Are you pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant? If so, now is the time to start looking at what those extra needed nutrients during pregnancy. It is important to be aware of these essential nutrients as your little munchkin is growing in you. In order to keep your baby growing healthy and strong, you must include these 6 key nutrients in your diet.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in your body requires, it is one of the most especially important nutrients during pregnancy. It is important in the prevention of neural tube defects, heart defects, and birth defects of the mouth, including cleft palate and lip. The easiest way to ensure you are getting the essential amount of folic acid (400mcg/daily before pregnancy, 600mcg/daily during pregnancy) is through a prenatal vitamin. It’s always a good idea to take a prenatal even while trying to get pregnant. To help prevent those neural tube defects, folic acid is needed in those first few weeks of pregnancy, sometimes before we even know we are pregnant. After the first few weeks of pregnancy, folic acid helps with growth and development.
Where can we get folic acid in foods?
Many grain products are fortified or enriched with folic acid (meaning it is added to foods) such as:
- Breakfast cereals
- Products made Corn Masa
- White rice
Folic acid can also be found naturally in foods, where it’s called folate. Foods rich in folate include:
- Leafy green vegetables, like spinach and broccoli
- Lentils and beans
- Orange juice
Iron is another one of the extremely important nutrients during pregnancy. You need twice the amount that your body usually requires. While pregnant, your body needs iron to carry oxygen to your baby through your blood cells. Your baby also needs iron to help make his own blood.
Good sources of iron include:
- Beans, nuts, raisins, and dried fruit
- Lean meat, poultry and seafood
- Peanut butter
- Some cereals and bread will have iron added to them as well.
Also, pairing your iron rich foods with something that is rich in vitamin C will enhance the absorption of iron into your body. If you’re a vegetarian or do not eat much meat, you’ll need to know how to better absorb iron from plant sources. Some examples of good pairings include:
- Adding strawberries or blueberries with oatmeal and chia seeds
- Adding citrus fruits or strawberries to a spinach salad (spinach is rich in iron)
- Putting bell peppers or tomatoes with rice and beans
- Adding lemon juice or zest to quinoa salad or bean salad or as a salad dressing on top of spinach and kale
- Making your loaded potatoes with sweet potatoes and black beans
- Having a black bean burger with tomatoes and sautéed bell pepper with sweet potatoes fries or broccoli on the side.
DHA is an omega 3 fatty acid that helps with the growth and development of your baby’s brain and eyes. Most prenatal supplements will have this included in them already, so be sure to check the label. If it is not included, you may need to get an extra supplement. You need 200mg of these nutrients during pregnancy each day to make sure your baby is getting what he needs. Food sources that are rich in DHA include:
- Fish such as salmon, herring, trout, anchovies, sardines and halibut
- Orange juice, milk and eggs (have DHA added)
- Flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts
Calcium helps develop many parts of your baby’s body, including bones, teeth, heart, muscles and nerves. It’s important to reach the needed amount of calcium each day of 1000 mg/day. If no, your body will take the calcium from your own bones to give to your baby. This can lead to problems later in life such as osteoporosis. Taking a prenatal and eating foods rich in calcium will help. Foods rich in calcium include:
- Broccoli and kale (spinach is another source rich in calcium, however it is difficult for the body to absorb due to something called “oxalates” that interfere with the absorption of calcium)
- Milk, cheese and yogurt
- Calcium-fortified orange juice
- Fortified almond milk (almond milk does not naturally have calcium in it, so just make sure to read the nutrition facts label)
- Sardines and canned salmon
Vitamin D is important because it helps our body absorb calcium. Also, it is an important vitamin in helping your nerves and immune system. During pregnancy, it’s especially important to stay healthy and to protect your baby. Receiving the essential amount of vitamin D will only help to protect you and your baby even more from sickness and disease. It’s also vital in the development of your baby’s bones and teeth. You need 600 IU each day and you can get this from taking both your prenatal and including the following foods in your diet:
- Fatty fish such as salmon or tuna
- Milk and cereal with added vitamin D
Iodine is needed to help our thyroid hormones. During pregnancy, iodine helps your baby’s brain and nervous system develop. During pregnancy, you need 220mcg of iodine everyday, however not all prenatal vitamins have iodine, so make sure to eat foods rich in iodine, such as:
- Milk, cheese and yogurt
- Iodized salt (not all salt has iodine added to it, so make sure to read the label)
- Enriched and fortified cereal and bread
Receive more assistance with your pregnancy by setting up an appointment with a dietitian.