Posted on April 11, 2015

To mark the World Health Day, which focused on food safety this year, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is encouraging women to be particularly cautious about their nutrition during pregnancy.

Dr. Faten Al-Taher, Senior Consultant at HMC’s Women’s Hospital, explained: “The consumption of safe food and maintaining a healthy diet is important at all times; however, during pregnancy it becomes much more important since women undergo hormonal changes that affect their immune system. This means that it becomes harder for their bodies to resist infections and they are at an increased risk of developing certain kinds of food-borne illnesses.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the consumption of unsafe food can lead to a range of health problems including reproductive and developmental complications.  In some cases, food-related diseases may lead to a miscarriage, stillbirth or serious health troubles for the baby after birth. “It is therefore highly important for women to be aware that their health behavior, specifically their food habits, will directly affect their baby’s health. We want women to embrace their role as healthcare champions within their families and be proactive in ensuring food is handled and consumed safely,” Dr. Al-Taher added.

Taking some easy steps while handling food can eliminate food-related health risks, Dr. Al-Taher said. “One of the easiest safety measures is to ensure that mothers practice personal hygiene. This includes washing hands well with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds, before touching any food items, after using the toilet, and after touching pets,” she added. “In order to avoid cross-contamination, all knives, cutting boards and food preparation counters should be washed and disinfected with soap and warm water, specifically after touching raw poultry, meat and seafood. All fresh produce; such as fruits and vegetables, including those with skin, should be thoroughly rinsed before eating,” stressed Dr. Al-Taher.

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Additionally, it is advisable to store eggs as well as all other perishable foods in the refrigerator and use all precooked or ready-to-eat meals as soon as possible, Dr. Al-Taher said. “Some kinds of foods such as raw or uncooked meat, poultry, seafood, unwashed fruits or vegetables, soft cheeses can be contaminated with certain kinds of bacteria, which may be harmful for pregnant women. Therefore, it is advised that meats should be fully cooked, and all vegetables and fruits properly washed.”

A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any time, but especially during pregnancy women should eat a wide variety of nutritious foods and aim to be as healthy as possible, said Ms. Rihab Alsanosi, Dietitian Supervisor, Dietetics and Nutrition Department at HMC.

“These should include different kinds of bread, cereals, rice, pasta, and other grain foods, specifically those with wholegrain or high-fiber. Vegetables and fruit provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber which help prevent constipation. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt, provide the calcium the mother’s body needs. During pregnancy the mother’s body also requires more protein intake such as meat, fish, chicken, legumes, and eggs,” Ms. Alsanosi added.

Moreover, when pregnant, the mother’s body also requires a lot more energy in the form of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, to support the healthy development of the baby. “It is recommended that women seek advice from a practicing dietician to avoid consuming too much of any kind of vitamin as each woman’s body is different and will require different levels of nutrients,” she cautioned.

Some other tips, recommended by Ms. Alsanosi for healthy food intake during pregnancy include: eating five or six times a day (three main meals, and three healthy snacks), limiting intake of foods high in sugars and fat such as soft drinks, chocolate, oil, cream and sweets as these are high in calories but low in nutritional value, drinking a lot of water (at least 8 to 10 cups a day), and reducing intake of caffeine  such as in coffee, soft drinks and tea. 

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