Eating a balanced diet is always beneficial to your health, but if you’re pregnant it’s even more important to be conscious of what you put in your body (and your growing baby’s). These nutrients deserve special attention when you’re expecting.
Iron – helps prevent anemia
Your blood volume increases up to 50% when you’re pregnant, and iron is necessary to make hemoglobin to support all of the new red blood cells that will bring oxygen to your tissues. Without it you may become anemic and feel tired and fatigued. Iron is also important for your baby- without enough iron, your baby may be at risk for preterm delivery and low birth weight. His or her stores of iron may also run out early in life. Typically iron stores last until ~5-6 months which is why it’s important for first foods to be high in iron.
Food sources: lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, spinach, nuts and iron-fortified cereal. To help enhance non-meat sources of iron pair those foods with a food high in vitamin C, such as citrus.
Recommended amount: 27 milligrams per day (also found in prenatal vitamins)
Vitamin D -promotes bone health
Adequate vitamin D helps your baby grow properly and build strong teeth by regulating levels of calcium and phosphorus. A vitamin D deficiency at birth may also put your baby at risk for rickets or bone fractures. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all breast fed and formula fed babies who drink less than 32 oz of vitamin D fortified formula per day receive a supplement of 400IU of vitamin D per day.
Sources: fatty fish (salmon, tuna, catfish, mackerel), some brands of eggs, fortified orange juice, fortified milk, sunlight
Recommended amount: 600IU per day
Protein is important to keep your muscles strong and to ensure adequate growth of your baby.
Food sources: meats, fish, poultry, soy, nuts, eggs, beans, lentils, whole grains, dairy
Recommended amount: varies per woman based on weight, however a minimum of 80g per day should be a good start. Speak to your MD or RD to determine the best amount for you.
Folic acid-Helps prevent birth defects
Folic acid and folate help prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida, low birth weight and preterm birth. Most bread products are supplemented with folic acid to prevent NTDs, as the neural tube closes early in pregnancy, possibly before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Supplementation has greatly reduced the number of NTDs in recent years. A new study speculates that adequate amounts of folic acid in the early part of pregnancy may also reduce the risk of autism. It’s a good idea to increase your intake of folic acid before you conceive (if you’re trying).
Food sources: leafy greens, chickpeas, beans, peas, asparagus, lentils, seeds, nuts, fortified foods such as breads and pastas.
Recommended amount: 800 micrograms per day.
Calcium- Important for strong bones
Calcium is especially important for mom and baby in the third trimester when your baby’s bones are strengthening at an increased rate. It will also help build strong teeth.
Food sources: dairy, almonds, soy, calcium-set tofu, broccoli, Bok choy, kale, fortified foods such as orange juice and soy milk.
Recommended amount: 1000 milligrams per day, 1300 milligrams per day for pregnant teens
Omega-3 Fats – Important for brain and nervous system growth and development
Food sources: salmon, walnuts, flax seeds, high quality refined fish oil supplements, some eggs
Recommended amount: 200mg – 300mg of DHA (found in salmon, tuna, sardines)
All of these nutrients may seem overwhelming to get every day, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Greek yogurt with chopped walnuts and almonds
- Veggie omelet with spinach, red peppers, asparagus, cheese and whole wheat toast
- Iron fortified cereal with milk or soy milk topped with strawberries and bananas
- Kale salad with chickpeas, salmon, walnuts and mandarin orange slices (along with your other favorite veggies)
- Falafel sandwich with hummus, tomatoes and cucumbers on a whole wheat pita
- Tofu, broccoli, bok choy, spinach, carrots and soy bean stir fry served over brown rice
- Salmon with lentils and Swiss chard or spinach
- Black bean burritos with or without chicken, whole wheat pitas and your favorite toppings
- Pasta with shrimp, green beans, mushrooms, kale, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette