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Depression and anxiety are common among pregnant women. It is multifactorial and the core reasons for one’s depression can differ from one person to the other. Interestingly, there is more and more research on how impactful a diet is for our mental health. It hypothesized that how well you eat can have an impact on your mental health.
First and foremost, a balanced diet is the foundation of any healthy diet. How then should you try to achieve this, you might ask? You can always use the “quarter, quarter, half” rule. This rule should be your bread and butter concept every single time you are at the dining table. This helps you to gauge how much of each main group you should be eating on a plate. A quarter of the plate should be filled with your choice of staple, another quarter of the plate should be filled with your choice of animal or plant-based protein and one-half of the plate should be filled with vegetables! This simple practice at every meal time would help to ensure that you are taking sufficient macronutrients from your diet and minimize deficiency of certain micronutrients.
Fish twice a week
How many of us are aware of our fish intake? Are you keeping in check how often you consume Omega 3-DHA-rich fish per week? You may have never thought about this before but the recommended intake of fish to support mothers during pregnancy for a healthy diet and mental health is two servings of low mercury fish per week such as Salmon, Skipjack Tuna, Saba fish or Cod fish to name a few. Fish like these are also rich in Omega 3-DHA!
Omega 3-DHA is anti-inflammatory, which interacts with mood-related molecules in the brain that helps to relieve depression. Besides that, Omega 3-DHA intakes also help with brain development of the fetus during pregnancy too! Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
Fiber from fruits and vegetables
Yes, yes, this may sound boring to you but it is true! Fruits and vegetables are good for you! Beyond merely providing you fiber to ensure smooth bowel movements, the different colours of fruits and vegetables carry phytochemicals that are beneficial for good health! How so? These phytochemicals are anti-inflammatory and play an important role in reducing the risk of incidence and mortality from heart diseases and stroke. Besides that, higher intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with lower risk of depression. The nutrient content of these fruits and vegetables like Beta-carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E have been reported to be effective antioxidants. It was also hypothesized that folate that can be found in fruits and vegetables are involved in neurotransmitters in the brain that are related to mood.
Vitamin D has been a key topic in many health discussions these days. During the Covid pandemic, doctors were finding Covid patients with lower Vitamin D status levels having a higher mortality risk. In Singapore, it was found that more than 40% of mothers during pregnancy had suboptimal levels of Vitamin D. This is worrying as there is growing evidence of the inverse association between Vitamin D levels and the risk of depression during pregnancy and postpartum. Vitamin D provides a protective effect on the brain from depression.
Unfortunately, Vitamin D rich foods are very limited. Vitamin D is mainly obtained from exposure to the sun on our skin. Despite living in such a tropical country where we are blessed to enjoy the sun all year round, these days many of us are either working from home or stuck in tall office buildings from dawn to dusk.
This lifestyle and working environment do put many of us at risk of Vitamin D deficiency or inadequacy. Thus, it is important for many of us to obtain our healthy dose of Vitamin D from more sun exposure and vitamin D rich foods.
If all is lost, we should consider discussing with our healthcare professionals to assess your risk and the need to be supplemented appropriately. If we are recommended to obtain 10 mcg of Vitamin D per day during pregnancy. Some sources of vitamin D rich foods available easily in Singapore’s supermarkets are fortified soy, fortified orange juice, fortified dairy milk, sun-exposed shiitake mushrooms, salmon tuna, sardines and eggs!
Bonus tip: fermented foods
In certain cultures, traditional cuisines would have fermented foods such as Kimchi in Korean cuisine, fermented soy in Japanese cuisine and Sauerkraut in German cuisine. Researchers have found such fermented food may be beneficial in promoting beneficial strains of bacteria for our gut. What researchers know now is that the more diverse your gut, the more optimal your gut can work for you! In terms of mental health, it seems like specific strains of certain beneficial microbiome can provide some neuroprotective effect against depression in people. Some researchers may suggest it’s not just about the beneficial bacteria in such foods like fermented soy in Japanese cuisine, it also due to the spectrum of bioactive compounds like isoflavones, lignans and sterols which may have direct effect on the gut- brain axis.
So if you are used to having such traditional foods during meal time, it is okay to incorporate them into your diet periodically. Alternatively, foods like yogurt, kefir and cultured milk are some of the safer options you can try during pregnancy if you are keen to incorporate some fermented foods into your diet. This is because these commercialized products like yogurt, kefir and cultured milk are often pasteurized prior to the fermentation process which are done in a more controlled environment where only the beneficial bacteria thrives.
Beyond looking at specific foods, it is the specific dietary practices you do day in and day out that counts! Whether it’s food during pregnancy or food for confinement, a balanced diet is the foundation to good physical and mental health. Being aware of the frequency of intake of specific foods rich in Omega 3-DHA, Vitamin D and fermented foods should come second in line to make your meals during pregnancy more ideal to support your mental health!
Similar concept should be applied to confinement foods. These days, there are so many choices of confinement food in Singapore. Pick one that will support you to eat a healthy and balanced diet as you recover during confinement.