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Healthy Pregnancy: Nutrition in the UAE

17 Oct, 2023

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Pregnancy is a transformative journey for women, both physically and emotionally. Proper nutrition is paramount during this period as it plays a crucial role in the health and development of both the mother and the unborn child. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) offers specific guidance for expecting mothers to ensure a healthy pregnancy. In this blog, we will explore the essential aspects of nutrition for pregnant women in the UAE.

Understanding the UAE's Cultural and Dietary Landscape

Before diving into the specific nutritional guidance, it's essential to recognize that the UAE has a rich cultural and dietary heritage. Traditional Emirati cuisine is influenced by Middle Eastern and South Asian flavors. A typical Emirati meal may include rice, bread, meat, seafood, vegetables, and aromatic spices.

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Expecting mothers in the UAE often have a choice between traditional and international cuisine. It is crucial to strike a balance between cultural preferences and modern nutritional requirements. Here are the key nutritional recommendations:

Hydration is Vital

Staying hydrated is a fundamental aspect of pregnancy nutrition in the UAE's hot climate. Dehydration can lead to complications like low amniotic fluid levels, preterm labor, and urinary tract infections. Expecting mothers should aim to drink at least 2.5 to 3 liters of water per day, divided into smaller portions throughout the day.

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Balanced Diet for a Balanced Pregnancy

A well-balanced diet during pregnancy is vital for the health of both the mother and the baby. The UAE's dietary recommendations for pregnant women include:

1. Include a variety of foods

  • Consume a mix of fruits, vegetables, grains, lean proteins, and dairy products.
  • Opt for whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread for a steady release of energy.
  • Ensure a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to get a wide range of nutrients.

2. Focus on Iron and Folate

  • Iron is crucial for preventing anemia, a common issue during pregnancy. Include iron-rich foods like lean meat, beans, and fortified cereals.
  • Folate is essential for neural tube development. Sources include leafy greens, fortified cereals, and legumes.

3. Choose Lean Proteins

  • Emirati cuisine often includes meat and seafood. Opt for lean cuts of meat and avoid excessive deep frying.
  • Include sources of vegetarian protein like lentils and chickpeas.

4. Limit Processed and High-Sugar Foods

  • Minimize the intake of processed and sugary foods. These can lead to excessive weight gain and gestational diabetes.

Traditional Foods and Pregnancy

While it's important to adopt a balanced diet, many traditional Emirati foods can offer valuable nutrients:

1. Dates

  • Dates are a rich source of natural sugars and fiber. They can provide a quick energy boost and aid digestion.

2. Barley Soup

  • Barley is a good source of fiber and nutrients. Barley soup is a traditional dish that can help with digestion and reduce constipation, a common pregnancy issue.

3. Saffron Milk

  • Saffron milk is a comforting drink. Saffron is believed to have mood-lifting properties, which can be beneficial for pregnant women experiencing mood swings.

Traditional Foods and Customs

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), pregnancy is not only a biological journey but also a culturally significant and deeply cherished experience. Expecting mothers often find themselves navigating a tapestry of cultural traditions, practices, and beliefs that influence their dietary choices during this pivotal phase. Understanding these cultural nuances is essential to achieving a well-rounded perspective on nutrition during pregnancy in the UAE.

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1. Date Consumption

Dates, considered a symbol of hospitality and blessings in Emirati culture, have a prominent place in the diet of pregnant women. Dates are known for their natural sweetness and high nutritional value. They provide energy and essential nutrients, making them an excellent choice for expectant mothers. It is customary for many pregnant women to consume dates during pregnancy as it is believed to provide strength and vitality.

2. Qamar al-Din

Qamar al-Din, a traditional apricot drink, is often prepared during Ramadan and other special occasions in the UAE. It's a popular choice among pregnant women due to its soothing and refreshing properties. The drink is high in vitamins and minerals, offering hydration and essential nutrients.

3. Cultural Foods for Nausea

In the early stages of pregnancy, nausea is a common symptom. Many Emirati families and elders recommend consuming certain foods, such as ginger tea or cardamom-infused dishes, to alleviate nausea. These remedies reflect a blend of traditional wisdom and cultural practices aimed at making pregnancy more comfortable.

Dietary Supplements

In some cases, doctors may recommend dietary supplements to ensure adequate nutrient intake during pregnancy. Common supplements include folic acid, iron, and vitamin D. Consult with a healthcare provider before taking any supplements.

In addition to maintaining a well-balanced diet, dietary supplements are often recommended to pregnant women in the UAE to ensure they receive adequate nutrition. These supplements play a crucial role in promoting the health and well-being of both the mother and the developing baby. Let's delve into the most common dietary supplements for pregnant women in the UAE:

1. Folic Acid

Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, is one of the most essential supplements during pregnancy. It is critical for the proper development of the baby's neural tube, which forms the brain and spinal cord. The UAE's healthcare providers typically recommend that pregnant women take 400-600 micrograms of folic acid daily, ideally starting at least one month before conception.

2. Iron

Iron is vital during pregnancy to prevent anemia, a condition characterized by a reduced number of red blood cells. Anemia can lead to fatigue, weakness, and other health issues. Many pregnant women may not get enough iron through their diet alone, and as a result, iron supplements are often prescribed. The recommended dosage can vary, but it is typically around 30 milligrams per day. It's worth noting that excess iron intake can lead to constipation, so it's important to follow a healthcare provider's guidance.

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a significant role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth, which is crucial for both the mother and the baby. In the UAE, where the intense heat often keeps people indoors, many individuals are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Pregnant women are advised to take a vitamin D supplement to ensure they meet their daily requirements. A typical dosage may range from 600 to 2,000 international units (IU) per day, depending on individual needs and existing blood levels.

4. Calcium

Calcium is essential for the development of the baby's bones and teeth. The UAE's dietary guidelines encourage pregnant women to meet their calcium needs through their diet, including dairy products, fortified plant-based milk, and leafy greens. However, in cases where dietary intake is insufficient, calcium supplements may be recommended. The recommended dosage varies but is usually around 1,000 milligrams per day.

5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are crucial for the baby's brain and eye development. Seafood, particularly fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, is a natural source of DHA. However, due to concerns about mercury and other contaminants in fish, some healthcare providers recommend DHA supplements during pregnancy. The recommended dosage varies, but a typical amount might be around 200-300 milligrams per day.

6. Multivitamins

In some cases, healthcare providers may suggest a prenatal multivitamin that combines several essential nutrients, including folic acid, iron, calcium, and various vitamins and minerals. These multivitamins are designed to complement a balanced diet and ensure that all necessary nutrients are being obtained. The specific composition of these supplements may vary, so it's essential to consult with a healthcare provider to determine which one is best for individual needs.

Early and Regular Prenatal Care

Prenatal care is the cornerstone of a healthy and successful pregnancy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or any other part of the world. It involves a series of medical check-ups, screenings, and guidance that are essential to ensure the well-being of both the expectant mother and her unborn child. Here's why early and regular prenatal care is so crucial:

1. Timely Identification of Health Risks

Early prenatal care allows healthcare providers to identify and address any potential health risks or complications that may arise during pregnancy. This includes identifying chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, that need special management during pregnancy.

2. Folic Acid and Nutritional Guidance

Healthcare providers can provide guidance on proper nutrition and supplementation, including the importance of folic acid. They can recommend specific dietary changes and supplements tailored to the individual needs of the mother and baby.

3. Screening for Genetic Disorders

Early prenatal care provides the opportunity to conduct screenings and tests for genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome. This information can be crucial for decision-making and preparation.

4. Monitoring Baby's Development

Throughout the course of pregnancy, healthcare providers will monitor the baby's growth and development. This includes assessing the baby's size, heartbeat, and position. Early detection of any issues can lead to timely interventions.

5. Preventing Complications

Regular prenatal care can help prevent complications such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. It allows healthcare providers to monitor blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and other health indicators, taking action if necessary.

6. Emotional and Psychological Support

Pregnancy is not just a physical journey; it is an emotional and psychological one as well. Prenatal care often includes discussions about emotional well-being and can help expecting mothers cope with stress, anxiety, and mood swings.

7. Preparing for Labor and Delivery

Prenatal care can include childbirth education, helping mothers understand the process of labor and delivery. It allows women to create birth plans and make informed decisions about pain management and delivery preferences.

8. Building a Support Network

Prenatal care provides opportunities for expecting mothers to connect with healthcare providers and build a support network. These relationships can be a source of guidance, reassurance, and emotional support throughout the pregnancy.

9. Monitoring Medications and Existing Conditions

If an expectant mother is taking medications for chronic conditions, prenatal care allows healthcare providers to evaluate the safety and make any necessary adjustments.

10. Postpartum Planning

Prenatal care can also include discussions about postpartum planning. This includes preparing for the postpartum period and understanding the physical and emotional changes that may occur after childbirth.

Pregnancy in the UAE is deeply intertwined with culture, tradition, and community. While these aspects add a unique and meaningful dimension to the journey of an expectant mother, they can also influence dietary choices. Striking a balance between cultural practices and evidence-based nutrition is key to ensuring a healthy and joyful pregnancy experience. It is recommended that pregnant women in the UAE maintain open communication with healthcare providers, who can offer tailored advice and support, ensuring the well-being of both the mother and the unborn child while honoring cherished cultural customs.

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Pregnant women in the UAE are advised to maintain a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products. Traditional foods like dates, saffron milk, and barley soup are also recommended.