottage cheese or paneer, curd, yoghurt and other milk products.
Those lactose intolerant might need to have nuts and nut milk, small fish with bones like sardines and anchovies, dried figs and sesame seeds to compensate.
Calcium consumption helps develop the baby’s teeth and bones and even improves blood clotting abilities. You would need at least 1000 mcg of calcium per day throughout your pregnancy.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D works with calcium, and both are interdependent for helping in bone development. To absorb calcium from the list of ingredients mentioned above, vitamin D plays a crucial role.
Deficiency of vitamin D in expecting moms can lead to skeletal deformities and low birth weight.
In terms of adding Vitamin D to the Indian diet during pregnancy, most oily fishes like mackerel and tuna have vitamin D. Fish is an integral part of Indian cuisine, especially in the coastal region.
Eggs, oranges and dairy products are also rich in vitamin D. In addition to these, India being a country where we get sun throughout the year, stepping out in the sun is also a viable way to synthesise vitamin D directly from sunlight.
Iron: Iron is the primary compound constituting haemoglobin that helps in an adequate supply of oxygen throughout the body, and a pregnant mother cannot afford to be anaemic.
During pregnancy, the mother’s body naturally creates additional blood quantities, i.e. more than 50% than usual, to meet the baby’s needs, which makes iron a crucial compound.
Iron deficiency in pregnancy nutrition puts the mother at the risk of anaemia and inadequate blood generation for the baby’s placenta leading to premature delivery and low birth weight.
All kinds of iron-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables like spinach, methi are available in abundance in the Indian diet during pregnancy. The Indian staple rajma or kidney beans, lentils, apricots and raisins are a good source of iron.
Pregnant women should consume at least 40mg of iron per day.
Protein: Body mass or muscle development is hugely dependent on protein consumption. Protein is crucial for both the mother and the baby. Expecting moms develop additional tissues for breasts and uterus to grow.
The foetus’s growth and brain development, especially during the second and third trimester, require amino acids from proteins that make up cells and tissues.
Proteins also play a vital role in stabilising the blood glucose levels at gestation, giving a more fuller feel for the mom for a longer time. (Also read: Why is protein important during pregnancy)
The ideal quantity of proteins for a balanced diet for pregnancy includes 70–100 gms of protein a day, depending on the expecting mom’s current body weight and present trimester. Yoghurt, meats of all kinds, soya chunks, milk, chickpeas, chia seeds, eggs, fish and dairy products are a good source of protein.
Omega-3: Omega-3 fatty acids said to bring positive effects on pregnancy by preventing preterm labour and lowering preeclampsia risk and even a few other postpartum mood disorders for the mother like PostPartum Depression.
During the pregnancy period, at least 200 mg per day of DHA (which is an Omega-3 fatty acid) is essential to support the baby’s brain development and early childhood. In its natural form, DHA is available in eggs, fish and fish oils, and fortified milk.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A aids in organ development like the eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, and the overall embryonic growth of the respiratory, circulatory and nervous system. It helps build immunity and fight infections, which are essential attributes for a pregnant mother, especially for healing tissues post-delivery.
Most bright and colourful vegetables have Vitamin A in them, like carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, beetroots, red capsicums, etc, and all these foods are easily available in the Indian diet during pregnancy.
Magnesium: Most minerals and nutrients don’t work in isolation, just as magnesium works best with calcium. Calcium stimulates muscles to contract, and magnesium helps to relax the muscles.
This combination is crucial during labour, and deficiency of it could also cause preterm labour. A pregnant mother and breastfeeding mother needs at least 360 mg of magnesium per day.
For an Indian diet during pregnancy, we have many magnesium-rich foods such as bajra, jowar, ragi, moong, whole wheat flour, ladies finger, spinach, mackerel, peanuts, banana and milk.
Vitamin C, B1, B12 and B6:
Vitamin C or L-ascorbic acid is essential for both mom and baby for wound healing and tissue repair and helps develop the baby’s bones and teeth. Vitamin C also helps with the immunity and better absorption of iron, making it imperative to combine both for the best results. Nutritionists advise having 80–85mg of vitamin C while pregnant and 115–120 gms while breastfeeding.
During the first and third trimester, the common pregnancy woe is the feeling of tiredness and nauseous. Vitamin B rich foods help to boost natural energy. Additionally, thiamine or Vitamin B1 helps in the overall brain development of the baby. It’s ideal to consume 1.4 mg per day. Natural foods rich in Vitamin B1 include peas, lentils, nutritional yeast, salmon and pecans.
Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin is essential for maintaining a healthy nervous system, especially in combination with folic acid or folate, prevents spinal and central nervous system congenital disabilities. Foods rich in Vitamin B12 include milk, cottage cheese or paneer, yoghurt, red meat, cod and shrimp.
Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine plays a crucial role in avoiding malformations for the developing baby. It’s ideal to consume between 25–50mg of vitamin B6 per day. Vitamin B6 also helps the mother alleviate vomiting and nausea, the two early side effects of pregnancy.
Foods that naturally include vitamin B6 are garlic, sweet potatoes, beans, chickpeas, avocados, banana, spinach, chicken and sunflower seeds which are everyday staples for anyone wanting to follow the Indian diet during pregnancy.
Foods to avoid for a healthy Indian diet during pregnancy
Caffeine: Though earlier studies recommended avoiding any form of caffeine and coffee altogether from the diet of a pregnant woman, the newest guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that it’s safe to consume up to 200 mg of caffeine a day, i.e. equivalent to a 12-ounce cup of coffee during pregnancy.
The reason that doctors say strictly not to surpass this 200 mg of coffee owes to the possibility of coffee to permeate the placental barrier and risk miscarriage.
Alcohol: Unlike caffeine, alcohol has no room for deliberation, and a pregnant woman should completely avoid it at all costs as it’s proven to cause congenital disabilities and induce other long-term medical problems.
Alcohol consumption is also said to cause fetal alcohol syndrome, the symptoms of which can include heart defects, changes in the shape of the baby’s face, learning problems, and more. Traditionally, the Indian diet during pregnancy doesn’t include alcohol.
Raw seafood and meat: Raw or undercooked meats pose a potential risk for an illness called toxoplasmosis, a bacterial infection that increases the risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, eye damage and even damages to internal organs of the foetus.
Raw shellfish should also be avoided for the same reasons for bacterial infection.
Unpasteurised milk and yoghurt: Unpasteurised milk and yoghurt made with such milk could carry listeria bacteria, which increases the risk of infection.
High-mercury fish: Fish is good in moderation, and in fact, the omega-3 in fish helps in the fetus’s brain development. However, pregnant women need to be mindful of high-mercury content fish like shark, marlin and swordfish, which could do quite the opposite and hinder brain development.
Unripe papaya: If you are an expecting mother or trying to conceive, avoid unripe papaya in your diet as the latex substance in unripe papaya act like oxytocin and prostaglandin, which the body generally produces to induce labour.
In fact, unripe papaya is strictly avoided in the Indian diet during pregnancy traditionally.
Pineapple: Pineapples contain an enzyme called bromelain, excess of which can cause abortion. However, the fruit’s core, i.e. the inedible portion, has this enzyme in excess, and the latest studies suggest that having pineapple flesh in moderation causes no harm.
As per the traditional Indian wisdom, expecting mothers are strictly advised to avoid pineapple in the Indian diet during pregnancy.
Sesame seeds: During the first trimester, when the foetus is at a more vulnerable state, pregnant women are advised to avoid sesame seeds as it stimulates the uterine muscles resulting in the expulsion of the fertilised ovum.
Those following the Indian diet during pregnancy should be careful to be mindful to avoid sweets and dishes that include sesame seeds in excess.
Ajinomoto or MonoSodium Glutamate (MSG): Ajinomoto or MSG is a food additives part of most restaurants serving Chinese or south-east Asian cuisine.
Pregnant women are advised not to regularly consume MSG-added foods as the side effects include placental damage, sleeplessness, headaches, over-stimulated nerves, heart issues and nausea.
Though Ajinomoto is not part of the Indian diet during pregnancy, it’s common for pregnancy cravings to kick in and tend to go overboard with takeaway food.
Fennel and fenugreek seeds: The phytoestrogens in fennel seeds or ‘saunf’ perform the function of estrogen and can induce contractions. Similarly, ‘methi dana’ or fenugreek seeds also triggers early contractions leading to miscarriage.
Both of these spices are an essential part of the Indian diet during pregnancy and even served as a mouth freshener in restaurants, and it’s necessary for expecting moms to be mindful of it.
11 Superfoods for a healthy Indian diet during pregnancy
The emotional feeling of parenthood for most mothers begins from conception and not post-delivery, making this pregnancy journey paramount for moms-to-be. The concern of getting the right pregnancy nutrition starts right from the beginning and further goes throughout the kid’s childhood.
Here are some pregnancy superfoods which constitutes the best Indian diet during pregnancy:
1. Green leafy vegetables along with other seasonal and fresh vegetables: Dark leafy vegetables like spinach or palak, red and green amaranth, mustard leaves, coriander and pudina or mint are all regularly part of the Indian cuisine and adding them to your diet gives you the needed folate and iron.
Other bright and fresh vegetables like tomatoes, capsicum, peas, carrots, pumpkin are the natural sources from which other vitamins like A, C, and K are available.
2. Fresh fruits: The most nutrient-dense of all food groups are fresh fruits. Superfoods like avocado and berries give the needed antioxidants as well for a healthy pregnancy. It’s always best to have at least 400gms of vegetables and fruits in your diet. As part of having a healthy Indian diet during pregnancy, eating at least five portions of regional fruits and vegetables will provide the necessary calories and nutrition to support the mother’s and baby’s requirements.
3. Milk and dairy products: As per studies, for many women, the ability to digest milk and other lactose products improves during pregnancy, especially during the last trimesters. That means even if you are generally lactose intolerant, you would be able to digest it better without any discomfort when pregnant. Calcium from milk and dairy products helps develop bone density and the baby’s teeth and a good inclusion for an Indian diet during pregnancy.
4. Pulses and legumes: Legumes and pulses are a natural powerhouse of essential nutrients like potassium, folate, iron and magnesium and also provided needed soluble fibre that prevents haemorrhoids and constipation, which are common pregnancy problems.
Legumes are a generic part of the Indian diet during pregnancy, and it’s quite natural to give a lot of them as part of a staple Indian diet. Lentils like green moong dal, masoor dal, tur dal, lobia all come under this category. Other examples are kidney beans, peanuts, soybeans and peas. (Try this delicious recipe for Moong dal idli )
5. Eggs: It is important to note that pregnant women should eat only thoroughly cooked eat instead of mayonnaise and par-boiled eggs. Eggs contain omega-3s, antioxidants, proteins and 11 different vitamins and minerals, making it the perfect superfood to include as part of a balanced diet for pregnancy.
6. Dry fruits and nuts: Dry fruits like dried apricots, peanuts, walnuts, almonds are packed with readily available nutrients in just small quantities, making them an ideal snack option for pregnant moms.
Only a handful of dried apricots can provide 10% of daily iron needs. They also contain other minerals like omega -3s, potassium, magnesium, folate and calcium, regulating the digestive process.
7. Banana: Bananas provide the needed iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, B6, and fibre levels and even help get rid of constipation. Potassium in banana helps to regulate blood pressure and fluid, preventing pain and leg cramps.
Have one banana a day either at breakfast or a snack. As a variation, you can also try banana muffins and bread but be mindful of controlling sweetness. Preferably avoid added sugar to it as a fully ripe banana is sweet in itself, and excess sugar gives unhealthy calories.
8. Mint leaves or Pudina: Mint is a staple in Indian households, and it keeps digestive issues at bay and even said to relieve anxiety and stress, which is quite natural with the raging pregnancy hormones. Mint leaves or pudina are safe and healthy to include in the Indian diet during pregnancy.
9. Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are known to help with digestion with their high fibre content. Rich in vitamin A, having boiled sweet potatoes for a snack or sweet potato mash as a dinner side would improve skin and eyesight. Sweet potato chaat is a healthy snack option in the Indian diet during pregnancy.
10. Coconut water: Coconut water is an elixir available in plenty in India. This naturally occurring refreshing drink helps protect against infections, levels out fluids and electrolytes, improves the immune system and digestion and combats morning sickness. The generic feeling of tiredness and nausea is also taken care of by having a glass of coconut water a day.
11. Lemon or lemon water: Lemons have a soothing effect with their aroma and freshness and help to soothe vomiting sensation and nausea during the first trimester. Lemon water also helps with heartburn, and the vitamin C in lemon doubles up as natural immunity booster for the mom and baby.
Indian diet during pregnancy in the first trimester
The first trimester comes with its own set of challenges, from food aversions and fatigue to morning sickness and mood swings; chowing down food would initially be the most challenging task. Moreover, your body will be experiencing a surge of hormones as progesterone which can trigger digestion issues and reflux.
The primary culprit for pregnancy woes in the first trimester is morning sickness, a common issue for 90% of pregnancies. Finding healthy and easily acceptable food for the body is vital.
Thankfully, the Indian diet during pregnancy in the first trimester comes with a wide variety of natural and nutritious foods. (Also read: 5 nutrients you are probably not having enough during your first trimester)
Fruits: Fruits are both nutritious and enriched with antioxidants which provide the daily dose of Vitamin C, B, A and K along with minerals in the most natural way, with fewer chances of having aroma issues. Apparently, most morning sickness is also instigated by the aroma of food more than the actual taste. The India diet during pregnancy offers a wide variety of fruits for every season.
Yoghurt: Consuming bland foods which emit less to nil odours like yoghurts and flavoured yoghurts are the right choice during the first-trimester yoghurt also provides necessary calcium and probiotics that help with gut flora to flourish. Yogurt can be used in smoothies, lassi, and raita in the Indian diet during pregnancy.
Vegetables: The Indian diet during pregnancy in the first trimester includes many fresh vegetables as most of our curries are vegetable-based. Besides our palak and sabzi or vegetable side, having some broccoli, peas, carrot, and tomatoes contain many nutrients that pregnant women need for a healthy diet.
Milk: Milk is a good option for the first trimester, which provides a daily dose of calcium and minerals. Adding a few sprigs of saffron builds some flavour and also adds to the nutrient factor. Traditionally, milk and milk-made foods such as porridge, sweet vermicelli, chenna sweets, etch have always been a quintessential part of Indian diet during pregnancy. Aim for three portions of dairy per day is ideal.
Whole grains: As opposed to the refined form, whole grains retain the needed fibre, which helps in proper digestion, reduces the chances of haemorrhoids and constipation, and provides the necessary energy required for the growth of the placenta. The Indian diet during pregnancy has a treasure trove of whole grains. Bajra, jowar, oats, barley, whole wheat, corn and millets have always been part of Indian cuisine. (This Barley Paratha recipe is a must-try)
Folate rich foods: The first trimester is a crucial period for the baby’s initial formative moths. It’s the time when folate plays a key role. In addition to folate supplements that doctors prescribe, it’s always good to add natural sources to your diet like eggs, broccoli, oranges, beans and lentils, which the Indian diet during pregnancy have in abundance.
Ginger: Ginger helps with nausea, heartburn and morning sickness. Try ginger tea, grated ginger as topping in curries and parathas or ginger chews for faster relief. Be mindful of having moderate quantities.
Legumes: These plant-based sources of fibres are rich in iron, vitamin B9 and folate. During the first trimester, make curries with fewer spices and tadka or tempering to avoid nauseousness.
5 Pregnancy Nutrition Rules to follow
1. Stay hydrated: The thumb rule for the best diet for pregnancy is hydration. Not drinking enough water during the day when you are pregnant can have detrimental consequences for you and your baby.
Dehydration during pregnancy can cause severe complications like low amniotic fluids, neural tube defects and premature labour. During pregnancy, the quantity of water needed is more than regular. Early morning, start your day with a glass of water and track at least 8–12 glasses (200ml per glass) of liquids.
The Indian diet during pregnancy offers you refreshing options such as lemon water, chaach or buttermilk, lassi, and coconut water. Limit on caffeine to 200mg a day.
2. Eat a nutrient-rich diet: During the first trimester, an expecting mom must consume 1800 calories per day which goes up to 2200 calories per day for the second trimester and 2400 calories per day during the third trimester.
Ensure that all these calories come from nutrient-dense fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, milk and all healthy foods and not from junk foods, which you can have as a treat to keep the cravings at bay.
The Indian diet during pregnancy offers a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, which give you more nutrients than calories.
3. Eat prenatal supplements regularly: Keeping track of the quantities needed of each nutrient per day can be daunting, and no one can eat correctly every single day, which is why consuming vitamin supplements on time is imperative.
Iron and folic acid supplements are generally prescribed by all doctors, irrespective of the type of diet you follow. Women tend to stop iron supplementation as sometimes it hinders bowel movement. At any point, if you feel a supplement is causing extra discomfort, always check with your doctor than omitting it.
4. Snack well: Hunger pangs are usual during pregnancy, and it’s important to snack on healthy treats like a handful of nuts and seeds or granola bars, fruits, grain crackers with cheese, and the like. Planning your meal prior also helps. (Check out this super easy recipe for Dal Idli)
Make a diet chart for a week for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. This helps in better planning of healthy calories consumed.
The Indian diet during pregnancy features some of the most nutritious and low-calorie snack options like upma, idli, besan or oats cheelas, jhalmuri, etc, which satisfy the tastebuds as well as give you a feeling of satiety.
5. Restrict added sugars and extra salt: Moderation is the keyword. Occasional sugar treats are fine, but too much sugar can cause complications like gestational diabetes. The same rule goes for salt, the excess of which causes inflammatory processes, which is associated with preeclampsia and increased risk of miscarriage.
Ideally, foods high in sugar and salt have no role to play in the best diet for pregnancy.