Pregnancy diet: Best foods and supplements
Best Foods & Superfoods
1. Fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens)
Vegetables are an important part of a pregnancy diet because they are nutrient-dense, high in fiber, and lower in carbohydrates and calories. Green leafy vegetables are especially beneficial because they’re packed with iron, calcium and vitamin K — three important nutrients for pregnant women. Add leafy greens like spinach, kale, arugula, romaine, bok choy, collards, mustard greens and turnip greens to your meals.
Broccoli is another beneficial vegetable because it contains fiber, vitamin C, manganese and magnesium. And so are Brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, cabbage, squash and bell peppers.
2. Fresh fruit
Eating fresh fruit throughout your pregnancy will ensure that you’re getting nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E and fiber. Eat an array of fruits like blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, mango, papaya, peaches, grapefruit, apples, pears, tangerines and pineapple. Fresh fruit can be added to yogurt or oats for breakfast, used to make a fruit and veggie smoothie, added to salads for lunch and dinner, or eaten as a snack between meals.
3. Organic free-range eggs
Eggs, specifically egg yolk, are really an excellent source of choline, which is very important for fetal development. Research shows that women eating diets that are lower in choline content are at a significantly greater risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect than women eating diets higher in choline content.
Organic eggs also contain healthy fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene and iodine. Eating iodine-rich foods during pregnancy is also very important because iodine plays a major role in the healthy growth and brain development of infants.
4. Wild-caught salmon
The ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are vitally important for the proper neurological and physical development of a fetus. Salmon nutrition includes these vital omega-3s and many other important nutrients for pregnancy, including vitamin D, iodine, choline, B vitamins, selenium and protein.
5. Organic meat
Protein’s amino acids are essential for the development of your baby, so eating plenty of good quality, organic protein is very important. Aim to eat at least three servings, or 75 grams of protein per day. Some of the best options are organic chicken breast, organic turkey and grass-fed beef.
6. Nuts and seeds
Nuts, like almonds, contain protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium and iron. Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, folate and copper, and brazil nuts contain selenium, phosphorus and vitamin E. Eating an array of nuts during pregnancy can boost your overall nutrient intake.
Seeds are also great sources of protein and fiber, which will support your colon and digestive tract during pregnancy. Flax seeds and chia seeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids that aren’t present in fish. These omega-3 foods will benefit your skin, hair and nails during pregnancy.
7. Greek yogurt or kefir
Greek yogurt contains probiotics, protein, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and vitamin K2. Plus, it’s a great source of iodine, which is important during pregnancy in order to avoid birth defects and neurological disorders. Kefir is another form of cultured dairy that contains good bacteria that are essential for your digestion and overall health.
Lima beans are rich in iodine, garbanzo, kidney and pinto beans are high in folate, and fava beans contain iron, zinc, copper and vitamin K. Some other nutritious beans include cannellini beans, adzuki beans, black beans and anasazi beans. Eating an array of beans during pregnancy can be beneficial because they are filling and nutrient-dense.
Lentils are an excellent source of folate, which plays a crucial role in fetal development. Studies show that consuming high-folate foods during pregnancy reduces the risk of the fetus developing cardiovascular and urinary tract defects, neural tube defects and cleft lips.
Whole grains like gluten-free oats, quinoa, brown rice and barley provide complex carbohydrates that are needed during pregnancy. Grains also contain B vitamins that are vital for your baby’s development, and minerals like zinc, selenium and chromium.
Most prenatal vitamins contain the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals that are specifically needed for pregnancy. When you are choosing a prenatal vitamin, make sure that it contains the following nutrients:
Iron: Iron supplementation is often recommended during pregnancy to improve birth outcomes. Iron plays an essential role in the transfer of oxygen to tissues and pregnant women are at higher risk of iron deficiency due to the increase of iron demand. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 27 milligrams of iron per day for all pregnant women. Talk to your doctor about supplementing with iron in addition to taking your prenatal vitamin after 20 weeks of pregnancy, when your body requires even more of the mineral.
Folate (Folic Acid): Folate is needed during pregnancy is needed for the prevention of neural tube defects and serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which can be found naturally in high-folate foods. Prenatal vitamins typically contain 0.8 to 1 milligrams of folic acid and ideally folate supplementation should begin three months before pregnancy.
Calcium: Calcium is essential for fetal development and building your baby’s bones. Getting enough calcium during pregnancy reduces your risk of preterm labor, low birth weight, bone loss and high blood pressure. Calcium deficiency is dangerous for both the mother and child because it helps your circulatory, nervous and muscular systems to function properly. Look for a prenatal vitamin that contains about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is very common in pregnant women and it’s associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. The risks of low vitamin D levels for the infant include low birth weight, impaired skeletal development, respiratory infections and allergic diseases in the early years of life. Because the synthesis of vitamin D requires exposure to ultraviolet radiation, which is not always available to pregnant women, vitamin D is typically included in a prenatal multivitamin. Studies on vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy indicate that the suggested safe dose is between 2,000–4,000 IUs per day.
Choline: Choline is present in prenatal vitamin supplements, but not in adequate amounts. That’s why pregnant women need choline rich foods like eggs, chickpeas, wild salmon, grass-fed beef and turkey breast. Choline is an essential nutrient for fetal development and because a mother delivers large amounts of choline across the placenta to the fetus, she needs to make sure she’s getting enough choline with a combination of diet and supplementation. Research suggests that poor choline intake among pregnant women can adversely affect maternal and fetal responses to stress, increase the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects and a cleft lip, and negatively effect fetal brain development.
Some other supplements that should be taken if they aren’t added to your prenatal vitamins include:
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for the proper brain growth and eye development of your baby. DHA also reduces inflammation, which is the leading cause of complications during pregnancy. Look for a prenatal vitamin that has DHA added, and if yours doesn’t, take a separate DHA supplement to ensure that you’re getting enough of these important omega-3s.
Probiotics: Research shows that your gut microbiome is a key factor for maintaining during pregnancy and a lack of good bacteria in your gut can lead to pregnancy complications. Studies indicate that taking a probiotic supplement during pregnancy can help to prevent preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, vaginal infections, infant and maternal weight gain, and allergic diseases.
What NOT to Eat When Pregnant
Right next to the list of foods you should eat on a pregnancy diet, there’s a smaller list of foods and drinks that you should avoid when expecting. Here’s a rundown of what to skip during your nine months of pregnancy:
Deli meat — could contain listeria, which can cause miscarriage, infection or blood poisoning.
Raw or smoked seafood and rare meat — could be contaminated with bacteria, salmonella or toxoplasmosis.
High-mercury fish — consuming too much mercury during pregnancy can lead to developmental and brain issues, so avoid fish such as swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish.
Raw eggs — may contain salmonella that puts your baby at risk of developmental issues.
Caffeine — there’s mixed research about the risk of consuming caffeine during pregnancy, but studies indicate that caffeine should be avoided during the first trimester to reduce the risk of spontaneous miscarriage, and after that 1 to 2 cups of coffee a day is deemed safe. Keep in mind that caffeine is a diuretic that can lead to fluid loss.
Alcohol — research shows that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to abnormal pregnancy outcomes like physical and neurodevelopmental problems in the child.
It’s also extremely important to avoid smoking and using prescribed or street drugs during pregnancy. If you are taking medications, talk to your doctor or midwife about how they will interact with or affect your pregnancy.
And finally, avoid all fake, and highly processed and refined foods during pregnancy. This includes bagged and boxed foods that line the grocery store shelves and freezer aisles. These foods contain a ton of additives, preservatives, unhealthy oils, dyes and toxins that can negatively affect your pregnancy. Instead, choose foods that are fresh and whole to ensure that you’re getting just the nutrients that you need and none of that extra “stuff.”
( Christine Ruggeri )