By Isadora Baum
Weird cravings, crazy hunger, dietary restrictions—pregnancy makes a person think about food in a whole different way. Of course, beyond cutting back on coffee and skipping the sushi, you know that eating certain nutrients can help your baby develop and make your pregnancy, birth and recovery smoother. Read on for expert advice on what to eat when you’re expecting.
Low levels of iron can lead to anemia, and this is a common problem for pregnant women, due to increased blood supply demands.
“Iron is needed for red blood cell synthesis, and since your body is aggressively trying to support fetal growth, it’s important to consume adequate dietary intake, as well as a prenatal vitamin with iron to ensure you are meeting the 27mg recommendations,” says registered dietician Elizabeth Ann Shaw, who specializes in fertility nutrition.
One thing to consider is that “iron is less easily absorbed from sources such as spinach and beans,” says registered dietician Lauren Koffler. However, “if you pair an iron-rich food with a vitamin C-rich food, such as an orange or strawberries, then you’ll increase the amount of iron that is absorbed,” she adds.
Here’s another reason to load up on those leafy greens: “Folate is a crucial nutrient in the development of the baby’s central nervous system and brain,” Koffler says. “By consuming enough folic acid, a pregnant woman will decrease her baby’s risk of having neural tube defects, which are birth defects that impact the baby’s brain and spinal cord.” Shaw recommends consuming 600mg of folate–also known as vitamin B9–daily.
Be sure to add a bit of protein to a leafy green salad, says Koffler, as protein helps build the mother’s uterine tissue, aids in fetal development, and increases blood flow to the baby.
Along with B9, “Vitamin B6 is crucial for developing the baby’s brain and central nervous system. Some studies have shown that it can also help relieve nausea for a pregnant mom-to-be,” says Kessler. The best sources of vitamin B6 are poultry and fish but vegetarians can find it in citrus, starchy vegetables, and some fortified cereal products.
“Choline is crucial to the baby’s development and also to his or her ability to process information later in life,” Shaw says. Plus, it gives you more energy, which can definitely come in handy during pregnancy. Rich sources include eggs, liver, dairy, shellfish like shrimp, spinach, and beets.
“Magnesium is involved in muscle contraction, and research shows that adequate magnesium during pregnancy can help prevent premature uterine contractions, and thus help stop premature labor,” Koffler says. Great sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens, fish, and whole grains.
Pair it with calcium to help build the baby’s bones and keep them strong, Koffler adds. Calcium can be found in dairy, broccoli, leafy greens, soybeans, fish and nondairy milks, like almond milk.
“Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting, which is crucial for mom and baby during and after labor. The best sources of vitamin K are dark leafy greens, such as kale and Swiss chard, and broccoli,” Koffler says.
Grabbing that banana after a workout is helpful for everyone, but it’s especially beneficial when pregnant, Kessler explains: “Adequate potassium in pregnancy is important because potassium helps with fluid and electrolyte balance.”
During pregnancy, blood volume rises nearly 50 percent, and enough potassium is crucial in balancing the extra fluid and electrolytes, Koffler says. Along with bananas, she recommends potatoes, beans, and avocados.
Dietary fat is extremely important for pregnant women. “We want the good ones most often, the ones that help promote a healthy inflammatory response and help build healthy hair skin and nails,” says registered dietician Ashley Koff.
“Healthy fats also help your body absorb the key fat-soluble nutrients needed for all aspects of better health,” she adds. Koff recommends eating avocados, nuts, and olive oil for anti-inflammatory benefits.
Make sure fish is on the menu, too. “DHA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish, such as salmon, cod, and mackerel,” is crucial in developing the baby’s brain, nervous system, and eyes, Koffler says.
Copper is essential to the building of red blood cells, which is particularly important during pregnancy when a woman’s blood volume increases, says Koffler. The best sources of copper are seeds, nuts, dark chocolate, and lentils.
Though not as well known as other minerals, manganese is a really important nutrient, especially for pregnant women. “Manganese helps form bone and cartilage, and helps protect cells from damage,” Koffler says. The best sources of manganese are–you guessed it–leafy greens, plus whole grains and legumes.