During pregnancy, the body’s requirement for certain vitamins and minerals increases well above the usual recommended dietary intake. And at times, supplementing and increasing food sources of certain nutrients is necessary to ensure baby’s best development. Key nutrients like folic acid and B12, vitamin D, the essential fat DHA, calcium and magnesium, zinc, and iron may have lifelong benefits in decreasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, learning difficulties, hyperactivity, and developmental delays.
Here are these top five nutrients in more detail:
1. Folic Acid
Why you need it: Folic acid is a synthetic vitamin that decreases the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida and other birth abnormalities, including congenital heart disease, urinary tract problems, oral facial clefts, limb defects, and some pediatric cancers.
Best way to eat it: Food source folate – from dark-green leafy vegetables, beans, chickpeas, lentils, wheat germ, nuts, and seeds – is surprisingly not as absorbable as a folic acid supplement. A supplement of 400 to 1000 mcg per day should be taken before and during pregnancy, to beyond breastfeeding if planning more children.
2. Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA
Why you need it: DHA provides the fuel for baby’s developing brain and retina, it improves vision and increases intelligence. It also can reduce the risk of developmental and behavioral disorders, increase gestation time and birth weight (this is a good thing, even though you may want your baby out sooner by the end of the third trimester!), and may reduce the severity of allergy. DHA deficiency has been strongly linked with postnatal depression, poor concentration and memory, and learning difficulties in the pre- and postnatal period for mom.
Best way to eat it: Oily fish like herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna (in moderation due to higher mercury content), anchovy, and trout. Vegetarian sources include nuts and seeds; walnut, almond, brazil, hazelnut, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, flax and hemp seed, but DHA absorbability is poor from these sources. While pregnant, DHA intake should increase, but with requirements equivalent to about 3 lbs of oily fish per day, a supplement may be an easier way to go.
3. Vitamin D
Why you need it: Vitamin D supplementation has been linked to a decreased risk of pre-eclampsia, type 1 diabetes, asthma, and schizophrenia, and to improved growth and bone strength. If you are deficient in Vitamin D, your baby may be also.
Best way to eat it: Early morning and late afternoon sun exposure is the most natural and safe way of absorbing Vitamin D. Naturally occurring food sources include salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and cod-liver oil, liver and egg yolk. Fortified dairy, cereals and alternative milks, such as almond, rice, and soy are also a source of vitamin D.
Why you need it: Your baby accumulates a total of about 30 g of your calcium during pregnancy, mostly during the third trimester, nabbing between 200 and 350 mg a day. Mainly for bones, calcium is also used for calcifying teeth as baby’s are born with teeth already developed under the gums.
Best way to eat it: Dairy products are only one source of calcium. Other foods, including nuts and seeds, deliver more calcium than milk (and in a more absorbable form when raw), with one and a half tablespoons of sesame seeds or tahini (sesame seed paste) offering the same amount of calcium as in a cup of milk. More sources include almonds, salmon and sardines (with bones), soy, navy beans, blackstrap molasses, amaranth, broccoli, and kale. In fact, almost any green leafy vegetable is high in calcium. Milk, however, loses about 50 percent of available calcium in the pasteurization process. Low-fat and skim milk offer even less because the milk fat is used for transportation and absorption of calcium.
Why you need it: During pregnancy, a woman’s iron requirements more than double to build new red blood cells in mom and the developing fetus. This essential mineral supports the development of baby’s brain for cognitive and behavioural maturity and makes hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to the body’s organs, muscles, and tissues.
Best way to eat it: Amazingly, our bodies increase the uptake of iron from foods when our levels are low. For maximum absorption of iron, Vitamin C should be consumed with iron rich green leafy vegetables, kelp, beets, asparagus, carrots, cucumbers, watercress, parsley, grapes, bananas, figs, dried fruits, beans, soybeans, sunflower seeds, meats, fish, poultry, peas, eggs, whole grains, parsley, turmeric, seaweed, lentils, millet, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and blackstrap molasses.
With the extra cravings and food usually consumed during pregnancy, add as many foods as you can from the lists above for the healthiest pregnancy possible.
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