Fat almost always gets a bad reputation despite
being an important nutrient, more so during pregnancy.
As soon as you become pregnant, especially in
the first three months, your baby will need a
good supply of fat for the formation of the brain
and nervous cardiovascular system. Eaten in moderation
it succeeds in carrying out its other functions
i.e. to provide energy, to aid in the absorption
and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins A,
D, E and K, to cushion organs and to regulate
However if taken in excess or if the wrong kind
of fats are consumed, then fat can become a health
hazard. All pregnant women should get 20-40% of
their calories from fat.
totally fat free diet fails to provide
sufficient calories and is unhealthy
– fat is hence essential!
• Fat is a very concentrated source of calories
• Ounce for ounce, fat is also the most concentrated
source of energy
• A gram of fat has 9 calories, twice as many
as protein or carbohydrates
• Dietary fats or triglycerides come in a
few forms; the major kinds that we eat include saturated,
polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans-fatty
acids or hydrogenated fats
• Healthy fats are the unsaturated versions
(monounsaturated and polyunsaturated)
• The two types of polyunsaturated fats which
our bodies cannot manufacture but must have anyway
are linoleic acid (omega-6) and linolenic acid (omega-3)
• Saturated fats and trans-fatty acids can
increase blood cholesterol levels and lead to health
• Butter is preferred over margarine (margarine
contains trans-fats) although it is loaded with
Cut the Fat
is often confused with fat but they
are not the same. Cholesterol is a fat-like
substance but it differs in structure
and function. It provides no energy
and therefore has no calories.
• During pregnancy some women find problems
eating enough food at one go and so do not get all
the calories their body requires. In such cases
a diet that has up to 40% of fat can supply a concentrated
source of nutrients and calories. This may come
as a surprise and even sound absurd to some, especially
if you are already overweight.
• If weight is an issue, cut back on high-fat
foods. Do not eliminate fat from your diet totally
– your baby needs the essential fatty acids to grow
• You may also want to cut back on foods that
are prepared with a lot of fat e.g. anything fried
• You may want to keep an eye out for the
many places fat tends to show up (the oil in your
salad dressing, the butter on your cake, the mayonnaise
on your chicken sandwich).
• High-fat foods which you may want to slash
or minimize include cream sauces, full fat cheese,
whole milk yogurt, nuts and seeds and fatty meats.
• Lower your intake of dietary cholesterol
and saturated fat without losing the flavor. For
instance choose leaner meats, cook meat without
the skin and trim off the excess fat; use egg whites
in place of whole eggs. Sometimes go for vegetarian
meals with beans and soy products. Keep an eye on
the food labels to watch your daily intake of fat,
saturated fat and cholesterol.
Fatty Acids and your Diet
Although all fats contain an equivalent content
of calories, there are different types of fat. Certain
types are termed essential because our bodies cannot
manufacture them. Essential fats are the omega-3
fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Most people
are deficient in both of these fats. Both help in
the key bodily functions such as regulating blood
pressure, blood clotting, and ensuring our immune
system responds well. Omega-3 works a step further
by reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and
may offer some protection against breast cancer.
a) Omega 6s
Omega 6 or linoleic acid is converted by the body
into gamma-linolenic acid or GLA. The ideal intake
during pregnancy is around 200mg of GLA. GLA gets
converted into prostaglandins in the body. These
hormone-like substances help keep the blood thin,
relax blood vessels, lower blood pressure, maintain
water balance in the body, improve nerve and immune
function and help insulin work which is good for
blood glucose balance. A lack of this fat during
pregnancy can have serious repercussions after baby
is born such as overall poor growth, diarrhea, skin
and hair problems, and poor utilization of food
for energy. The best sources are seed oils such
as hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, safflower, sesame,
corn, walnut soy bean and wheat germ.
b) Omega 3s
Our diets are more likely to be deficient in Omega
3 fats in comparison to omega 6 mainly because alpha
linolenic acid, EPA and DHA get easily destroyed
during cooking and processing. EPA and DHA are converted
into another series of prostaglandins which are
necessary for proper brain function, proper eye
formation and learning ability of the fetus. They
also help control blood cholesterol and fat levels,
improve immune function and metabolism, reduce inflammation
and maintain water balance. You should aim for 1000
mg of omega-3s everyday – fish, seafood (salmon,
anchovies, sardines etc) are your best sources.
The fattier the fish, the higher this fatty acid
content. Egg yolks, the leaves and seeds of many
plants, soybeans, nuts, oils such as canola, flaxseed
and olive and walnut are the other sources.
c) Omega-3s and your Baby
eggs that are enriched with omega-3
fatty acids – these eggs come from chickens
whose feed is fortified with flaxseed
and fish oils. These eggs contain 2-6
times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids
compared to regular eggs.
Eating the right kind of fat is vital – a baby's
brain and nervous system depends on it. Just like
an adult's brain, your baby's brain is composed
primarily of fats; their hearts and blood vessels
are also rich in fatty membranes. An adequate supply
of fats is important throughout your child's life
but equally important is for you to consume these
fatty acids during your pregnancy and breastfeeding
months. These fatty acids are important to the well
being of your unborn child. The omega 3 fat DHA
(docosahexaenoic acid) promotes good development
of baby's vision, proper brain growth and nervous
system, and also appears to prevent the trigger
of preterm labor. Especially important in the last
month of pregnancy and the initial months of breastfeeding,
DHA is needed for optimum fetal brain development.
Findings show a deficiency during pregnancy can
lead to permanent learning difficulties while a
good supply of DHA can enhance a baby's brainpower.
d) Omega-3s and Postpartum Depression
Studies indicate that there is a link between DHA
shortage and postpartum depression. Studies also
show that DHA decreases considerably during pregnancy
so including DHA in your diet not only helps in
baby's development but also helps curb postpartum
depression. Research shows that women who consumed
greater amounts of seafood during the final trimester
were less likely to exhibit signs of major depression
for up to eight months post delivery. To derive
the benefits of this fatty acid, try and consume
seafood 2-3 times a week; alternatively you can
get a good supply by taking a pure fish oil supplement
or a supplement that provides 400mg of EPA, 200mg
of DHA and 200mg of GLA. However beware that some
fish oil supplements can contain high levels of
vitamin A which can cause birth defects if taken
in high doses. (It is best to check with your doctor).
• A diet high in saturated fat and trans-fat
(damaged polyunsaturated fats found in processed
and fried foods) stops the body from making adequate
use of the little essential fats consumed in a day.
• When vegetable oils or polyunsaturated oils
are refined or processed, the structure or nature
of the oil changes. The making of margarine and
shortening exemplifies this.
• To convert the vegetable oil into 'hard'
fat, it is 'hydrogenated', a chemical process which
hardens liquid vegetable oils into solid fats. Technically
it remains as polyunsaturated fat but the body cannot
make use of it.
• Furthermore it inhibits the use of healthy
polyunsaturated fats and raises cholesterol levels.
• Most margarines contain these hydrogenated
polyunsaturated fats and are best avoided. However
if you do buy margarines, look for ones made mainly
with monounsaturated fats, rapeseed or olive oil
or those with zero trans-fats.
• Other foods that contain hydrogenated oils
are biscuits, cakes and ready meals so check the
• Frying is another way to damage healthy
oils. The high temperature oxidizes the oil, turning
it rancid and generates harmful 'free radicals'
in the body. Avoid frying, burning or browning the