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Fitness freak

No more eating for two

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Fitness-conscious women are counting calories during pregnancy. And doctors say it's good for both mum and babies.

One of the upsides of pregnancy is guilt-free eating. It is a time to gorge on ghee-soaked paranthas with oily pickle and dispatch the husband on an ice-cream hunt in the wee hours because the 'baby wants to have a chocolate chip sundae'. But Lavina Tauro's pregnancy was very different. The 33-year-old Mumbaikar did not touch sweets or fried items and she got her entire day's food cooked in less than three teaspoons of oil.

Tauro is among a small but growing breed of fitness conscious women who diet during pregnancy to ensure the nine months don't leave them with saddle bags, double chins and flabby arms. At least five mothers-to-be approach Mumbai-based nutritionist Pooja Makhija and Dr Manisha Bandishti, who runs a lifestyle management clinic in Pune, every month for guidance even though they don't suffer from conditions like gestational diabetes or hypertension. "These women too want healthy babies but they don't want to be ten sizes bigger by the end of it, " says Makhija, a mother-of-two whose slender frame makes her look like the screen divas she usually counsels.

Grannies needn't throw their arms up in disbelief for babies born to these caloriecounting mothers are perfectly healthy, say experts. Tauro's son, now five months old, weighed 3. 4 kilos at birth (the healthy weight is 2. 8 kg) even though she had put on only eight kilos during her pregnancy. "My mother was very apprehensive initially. But my baby was developing very well so she figured I was doing the right thing, " says the Mumbai resident. A senior executive in a media firm, Tauro managed to work till the day she went into labour. "I used to feel and look so fresh because of my eating pattern that people found it hard to believe I was pregnant, " she adds.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal showed that dieting is safe, and even beneficial, during pregnancy. Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London, analysed the results of 44 trials involving more than 7, 000 women and found that the risks of pre-eclampsia - which causes high blood pressure - diabetes and premature birth can all be reduced if the expectant mother sticks to a healthy, calorie-controlled diet.

It would've been alright if mommiesto-be stuck to the health and fitness goals. Unfortunately, some pregnant women take up diets to give birth to 'fair, intelligent' babies or to have a boy. A south Delhi dietician, who does not wish to be named, claims a woman who had been following her diet from the first trimester recently gave birth to a baby who looked liked a "pink rose" even though both she and her husband are dark. On a more serious note, though, the nutritionist emphasises that there is no magic potion and that the baby's complexion may have been clear because of "right eating".

While there's no scientific research to back up this explanation, what is well known is that certain foods, like coconuts, improve the quality of the skin and hair. This reason is enough for Makhija to prescribe a piece of fresh coconut daily for her pregnant clients. "It works, " says Tauro, "My boy was born with his head full of silky hair. " Babies born to mothers who eat healthy also tend to be more alert and active, say nutritionists. The south Delhi nutritionist claims most of the babies born to her clients score a perfect 10 in the APGAR test - an assessment of the newborn's pulse, responsiveness and other parameters of physical well-being - done immediately after birth. "The children also fall sick less often. My clients have told me that they need to take their children to the paediatrician only for immunisation, " she adds.

The diet plans drawn up for expectant mothers aim to help them limit weight gain, more so when the woman is already overweight. Experts say a woman with normal weight at the time of conception needs to gain only nine to 12 kilos - a figure that most pregnant women tend to shoot above. Makhija says pregnancy increases the body's calorie requirement by just 150-200 calories per day so she makes sure her clients get exactly that much more.

Dieticians also dispel myths regarding consumption of certain foods. "Elders often ban bananas and eggs saying they release too much heat. But these are, in fact, very beneficial during pregnancy" says Bandishti. She gives a trimester-specific diet to women. For instance, she recommends good fats and omega-3-rich foods, like flax seeds and fish to those in the third trimester as this is the final stage of the baby's brain development. In the first trimester, she suggests eggs and lean chicken as they are rich in vitamin B12 as well as foods with folic acid to aid in the formation of the nerve cells of the foetus and avoid anaemia.

The dieticians also make sure that women are feeding their increased appetite with nutritive foods, and not junk. Poor eaters are told to increase their intake. "Nature works in such a way that the baby's growth is never jeopardised. But if the mother is not getting enough nutrition, her nutrient resources get depleted. To ensure that she leads a healthy life after child birth and generates enough milk for her child, she has to eat healthy, "says Makhija.

Dieticians also take the typical pregnancy cravings and aversions into account. So, if a woman can't stomach dal, she is asked to have chillas or sprouts. Makhija also allows her clients to replace their three spoons of oil a day with ghee, permits occasional cheating with homemade sweets like gajar halwa and also prescribes one egg yolk a week - in addition to the five egg whites that have to be eaten daily. Bangalore-resident Anagha Sawant, who followed a diet during her second pregnancy, says she did not experience any unmanageable cravings because she was always full. "I also felt more energetic and did not experience any aches and pains, " adds the 33-year-old homemaker.

Only expectant mothers who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes or hypertension are put on strict abstinence diets to avoid complications. Upasna Narang, 34, was put on a no-cereal diet because her insulin level was too high and could have damaged the baby's eyes or caused other birth defects. "It was tough to manage without a single roti. I lost two kilos in a week. But it was worth it. My baby girl was born perfectly healthy, " she says.

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