When you’re expecting, it’s an exciting and slightly terrifying time of life. I have had three babies, and each time brought mixed emotions of joy and fear. Along with wondering how your body will change, what life will be like with a new baby, and what products you should be purchasing, many expecting moms also wonder about nutrition.
At your pregnancy appointment, your doctor probably shared foods you should avoid, such as soft cheeses, lunchmeat, raw or high-mercury fish, unpasteurized fruit juice, alcohol, or lots of caffeine. However, not many people tell you what you should eat. That’s because nutrition isn’t one size fits all…but there are some general guidelines.
First off, you need to increase your vitamin, mineral, and protein needs while only increasing your calories by about 300 calories. This number can vary based on age and activity, but it isn’t a large calorie increase. This means that your focus should be on nutrient-dense foods that can provide extra vitamins and minerals without excessive calories. Nutrient-dense foods include fruits, vegetables, lean protein, legumes, and whole grains.
This may sound simple, but with morning sickness, cravings, and exhaustion, it can be difficult to get enough of certain nutrients. For example, iron goes up to 27mg a day when you’re pregnant. To put that into perspective, one serving of steak has about 3mg. To help with iron absorption, try to consume iron with vitamin C while avoiding high-calcium foods and drinks. This is because vitamin C helps increase iron absorption while calcium competes for it, so avoid taking your prenatal or iron supplement with a beverage like calcium fortified orange juice or milk. Also, avoid high-calcium beverages for a few hours after.
Folate and choline are also important to prevent neural tube defects. Since the neural tube forms early on, I’d suggest to any woman who is pregnant or trying to conceive to eat fortified foods, such as breads and cereals. Folate is better absorbed in the supplement form folic acid, so I would strongly suggest taking a prenatal supplement before becoming pregnant.
Since pregnant women already have a lot on their mind, I don’t recommend strictly tracking vitamins and minerals. Instead, focus on eating nutrient-dense foods and taking a prenatal vitamin. Most prenatal vitamins have a large list of vitamins and minerals, which can be helpful when food aversions impact diet quality. When picking a prenatal vitamin, there are a few must-haves for a good prenatal vitamin. When looking for a prenatal supplement, be sure to choose one that has the following:
- Folic acid—at least 600ug
- Vitamin D—400 IU (common deficiency in pregnancy)
- Limited vitamin A—4000 IU (as beta carotene*)
- Fish oil or DHA and EPA (if not consuming low-mercury fish)
- 3rd party verification (such as USP verified)
*The retinol version of vitamin A has been associated with increased risk of birth defects in excessive amounts.
If you are struggling to think of how to increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods, check out the recipes on my blog. They are loaded with fruits, veggies, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Growing another human is difficult and taxing on the body, so do what you can to fuel up, but don’t stress if morning sickness limits what you can tolerate. Just do what you can to eat nutrient-dense foods, hydrate, take your prenatal, stay active, and enjoy these exciting and exhausting nine months.