National Pregnancy Awareness Week: Helpful tips on nutrition to ensure healthy pre-birth stage

Pregnancy and food concept. Picture supplied.

Pregnancy and food concept. Picture supplied.

Published Feb 10, 2023


In keeping with National Pregnancy Awareness Week, dietitian Maretha Vermaak from Rediscover Dairy offers nutritional advice to expectant moms to help them better prepare for their pregnancies and to emphasise crucial points that support a healthy pregnancy and secure parenthood.

We are aware, thanks to scientific evidence, that a baby's nutrition can influence both his or her health as a baby right through to adulthood. When a developing baby is not adequately nourished in the womb, it increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cognitive impairment in adulthood.

It's normal for mothers to be concerned about whether their cravings might harm their unborn child. However, food craving is a natural occurrence during pregnancy.

This behaviour, sometimes known as "selective hunger", is characterised by a strong urge to eat a particular meal or ingest particular nutrients. This type of hunger is very different from what is felt during normal hunger and may lead other people to overlook certain foods.

Although food cravings are a common occurrence during pregnancy and are caused by the nutritional needs of the developing foetus. It’s all just a mechanism that plays a vital role in ensuring normal prenatal and postnatal development.

It is crucial to ensure that your diet is supplemented with sufficient nutrients during pregnancy according to a scientific study on: Is there a relationship between children's behaviour and food cravings during pregnancy? Published by the Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences.

Nutrition is the most significant non-genetic element affecting foetal development during pregnancy. It is well known that folate, B vitamins, and iron, calcium are essential nutrients to maintain a healthy pregnancy.

However, one extra micronutrient that is often overlooked is iodine, said Vermaak.

Iodine plays a role in the production of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones influence the mother's energy metabolism and promote the baby's growth and development during the first trimester.

It is also a necessary nutrient for healthy brain growth, which may have an impact on the children's neurocognitive outcomes in later life.

She goes on to state that: “During pregnancy, thyroid hormone production increases by 50%, which means you need to make iodine-rich foods part of your diet. In South Africa, many people meet their iodine needs by using iodised salt.

“However, as eating a lot of salt is generally not recommended, especially for those with high blood pressure, it is best not to rely on iodised salt as your only source of iodine. Milk and dairy products can contribute greatly to iodine intake.”

What else may be missing?

Fibre! Vermaak further asserts that a high-fibre diet not only has many health advantages but can also aid in preventing constipation when pregnant. Many women experience constipation during pregnancy brought on by elevated progesterone levels, which cause the muscles of the digestive system to relax.

However, if you focus on including legumes, nuts, and seeds in your protein arsenal, you will get good sources of both insoluble and soluble fibre. You should also choose whole grains such as wholewheat bread, high-fibre cereals, and oats, and eat a variety of vegetables and fruit every day to add enough fibre to your diet, advises Vermaak.

“So it is best to aim for small changes that make a big nutritional difference. Improving the quality of your protein intake during pregnancy can have a dramatic impact on your nutrient intake, especially when it comes to nutrients that are critical for proper growth and development.”

Here’s a quick and easy, nutrient-dense Smoothie Bowl recipe that helps you meet many of the optimal nutrition requirements during your pregnancy courtesy of Rediscover Dairy :


· 2 handfuls of baby spinach

· 3/4 of an apple

· 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger

· 1/2 mango, frozen

· 200ml plain full cream yoghurt

· Toasted nuts, seeds, raisins, small dollops of full cream yoghurt, and cinnamon for toppings.


In a high-powered blender add the spinach, apple, ginger, frozen mango, and full-cream yoghurt. Blend until nice and smooth. You can add a small amount of water just to get it going.

Pour your smoothie into a bowl and garnish the top with anything that takes your fancy, like toasted nuts, seeds, and raisins as well as a couple of small dollops of full cream yoghurt. Then add a small dusting of cinnamon.

Good to note, this 350ml Smoothie Bowl achieves 35% of the daily recommended protein intake, 61.5% of the daily recommended iodine intake, and almost 40% daily recommended calcium intake, for pregnant women.