Eating well during pregnancy can help set the blueprint for a healthy mom and baby. But when you’re facing morning sickness, exhaustion and weird cravings, getting in all the important nutrients for pregnancy isn’t always easy.
If you’re struggling to follow a healthy diet for a pregnant woman, don’t stress. Start by exploring the most essential nutrients for pregnancy and the foods that contain them - and aim to get some of these foods into your diet every day.
Keep reading for a list of important nutrients and foods to eat for a healthy pregnancy.
5 Important Nutrients for Pregnancy (and Foods That Contain Them)
1) Folic Acid
Most women have heard of the benefits of taking folic acid during pregnancy, and this is a good thing! Folic acid is well known to help reduce neural tube defects and can also reduce the risk of cardiac, limb and cleft palate deformities. There’s a reason it’s one of the most important nutrients for pregnancy!
Folic acid is very important during the first trimester of pregnancy and it is ideal for women to take it for 3-6 months prior to conception. The dose range pregnant women need is between 600-1000 mcg.
I have no affiliation with any supplement companies, however I will provide examples of appropriate prenatal supplements as I know it can be very overwhelming to go looking for them totally on your own. One prenatal vitamin that provides adequate amounts of vital nutrients in pregnancy is Pure Encapsulations Prenatal.
A supplement is a great way to ensure you’re getting all of the important nutrients for pregnancy, but it’s also important to try as much as possible to get nutrients from food.
Folate-Rich Foods to Eat For a Healthy Pregnancy:
- Spinach and Leafy Greens
- Beans and Lentils
- Sunflower Seeds
2) Fish Oil
The benefits of fish oil during pregnancy have been well documented. Fish oil is one of the most important nutrients during pregnancy because it helps with the baby’s brain development, can reduce the risk of postpartum anxiety and depression, and helps reduce the risk of both preeclampsia and premature birth.
DHA is the part of the Omega 3 fatty acids that is the most beneficial during pregnancy, and should be taken at a dose of 1000 mcg/day. Ascenta NutraSea DHA is an example supplement that has the nutrients needed for pregnancy.
While it’s always good to focus on foods to eat for a healthy pregnancy, this can get a little tricky when it comes to fish oil. There is a valid concern about exposure to heavy metals from eating fish during pregnancy. Current guidelines suggest that pregnant women can eat fish up to 2 times per week safely.
It is important to be aware of the heavy metal content of the fish you are eating, and aim to eat fish with the lowest amounts of heavy metals. Tuna, for example, should be avoided or very significantly reduced during pregnancy.
Here is a link to the National Resources Defense Council chart for fish with the highest and lowest mercury levels.
Probiotics are “good bacteria” that can help regulate the immune system and promote digestive health. The importance of gut health is the next frontier in medicine. And so, while a probiotic doesn’t technically count as one of the important nutrients for pregnancy, we’re including probiotics in this list because they provide so many benefits.
When a baby is born vaginally, part of the benefit is attributed to the baby getting bathed in the mothers’ vaginal bacteria, which helps them to establish their own flora in their digestive tract.
Taking a good probiotic during pregnancy can help optimize the mom’s bacterial balance and reduce the risk of yeast and urinary tract infections.
Broad spectrum probiotics (ones that contain many different strains of bacteria) are the best choice. I like to recommend Natural Factors Ultimate Multi Probiotic for my pregnancy patients.
Probiotic-Rich Foods to Eat food a Healthy Pregnancy:
- Yogurt with live and active cultures
4) Vitamin D
Vitamin D is another one of the important nutrients for pregnancy that we are learning more and more about every day. Mom not having adequate levels of Vitamin D is associated with lower birth weights. Vitamin D is also important for a healthy immune system and has been shown to reduce the risk of asthma. For mom, it can help reduce the risk of postpartum anxiety and depression.
While Vitamin D can be made by the body with safe exposure to the sun, it’s also worth supplementing for many moms and babies. For those in northern climates, for example, we are only able to make our own Vitamin D from May to October due to the angle of the sun.
In the summer months it is important to get 15 min of sun exposure/day with some exposed skin (arms/legs). Vitamin D can also be supplemented at a dose of 1000 IU/day.
Pregnant women need approximately 75 g of protein/day. Protein helps reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, and morning sickness. It can also be helpful for sleep and baby’s brain development. It’s an important part of a healthy diet for a pregnant woman!
Getting protein at breakfast is especially important as it helps to set the blueprint for stable blood sugar all day.
Protein-Rich Foods to Eat for a Healthy Pregnancy
- Chia Seeds/Hemp Seeds
The great thing about protein-rich foods is that many of them also contain other important nutrients for pregnancy. That’s why it’s especially helpful to get your protein from whole-food choices.
If you do decide to supplement with protein powders or similar products, be sure to carefully read the labels, as many contain ingredients that should not be consumed during pregnancy. As always, if you are unsure about anything, make sure to ask your healthcare provider.
More Resources on the Best Nutrients for Pregnancy
I hope you found this blog post to be informative as you navigate through the most important nutrients for pregnancy and the foods you should be eating. If you need more information about the best foods to eat for a healthy pregnancy, be sure to check out the resources below (or comment on this post with your questions.
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