When I run pregnancy nutrition workshops in Beijing, people tend to ask similar questions from session to session. Below are some answers to the most frequently-asked questions:
My diet is good, I’m in good health, and I’m taking prenatal vitamins. Do I need anything else?
I would suggest vitamin D, because the body’s demand for it increases during pregnancy. Milk isn’t fortified with vitamin D in China, and other food sources are often inadequate. Sunlight is a primary source of vitamin D, but many women avoid sun exposure at all costs due to pollution, cold weather, or worries about skin darkening. Prenatal vitamins typically don’t contain enough vitamin D, so supplementation is often needed. Get your blood vitamin D levels checked to get an idea of what you’re missing.
Also, make sure you’re getting enough omega-3 fats to help build your baby’s brain and protect yours. Walnut or flaxseeds oils are a good place to start, as most healthy individuals can convert these into brain-building forms of fatty acids. However, a small percentage of people can’t convert them, and it’s hard to know for sure without a genetic test. So, adding some fish or krill oils may be the best option.
I get leg cramps in the middle of the night. Will taking calcium help?
Taking calcium or even large amounts of dairy may trigger even more middle-of-the-night cramps, because calcium is linked to muscle contractions rather than relaxation. What many pregnant women need more of is magnesium, a nutrient that modern diets lack. Focus on dark green vegetables and whole grains, particularly buckwheat (qiaomai, 荞麦). I don’t mean merely munching a salad a day, either. To get a full range of healthy micronutrients, including magnesium, vegetables should make up at least 50 percent of your daily food intake. Variety helps, so try adding the following foods to help boost magnesium intake: black beans (heidou, 黑豆), pumpkin seeds (nanguazi, 南瓜子), almonds (xingren, 杏仁) and spinach (bocai, 菠菜).
You’re telling me to eat more vegetables, but I’m worried about the food in China!
Apart from shopping for fresh, organic produce whenever possible, it makes sense to eat a variety of vegetables and wash everything thoroughly. I understand the temptation to buy imported foods, but they are often packaged. Packaged items tend to be high in calories, low in nutrients, and cannot deliver enough micronutrients and healthy plant chemicals such as phytonutrients. All of these nutrients play a role in maintaining a healthy pregnancy and in protecting you and your baby from all types of pollution. Eating a healthy diet also affects what part of your child’s genetic code gets turned on or off, as well as playing an important role in adult health.
This article is excerpted from beijingkids October 2012 issue. View it in PDF form here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out where you can pick up your free copy.