..where little means a lot


A little fat can go a Long Way

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 body temperature.

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.

A totally fat free diet fails to provide sufficient calories and is unhealthy - fat is hence essential!

Fat Facts

  • 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 problems
  • Butter is preferred over margarine (margarine contains trans-fats) although it is loaded with saturated fat.
Cholesterol 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.

Cut the Fat

  • 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 well.
  • You may also want to cut back on foods that are prepared with a lot of fat e.g. anything fried or cream-based.
  • 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.

Essential 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
    Try 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.
  • Omega-3s and your Baby 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.
  • 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 labels properly.
  • 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 fat.

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