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Healthy Eating for Pregnancy

The comfort food season has arrived! If you are pregnant your appetite is probably slightly higher than normal as well, especially during the last trimester. The combination of the cold weather and more of an appetite makes it easy to gain a little more pregnancy weight than necessary. Weight gain of about 12-16kg is essential and healthy during pregnancy (more if you start out your pregnancy very underweight i.e. with a Body Mass Index of less than 18.5kg/m2, and slightly less if you start out overweight). Most of your weight gain will be in the last trimester and it is due to increases in bodily fluids, breast tissue and the baby itself, as well as some increased fat storage to support your increased energy requirements during and after pregnancy.

There are two big concerns around overeating the wrong comfort foods: 1) Comfort foods are typically high in calories (usually refined flours, sugars and fats), but their nutritional value is low. Overeating comfort foods fills you up, but leaves you “starved” of the nutrients you really need – the vitamins, minerals and fibre, protein, good carbohydrates and good fats. 2) The nature of most comfort foods is that they are delicious and we are only human, so you are far more likely to eat more than you really need, which sets you up for blood sugar spikes and excessive weight gain. This is not only a problem during pregnancy, but it is particularly important to avoid during pregnancy because the health of your growing baby might be compromised if you gain excessive weight or have poorly controlled blood sugar levels. Hormonal changes during pregnancy create a certain amount of glucose intolerance to begin with, so it is advisable not to exacerbate the problem. Profile of a “bad” comfort food: Processed, delicious, starchy, salty or sweet, fatty, very concentrated energy i.e. relatively less satisfying than it should be because it is small (we are satisfied both by the amount and the type of food we eat, so this is important to consider when choosing foods, for example, a small chocolate bar has the same number of calories as a whole wheat tuna mayonnaise sandwich with salad). The best approach is not to deprive yourself of comforting foods, but to find healthier and more balanced alternatives that will provide physical and mental comfort, as well as great nutrition for you and your growing baby. Profile of a “good” comfort food: Whole or real food, delicious, contains good sources of carbohydrates in the right amounts, balanced with enough protein and good fat to make them satisfying, very nutrient dense, but relatively lower in calories for their size.

Some examples:

Oats porridge with milk, nuts, raisins, cinnamon and honey. Add a teaspoon of flax oil for some essential omega 3 fatty acids. Whole grain toast with peanut butter and slices of banana. Baked apple with a crumble made of oats, ground almonds, cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of sugar per serving of both sugar and coconut oil – serve with ¼ cup Greek yoghurt. Baked sweet potato makes a wonderful snack – drizzle with honey for a real treat, or add some ricotta or cottage cheese. A cup of home made chai tea (Warm 2 cups of milk in a saucepan with 2 rooibos teabags, 1 cinnamon stick, 2-3 crushed cardamom pods, 1 star anise, 4-5 pepper corns and a pinch of fennel seeds. When it comes to a simmer remove from heat and allow to infuse for at least 5 minutes before serving. Add 1-2 tsp honey.) Soups that contain some protein and good carbohydrates from vegetables and whole grains e.g. Roasted tomato soup with chickpeas or Chicken, Barley and Lentil Soup (see recipes). A bag of Woolworths soup and a can of chickpeas serves 2 for a quick lunch if you have not made your own soup. Add a slice of whole grain toast with some cheese or sardines to make a more substantial meal.

Some soup recipes for inspiration:

Roasted tomato and basil soup


1 1/5 kg ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise 2 tbsp olive oil 1 tablespoon salt (if you use a stock that has salt in it, do not add this here – rather add about 1 tsp and check seasoning later 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 onions, chopped 2 tbsp olive oil 6 garlic cloves, minced (if you love garlic J otherwise use a bit less) 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 1 can cherry tomatoes, or whole plum tomatoes, with their juice 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 1 litre chicken stock (Woolworths Organic Chicken Stock is good) or water

Method: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Toss together the tomatoes, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 35-35 minutes, until nicely browned on the edges. In a soup pot over medium heat, saute the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and red pepper flakes for 8-10 minutes, until the onions are translucent and start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Blend roughly so there are still some small pieces of tomato if you like that – otherwise blend until smooth. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Taste for seasonings – it might need some sugar. It is nice to add cooked chickpeas to the soup at the end to make it more substantial.

Chicken, barley and lentil soup

Ingredients: Either 6-8 chicken breasts, depending on size, or a whole chicken (if you use a whole chicken, factor in the time it takes to cool and remove the meat from the bones)

1 x 500g bag soup mix, plus ¼ bag barley 1 kg bag carrots, grated 2 large onions, finely chopped 1 large stick celery, finely chopped 2 bay leaves 2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable stock powder Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Fill a large pot with water and put on a medium to high heat. Add the soup mix and barley. Grate the carrots and chop the celery and onion, adding to the pot as you go. Add the stock powder and the bay leaves. Add the chicken and simmer gently until the chicken is cooked – breasts take 10-15min, a whole chicken might take 30min or more. Remove the chicken and cool. When the barley and soup mix is tender (approximately 40min after it comes to a simmer) remove from the heat, discard bay leaves and blend about 1/3 of the soup separately until it looks smooth and return it to the pot. Cut the chicken into pieces and return to pot. Before serving, heat through and season to taste, adding more stock powder or salt and pepper if it needs more flavour, or more water if it looks or feels too thick. Kelly Schreuder is a Registered Dietician and professional chef. She consults from her practice at the Velocity Sports Lab in Hout Bay and offers cooking demonstrations and private catering services in and around Cape Town. | 082 321 8463 | @CTdietician

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