They say when you’re pregnant, you must “eat for two.” While that isn’t entirely correct—that is, pregnancy isn’t an excuse to start gorging on those “forbidden” treats—it does mean you have to have adequate nutrient intake to cover your baby’s and your own needs. In other words, it isn’t how much you eat but how healthy your food choices are.
While an expectant mom’s diet follows the basics of any healthy diet, there are certain nutrients that play a starring role. Here are a few important ones to keep in mind:
A crucial nutrient in a healthy pregnancy diet is folic acid or folate. Folate is a B vitamin that helps ensure healthy brain and spinal cord development for your baby. It is most vital before conception and during the first trimester.
A pregnant woman needs about 800 micrograms of folate a day. You can get that from asparagus; leafy green vegetables like spinach and collard greens; broccoli; orange and other citrus fruits; and beans. For example, a cup of asparagus contains about 264 micrograms of folate, making it excellent brain-building chow! Folate can also be obtained from vitamin supplements that a doctor can prescribe.
A nutrient that has some of the same benefits as folate is choline. Like folate, choline aids fetal brain development. It also enhances the child’s memory and ability to learn.
There are brain benefits to the mother as well. Pregnant women are notorious for having poor memory, right? Well, studies indicate that choline can boost your brainpower, helping you overcome pregnancy-related forgetfulness.
It is recommended that pregnant women take 450 milligrams of this nutrient every day. And it’s easy to get your choline fix! For instance, a half cup of spinach has 240 milligrams, one whole egg 112 milligrams, and a potato 105 milligrams. Other delicious sources include ground beef; chicken; cod; salmon; and nuts like almonds, pistachios, and cashews.
Another nutrient that is essential during pregnancy is calcium. Of course, everyone knows that calcium helps build strong bones and teeth, but did you know that it’s good for the heart and blood as well? When your baby doesn’t get enough calcium from your diet, it pulls it from your bones, which could cause you to develop osteoporosis later in life.
You need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day, whether or not you’re pregnant. That’s a lot! In fact, studies show that a large percentage of women are calcium-deficient.
Fortunately, this mineral is easily found in yummy foods like cheese, yogurt, and milk. And it doesn’t stop with dairy. Other sources include fortified orange juice, soybeans, sardines, and leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale.
Rounding up our list of essential nutrients for expectant moms is iron. Iron is a mineral that helps the body create hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body via the blood. When you’re pregnant, your blood increases in volume by as much as 50 percent, which means you need more iron to produce more hemoglobin.
Moreover, iron deficiency during pregnancy puts you at risk of giving birth prematurely, and can cause low birth weight for your baby.
To prevent that, you must have an intake of 27 milligrams of iron each day. And the best sources of iron for pregnant women? Red meat, poultry, and fish (carnivores, rejoice!). Not only is iron found in abundance in these foods, but it also comes in a form that’s easily absorbed by the body.
For non-meat lovers, there are other good sources of iron, albeit in a form that’s not as easily absorbed. They include fortified cereals and oatmeal; beans like kidney beans, lima beans, and pinto beans; tofu and edamame; and spinach. You can also ask your doctor for advice regarding iron supplements.
If you maintain a balanced diet full of the nutrients listed above, you should have no problem getting through your pregnancy in one piece. Talk to your doctor about any other dietary alterations you should consider, and you’ll be able to bring your baby into the world as healthy as can be.