Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about food during pregnancy

What are the sources of protein for a vegetarian?

Vegetarians get their supply of protein from pulses and grains, milk and milk products, and soya products. You should be aware that animal sources such as milk and milk products are complete sources of protein. Whereas vegetable proteins are incomplete and need to be combined with other foods to be complete. For example: grains and lentils (dal and chapatti/rice), and nuts or seeds with grains are excellent vegetarian protein sources.

These foods provide approximately the same amount of protein as 1 oz of meat.

* Quarter cup cottage cheese or paneer.

* 1 egg: limit egg yolk consumption to 3 per week as it is high in cholesterol.

* Half a cup of legumes / lentils (cooked).

* 1 cup of soy milk.

* 2 tablespoons of mixed nuts.

* 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.

* 1 cup of yoghurt / milk.

* 2-inch piece of hard cheese.

* Half a cup of cooked beans (rajma, channa)

“I've been on a low-carb and high protein diet to lose weight. Can I continue this during my pregnancy?”

Pregnancy is a time for healthy eating not for dieting, so get rid of those weight-loss books for now — you could get back to them after your baby is born.

Also, it's not a good idea to omit carbohydrates from your diet. Carbs are the body's main source of energy — red blood cells and brain cells depend on them for energy. If you give up or restrict carbs, your body has to derive its energy needs from the breakdown of muscle protein or muscle tissue. This deliberately induced state makes you lose healthy muscle tissue. Besides you need complex carbohydrates that give you that vital fibre and B vitamins that are known to fight constipation and morning sickness.

Going low on any essential nutrient isn't smart when you're expecting. Your priority right now is to get all the best baby-making ingredients that you need.

”My mother-in-law constantly feeds me with food and sweets cooked in ghee. She insists it is good for me and my baby. Is this true?”

You are not alone! This is a constant lament among many pregnant women; especially those living in joint families. In India traditional cooking methods rely heavily on ghee and home-made butter. In fact, there is a school of thought that believes food cooked in ghee is healthy and tastes better. However, everything must be enjoyed in moderation. Limit the ghee and sugar consumption to avoid piling on excess calories, and keep enjoying the attention.

“I love spicy food. The hotter the better! Is it safe to eat it during pregnancy?”

There's no risk from eating spicy foods during pregnancy, as long as you don't get the heartburn and indigestion that may follow. In fact, peppers of all kinds are packed with vitamin C, making them nutritious. So, enjoy spicy food, but without taking a risk. Just make sure that these foods agree with your system (and you don't overdo them)!

”I got food poisoning from something I ate last night and I've been throwing up a lot. Will this harm my baby?”

You're more likely to suffer from food poisoning than your baby. The major risk for you and your baby is that you'll become dehydrated from all that vomiting and diarrhoea. So, make sure you consume plenty of fluids to replace those that you're losing. And, contact your doctor immediately.

“I love sweets and can't seem to get enough. Can I use sugar substitutes to avoid putting on excess weight? Are sweeteners harmful during pregnancy?”

The jury's still out on whether sugar substitutes are completely safe to use during pregnancy. Always consult your doctor for specific recommendations.

“Is honey a good low-calorie substitute for sugar?”

Nutritionists and diet books are all abuzz these days about honey because of its high levels of antioxidants. It's been recommended in your tea, juice and even on fruit. But be aware that while it is a good substitute for sugar, there's nothing ‘low-cal' about it. One teaspoon of table sugar contains about 16 calories, while one teaspoon of honey has about 22 calories.

“Is it safe to drink herbal tea during pregnancy?”

Chamomile is considered safe in small amounts during pregnancy and can be soothing to an unsettled stomach. The effect of herbs in pregnancy has not been well researched up to now, so there is no definitive answer yet.

Until more is known, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has urged caution on the use of most herbal teas in pregnancy and during lactation. So it is probably safest to stay away from or at least limit herbal teas while you're expecting. Check with your doctor for a list of safe herbs.

The writer is a certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist.