Protein is an essential macronutrient to the human diet with daily recommendations being increased during pregnancy. Although protein requirements are higher fortunately most women eat generous amounts in the typical Australian diet and don’t really need to increase their intake further. However it is important to ensure that your diet includes quality protein sources to allow for optimal growth of your developing baby.
Protein has a very important role in your body, and is especially apparent in pregnancy when your baby is trying to grow. The human body requires protein for the following:
- Are the ‘building blocks’ for certain parts of the body such as muscle, bones, skin, tendons, ligaments and hair
- Used in the making of enzymes and hormones which have important roles in the body
- Helps transport molecules around the body
- Helps produce antibodies which help fight off infection
Your protein stores not only supply your body but also your baby’s, with maternal amino acids being transported across the placental membrane to the fetal circulation. As the pregnancy progresses the developing fetus requires greater amounts, hence amount transported increases with requirements peaking at mid-gestation.
Each protein molecule is composed of a sequence of amino acids; there are twenty in total with eight of these are known as essential amino acids and only attained through diet. The remainder are called non-essential and are produced by the body. The human body is incapable of storing protein; this means that every day we either must naturally produce the non-essential produce or consume the essential amino acids in order to meet the recommended intake.
Protein is found in the diet in a range of different foods. We refer to some as ‘complete’ protein sources as they contain all the essential amino acids, and these include meat, poultry and dairy products. In comparison ‘incomplete’ protein sources lack some of the essential amino acids and hence, must be eaten in combination with other protein sources to ensure that the full complement is obtained. These include plant sources such as seeds and nuts, beans and lentils, grains and soy products.
The Dietary Guidelines for Australians recommend that pregnant women consume 1-2 servings of protein per day. This should equate to 0.8-1g protein per kg of maternal weight per day, total being approximately 70g/day for average sized pregnant female.
The following provides a guide to what equates to one serve:
Pregnant mothers who are at risk of inadequate protein intake include those who are vegetarians or vegans, from lower socioeconomic groups, and having medical problems, which interfere with normal digestion such as gastrointestinal problems or severe nausea and vomiting. If you fit to one of these groups then it is especially important that you are careful in picking a diet that has adequate amounts of good quality protein.
Protein supplementation during pregnancy has been investigated, and a recent publication in 2010 came to the conclusion that there there is no indication for prescribing high protein supplements during pregnancy. They were found to have no benefit and were harmful to the fetus.
Your diet is the key to ensuring that you obtain the right amount of essential amino acids. These quiches are not only delicious and make a great little snack, and provide on average 1 serving of protein.