Immediately I discovered I was pregnant with Kitty, one of the first things I did was to rush to the nearby kiosk and buy lots of oranges, spinach and sukuma wiki. I remember joking with Mama Wachira the vegetable vendor by telling her:
‘Tafathali kata kata haraka, iko emergency”.
The emergency was I was in panic mode because I hadn’t been eating that many greens or oranges, and I remembered that I had once written an article on a child with special needs -a child with Spina Bifida. I was young then, around 27 (is that young ?) and I remember the girls’ mum telling me to make sure I eat enough spinach, sukuma wiki and oranges if I was ever planning to have a baby as they contain good amounts of folic acid. She told me that if she’d had good amounts of folic acid before and during her pregnancy, she believed her child wouldn’t have gotten Spina Bifida. So as I was speeding up Mama Wachira, this mom’s words are what were ringing in my mind. When I got home, I cooked the greens and hurriedly gobbled them up, then I drafted up a menu of the foods I would eat for the next nine months. In came in the nduma’s, ngwaci’s and all the fruits in the world -and out went the almost daily pizza’s, fries and kuku sama.
So why did I draw up a tentative menu? Because I wanted to make healthy choices for both me and baby. I wanted to focus on good nutrition throughout my pregnancy.
So anyway, if you are pregnant and want to focus on a healthy diet, here are some insights shared by Catherine Kathure, a Nairobi-based nutritionist who I spoke to.
MT: What are the nutritional needs for a pregnant woman?
CK: An average pregnancy requires extra calories during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. This is due to increased energy needs for the mother in order to be able to perform her daily activities such as walking, as well as energy needed by the growing baby. Carbohydrate foods that provide for this energy include; maize, rice, potatoes, breakfast cereals, sweet potatoes and wheat products such as bread.
A pregnant woman also needs to ensure she takes a sufficient amount of proteins, as these help in the formation as well as the repair of body cells. Foods rich in proteins include meat, eggs, beans, milk etc.
Vitamins are also crucial in her diet. Folate (a B vitamin) for instance is required for DNA synthesis and red blood cells formation. Inadequate intake can cause foliate-related anemia and in severe cases can lead to birth defects such as spina-bifida (where the development of spinal cord is impaired). A pregnant or a woman looking forward to conceiving requires about 600 mcg of folate. Major Sources of folate include; peanuts, asparagus, broccoli, beans, spinach.
Adequate amounts of calcium are needed by her growing baby, as this helps in bone formation, as well as reduce her susceptibility to osteoporosis (where bones become weak). Sources of calcium include; milk, yoghurt, fish, broccoli, spinach and cheese.
Iodine is also an important mineral since it is associated with fetal development. Sources of iodine include; table salt, bread and fish. Severe lack can lead to mental and physical retardation of the baby.
Iron is required for the synthesis of greater amounts of hemoglobin needed during pregnancy and also for the provision of iron stores for the growing baby. Sources of iron include; liver, kidney beans, spinach and egg yolk.
N/B: To enhance iron absorption, foods rich in vitamin C should be consumed together with iron-rich foods. Caffeine and tea or sodas during meals should be avoided, unless they are taken 30 minutes before or after meals.
MT: Should a pregnant mom eat for two?
CK: When it comes to a pregnant woman’s diet, what matters is the quality of the diet and not necessarily the quantity. Therefore a pregnant woman should ensure that she takes a completely balanced diet in order to meet all her nutritional needs.
So there you are, hope this helps. Best wishes to all the pregnant women out there.
PS: The list of the above foods is not exhaustive.
Nutritionist Catherine Kathure can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org