Updated: Dec 16, 2021
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We have known for decades the importance of a proper diet. Our food is our fuel. Our diet can either be what powers us through the day, protects us from illness, and keeps our body functioning well, or it can drag us down into a world of weight issues and disease.
Nutrition is especially vital during pregnancy. The saying is true – you are eating for two! You will find article after article warning you about what not to eat: soft cheese, deli meat, hot dogs. Today, we want to focus on what you should be eating. While eating a balanced diet full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats is always important, some nutrients play a more critical role in your baby's development. When you are meal prepping this week, take a moment to double-check that you are hitting your recommended doses of the essential nutrients for pregnancy.
Folate & Folic Acid
Folate and its synthesized version called folic acid are two of the most prominent nutrients when discussing pregnancy. Folate is a B vitamin that prevents congenital abnormalities in your baby's neural tube, which affects their brain and spine. Without proper folate and folic acid levels, your baby is at a higher risk for developing conditions such as Spina Bifida and anencephaly. Studies have shown that adequate levels of folic acid directly decrease the risk of these abnormalities and preterm labor, leading to its complications.
The presence of folate and folic acid is most important in the first 28 days after conception. Since most women do not know they are pregnant that early, the experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest that all women of childbearing age get at least 400 micrograms of folate each day. When pregnant, you can increase your folate intake up to 1,000 micrograms. Since folate is a significant player in preventing these congenital abnormalities, many countries have made it the standard to fortify their foods with folate. Other sources of folate and folic acid include:
· Fortified cereals
· Leafy green vegetables
Vitamin D is affectionately known as "the sunshine vitamin." Its catchy nickname stems from the fact that we absorb high vitamin D levels during sun exposure. Vitamin D is essential for our bodies to absorb calcium. Therefore, this vitamin plays a role in forming your baby's bones, teeth, skin, and eyes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists points out that when a pregnant mother has a vitamin D deficiency, their baby shares that deficiency and is prone to congenital risks and fractures.
The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies initially recommended that pregnant women receive 600 IU of vitamin D per day. However, doses up to 4,000 IU are safe in mothers with deficiencies. To ensure you are hitting your recommended amounts of vitamin D, look for foods such as:
· Fortified milk
· Orange juice
· Egg yolks
· Fortified oatmeal
Protein makes up almost every part of our bodies, from hair, skin, bones, muscles, and organs. Since you are growing a human that needs all of those things, it makes sense that protein is a priority during pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association notes that additional protein also aids in increasing your blood supply and expanding your uterine tissue.
You can get quite creative trying to hit your daily recommended 75-100 grams of protein. A protein shake is a quick snack that can also satisfy your sweet tooth cravings. Or, if you prefer salty, meat is one of the most popular protein sources. Vegetarians especially have to stay focused on hitting their protein goals during pregnancy since they cannot rely on meat for servings. Luckily, vegetarian protein sources are abundant, including:
· Vegan protein powders
Iron is the key player in hemoglobin production. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body, including your baby! The Mayo Clinic warns that you need double the amount of iron of a nonpregnant woman when pregnant. This massive jump is because your body needs more blood when pregnant, and iron helps you produce it. An iron deficiency can have detrimental consequences for you and your baby, including anemia, fatigue, premature birth, and low birth weights. A recent study in the Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine shows that anemia during and after pregnancy significantly increases a mother's risk of developing postpartum depression.
The Mayo Clinic recommends pregnant women get at least 27 milligrams of iron per day. Try including some of these iron-packed staples into your next meal to meet your iron goal.
· Lean red meats
· Pumpkin seeds
If you remember your mom telling you to finish your glass of down so you would have strong bones and teeth, send her a quick "thank you" text – because she was correct (per usual)! Calcium makes up our bones and teeth. This mineral also plays a part in our circulatory, muscular, and nervous systems. If you do not ingest enough calcium, your baby can develop hypocalcemia. Hypocalcemia can be marked by dry skin, brittle nails, frequent muscle cramping, and weakened tooth enamel. We must be just as diligent about our vitamin D consumption because our bodies cannot absorb calcium without it, and it is all for naught.
Medical professionals want pregnant women to consume at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day. Many of us think calcium and jump right to our beloved cheese. While cheese does contain high amounts of calcium, remember to avoid soft cheeses as they can contain bacteria that can be harmful to the baby. Instead, focus on adopting some of these other top sources of calcium:
· Collard greens
References Azami, M., Badfar, G., Khalighi, Z., Qasemi, P., Shohani, M., Soleymani, A., & Abbasalizadeh, S. (2019). The association between anemia and postpartum depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Caspian Journal of internal medicine, 10(2), 115–124. https://doi.org/10.22088/cjim.10.2.115 Greenberg, J. A., Bell, S. J., Guan, Y., & Yu, Y. H. (2011). Folic Acid supplementation and pregnancy: more than just neural tube defect prevention. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology, 4(2), 52–59. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019, December 19). Pregnancy diet: Focus on these essential nutrients. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20045082. Nutrition during pregnancy. ACOG. (n.d.). https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy. Pregnancy nutrition. American Pregnancy Association. (2021, July 16). https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/pregnancy-nutrition/. Vitamin D: Screening and supplementation during pregnancy. ACOG. (n.d.). https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2011/07/vitamin-d-screening-and-supplementation-during-pregnancy.