Proteins are the building blocks of our body. Right from hormones, enzymes, muscle, skin and bones, proteins are required for the formation of each. No wonder the requirement of this macro nutrient in a woman’s body increases drastically when she is pregnant. With constant wear and tear of the body along with a life growing in the womb, it is very important for the mother to be to have a good protein diet throughout her pregnancy. In fact, a good protein diet even before conceiving can help strengthen the uterus and make it ready for the life to come.
What do we mean when we say a good protein diet? We need to have a deeper understanding of this so that we can make informed decisions regarding our food choices.
Well, proteins are made of different amino acids of which some can be synthesized in the body and some need to be ingested via food. The one’s which need to be taken from our diet are essential amino acids. They also help our body synthesize other proteins. Thus a good protein source will be the one which has all the essential amino acids. Such sources generally are considered as having a high biological value protein which means they are better absorbed and their composition is very similar to that required by a human body.
Generally animal proteins have high biological value but even a vegetarian diet can be made to have a good protein by including right combinations. For e.g. khichdi, a combination of rice and lentil completes the requirement of all essential amino acids as they both compensate for the deficit in each thus making it a good protein source.
Here is a list of some good protein sources that should be included in pregnant woman’s diet:-
1) Eggs– not only are they a good source of protein but also contain selenium, zinc , vitamin A ,D and certain B Complex which are essential during pregnancy. The only precaution to be taken is that the egg should be well cooked or boiled, otherwise it may pose a risk of infection which can be transferred to the baby. Hard boiled or well cooked egg is a safe option. Obese or women having a high cholesterol can limit the intake of egg yolks. They can a be a quick and a healthy option for mid meal snacks or sudden hunger pangs.
2) Poultry(chicken)– Lean meats like chicken breast also provide good protein. Make sure you have it skinless as it reduces the amount of cholesterol and saturated fats greatly thus making it a healthy option.
3) Dairy products– Low fat milk and it’s products not only provide good protein but are also a very good source of calcium. Milk, cottage cheese, buttermilk, yogurt and hard cheese are good options to include in diet of a pregnant woman.
While choosing the packaged products, make sure that they are pasteurized. The non pasteurized variety can pose risk of bacterial infections which can be harmful to the mother as well as the baby. Avoid soft cheese as some are not pasteurized.
4) Legumes/pulses– They form a good source of protein in vegetarian diet. As mentioned earlier, having them with rice makes them a complete protein food. Green peas, soybeans, chick peas, kidney beans, lentils, green gram dal, etc can be easily included in the diet for a pregnant woman. Also they are packed with fiber and folate which makes them a good choice for the mothers to be.
5) Nuts and seeds- Almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and peanuts are good protein sources. They are also rich in minerals, fiber and essential fatty acids. However with the debate still on with regards to their consumption during pregnancy, it is advisable to consume them in limited quantity after the first trimester. If a pregnant woman has a known allergy to any of these, then it’s best to avoid it.
6) Soy milk and Tofu– They are power packed with proteins. They also contain essential fatty acids, calcium and other minerals essential during pregnancy. They are low fat and since they are plant proteins, they have no cholesterol which makes them a good substitute for eggs and lean meats for vegetarians. However pregnant women with thyroid should avoid it.
Pregnancy is a very crucial stage in every woman’s life and thus one has to be very careful of the quality and the quantity of the food choices they make. Remember, Anything in excess is bad and so is protein. Moderation is the key!