Are pregnant women really eating well?

Do you ever wonder if other pregnant women are able to get their 5 serves of vegetables in each day? Do you feel that you are the only one that is not able to meet those requirements? Do you feel as though you are not supported during pregnancy when it comes to improving your diet for a healthy pregnancy?

You are most definitely not alone! Research dating back to the early 2000’s suggests that pregnant women struggle to meet nutrient and food group recommendations. Not only in Australia, but internationally, pregnant women are simply not getting their 5 servings of vegetables each day, and from food alone, are not meeting requirements for important nutrients. There are a variety of barriers to eating ‘well’ during pregnancy, some being knowledge of pregnancy requirements, time, nausea (oh the dreaded morning sickness), bowel changes, food ‘rules’ and many more – can you think of any?

Healthy pregnancy diet

What are the current diets of pregnant women?

Did you know that the majority of pregnant women are eating more ‘junk’ food than our guidelines recommend?

What does that mean, you ask?

Pregnant women generally are consuming diets that are higher in energy, total fat, saturated fat, added sugars and salt. Additionally, diets of pregnant women are lacking in fibre and important pregnancy nutrients, particularly iron (Blumfield et al., 2011). 

Our very own The Dietologist dietitian, Kaylee, recently published a study that observed the dietary patterns of pregnant women from Newcastle, here in Australia, in their third trimester of pregnancy. The aim of this study was to provide updated data on the current dietary intakes of a nationally representative sample of Australian pregnant women (Slater et al., 2020). 

Healthy eating for pregnancy

So what did Kaylee find?

  • None of the 534 women (yes you read that correctly, a big ol’ zero) met the food group recommendations for all of the food groups in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. These food groups are vegetables, fruit, meat and alternatives, dairy and alternatives and breads and cereals.
  • Only 3 women out of 534 women met the recommendation for breads and cereals (8.5 servings per day), which is equivalent to consuming 8 and a half slices of bread each day!
  • The food group goal that was most likely to be achieved was fruit, however only 38% of women in their third trimester in this sample met 2 or more serves of fruit per day.
  • Only 7 women met the pregnancy iron requirement (as we were looking at the data from a population, instead of an individual, we used the estimated average requirement (EAR), which is 22mg/day. 
  • Only 4 women met the nutrient requirements for all 5 of the important nutrients during pregnancy (iron, folate, calcium, zinc and fibre). Note there are more very important nutrients in pregnancy, however for this study we only picked 5.

Now, it is important to note that many women find it difficult to meet 5 servings of vegetables during pregnancy, particularly in their first trimester. Think of a time (if there was one) where you felt nauseous. Perhaps you had food poisoning or even morning sickness. Did you feel like eating veggies, and more importantly, could you even stomach veggies? 

The thing is, only 22% of women will experience morning sickness all the way into their third trimester, leaving almost three-quarters of women in their third trimester with limited barriers to reaching their veggie targets!

Tips on eating healthy for pregnancy

Can these even be achieved through food alone?

You will hear us bang on about supplements, well…. A LOT. While we promote food first, always, there comes a time where supplements have their place. In fertility and especially in pregnancy, with large nutrient targets such as iron, it can feel nearly impossible to hit the mark every single day!

Learn about how to choose a prenatal supplement.

Kaylee’s study found that 74% of women in the sample reported taking ‘supplements’. What those supplements were, unfortunately we could not determine from the questions asked. 

Interestingly, a Canadian study demonstrated that 97% of pregnant women had dietary intakes of iron below the proposed target; however, with supplementation, only 10% of women had inadequate iron intakes (Bubois et al., 2017).

Additionally, Kaylee’s study saw that:

  • The average intake of folate was just above the population target (520 mg/day) at 525 mg/day.
  • The average intake of calcium was below the population target (840 mg/day) at 769.5 mg/day.
  • The average intake of iron was well below the population target (22 mg/day) at 10.1 mg/day.

Note that these recommendations are based on population intake, when thinking about your own intake, you will use the RDI (recommended dietary intake), which for every nutrient is higher.

Get in touch to book a virtual express prenatal supplement consult with us!

Nutrition for pregnancy

The good news is that at The Dietologist, we are here to support you throughout your pregnancy, and help you reach your nutrition targets in a practical way for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby! Our goal is to optimise your nutrient intake, taking into account your individual situation and the variety of symptoms you may be experiencing that can make it hard to reach those goals!

While we put out a lot of information, this general information is not tailored to your individual needs, so if you are feeling overwhelmed, please book in for a chat with us!

Our goal is that EVERY pregnant woman (early in trimester 1) will see a pregnancy dietitian to set her up for a well-nourished pregnancy!

If you are a research nerd like we are, go read Kay’s full paper! If not (and that is totally fine), here is a summary for you.

Summary: Pregnancy Nutrition

  • The majority of pregnant women across Australia and worldwide are not meeting food group recommendations during pregnancy.
  • The majority of pregnant women are not meeting their nutrient intakes from food alone.
  • In particular, iron and breads, and cereals intake are problematic (too low!) during pregnancy.
  • Women need more support during pregnancy to meet requirements, or if not meet, get closer than we currently are!
  • Don’t stop taking your prenatal after the first trimester! Keep it going there are too many nutrients at risk to go without, unless advised by your healthcare provider.
  • The need for individualised nutrition advice for women during pregnancy is imperative and here at The Dietologist we are working tirelessly to provide that to you!

Are you looking for practical, helpful and science-based support in understanding and managing your nutrition during pregnancy? Book in with Kaylee today to get you started on a healthier pregnancy!

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