Nutrition should always be a top priority, but pregnancy will make it more important than ever. You’re literally building a human being from scratch. Absolutely everything you put into your mouth goes into building and developing a little person, so it’s critical to put some intention into what you eat. It’s especially important to make sure that vital prenatal nutrients like calcium, iron, folate, vitamin D, and protein are a part of the daily pregnancy lifestyle. There are some great vitamins to help meet those needs, but there are also natural food sources that can easily become a part of your regular diet.
Anemia is already an issue for women because of menstruation, but pregnancy makes it even more common. By the third trimester, blood volume increases by nearly 50%. And while we may have more blood and fluid than ever, that doesn’t come with an increase in red blood cells. Prenatal diets that run short on the recommended 27mg of iron aren’t able to produce the hemoglobin needed for red blood cells. This has a HUGE impact on our circulation and level of energy, and it also means an increased risk of premature birth. Keep your quality of blood flowing by including iron-rich food in your diet.
There’s a long list of high-iron foods available to us, so liver isn’t the only option. Heme iron can be found in beef with an average of 1mg per oz. If you’re looking for plant based sources (aka non-heme iron), a one cup serving will get you 10mg of iron from fortified oatmeal, 6.6mg from lentils, 5.2 mg from kidney beans, 6.4mg from spinach, and 3.6mg from pinto beans. If you’re looking for a quick iron fix that can be thrown into a smoothie, then consider blackstrap molasses which boasts 3.5mg in a single tablespoon.
We often hear proteins being referred to as “building blocks,” and that’s never more true than it is with pregnancy. Our bodies need protein for its cell-producing amino acids. Building a human being takes a whole lotta cells, so it’s important we average the recommended 70g of protein a day.
Meat is the most famous source of protein thanks to it’s high content, but there’s a long list of protein options. In a one cup serving you’ll get nearly 40g of protein from pumpkin seeds, 18g from lentils, 12-15g from beans, and just shy of 30g with cottage cheese. Protein is also available as a quick snack with 6g in an egg and 4g in a tablespoon of peanut butter. And if you’re looking to get in protein with some brain-building omegas, make up a smoothie with 11g of protein from hemp seed or 9g from chia seeds (and in just 3 tablespoons).
Calcium + Vitamin D
All those Got Milk ads have informed us that calcium makes for strong bones, but this mineral is a pretty critical part of the prenatal diet. Aside from needing it for bones and teeth, we also require a minimum amount in our bloodstream to carry out various functions. It’s not an option to fall below the barebone requirements, so when we don’t get enough from food our body has to turn to the calcium within our bones. Years of calcium shortages will lead to a decrease in strength and density that leads to the broken bones and hip fractures suffered by older women. So, take action now to prevent pains in the future.
It’s recommended that women 19 and over get 1000mg a day. As always, dairy products offer big doses of this mineral, so dishes like homemade herbed mac and cheese with calcium-rich thyme will put a big dent in those daily calcium needs. But while dairy may get the spotlight with bone health, greens are actually another great source of calcium. A mere 8oz supplies you with 360mg from collards, 180mg from kale, and 160mg from bok choy. You can also source calcium from seeds and, from just one tablespoon, you’ll receive 80mg from sesame seeds and 60mg from chia seeds.
While you’re making efforts to up your calcium intake, don’t forget to include a daily dose of sunshine. Vitamin D plays an important role with bones by aiding absorption of calcium, so be sure to catch regular rays or take a Vitamin D supplement. That will help ensure that those pregnant bones soak up all the calcium they can get.
Females of all ages get nagged about folic acid supplements (the synthetic form of folate). While many of us are aware that it has a role in spinal development, much of us don’t know how important this vitamin is during the first trimester. Because the spinal tube closes at 6 weeks of pregnancy, there’s very little time to meet baby’s needs. Diets short on this important B-vitamin don’t have what they need to build a proper spine, and that leads to neural tube defects like Spina Bifida or Ancephaly. Because of this, even women who aren’t trying to get pregnant should be aware of their B-9 intake.
The average women should get 400-1000 mcg a day, while pregnant women should aim for 600-1000mcg. Folic acid supplements come highly recommended since the vitamin isn’t highly-available from foods, but there are a few edible forms of folate. In just one cup, you can get 360mcg from lentils, about 300mcg from beans, and 200mcg from spinach. You can also score 25mcg of folate from that morning egg.
Best of luck to all those expecting moms out there. Way to make your health and baby’s priority one!