Essential Nutrients During Pregnancy
A healthy pregnancy diet will promote your baby’s growth and development. Understand which nutrients you need most and where to find them.
There’s no magic formula for a healthy pregnancy diet. In fact, during pregnancy the basic principles of healthy eating remain the same — get plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. However, a few nutrients in a pregnancy diet deserve special attention. Here’s what tops the list.
Folate and folic acid — Prevent birth defects
Folate is a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects, serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Lack of folate in a pregnancy diet may also increase the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery. The synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods is known as folic acid.
How much you need: 800 micrograms of folate or folic acid a day before conception and throughout pregnancy.
Good sources: Fortified cereals are great sources of folic acid. Leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and dried beans and peas are good sources of naturally occurring folate.
In addition to making healthy food choices, taking a daily prenatal vitamin — ideally starting three months before conception — can help ensure you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient.
Calcium — Strengthen bones
How much you need: 1,000 milligrams a day. Pregnant teenagers need 1,300 milligrams a day.
Good sources: Dairy products are the richest sources of calcium. Many fruit juices and breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium, too.
Vitamin D — Promote bone strength
How much you need: 600 IU a day.
Good sources: Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, are great sources of vitamin D. Other options include fortified milk and orange juice.
Protein — Promote growth
How much you need: 71 grams a day.
Good sources: Lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs are great sources of protein. Other options include dried beans and peas, tofu, dairy products and peanut butter.
Iron — Prevent anemia
Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy your blood volume expands to accommodate changes in your body and help your baby make his or her entire blood supply — doubling your need for iron.
If you don’t get enough iron, you may become fatigued and more susceptible to infections. The risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight also may be higher.
How much you need: 27 milligrams a day.
Good sources: Lean red meat, poultry and fish are good sources of iron. Other options include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, nuts and dried fruit.
Prenatal vitamins typically contain iron. In some cases, your health care provider might recommend a separate iron supplement.
The iron from animal products, such as meat, is most easily absorbed. To enhance the absorption of iron from plant sources and supplements, pair them with a food or drink high in vitamin C — such as orange juice, tomato juice or strawberries. If you take iron supplements with orange juice, avoid the calcium-fortified variety. Although calcium is an essential nutrient during pregnancy, calcium can decrease iron absorption.
Supplements — Ask your Personal Health Coach
Even if you eat a healthy diet, you can miss out on key nutrients. Taking a daily prenatal vitamin — ideally starting three months before conception — can help fill any gaps. Your personal health coach might recommend special supplements if you follow a strict vegetarian diet or have a chronic health condition. If you’re considering taking an herbal supplement during pregnancy, consult your personal health coach first.