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5 Healthy Nutrients You Need During Pregnancy


You may be eating for two, but that doesn’t mean supersizing your meals. Instead of piling another scoop of ice cream on your sundae, learn all about the healthful pregnancy foods you’ll need to help ensure the best outcome for you and your baby…
When you’re carrying a growing baby, good nutrition is more important than ever. After all, everything you eat is passed on to your little one.
But knowing exactly what to eat – and how much of each nutrient you need – can be as nerve-wracking as choosing a name.
Fortunately, the main goal is simple: Increase the amounts of healthful nutrients in your diet during pregnancy, says Kelly O’Connor, R.D., L.D., a registered dietitian at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
“[The extra nutrition] will ensure that the mother remains healthy and that she promotes the normal growth and development of her baby,” O’Connor says.
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Eating nutrient-dense foods also helps prevent too much weight gain, which can affect labor and the outcome of the birth, says Sean Daneshmand, M.D., ob-gyn, a maternal fetal medicine specialist with Sharp Hospital in San Diego.
“Obese women run an increased risk of gestational diabetes, congenital malformations (i.e. spine deformities), and 4-5 times the risk of having a stillbirth,” he says.
For the recommended weight gain of 25-30 pounds, the average woman’s diet during pregnancy should include about 300 extra calories a day, says O’Connor.
And you need to make them count, she says. While sweets or junk food on occasion are fine, focus on wholesome foods that are rich in essential nutrients.
So which nutrients are most important for your diet during pregnancy – and how do you get enough? Here’s what you should know about the top 5.
1. Folate
Why it’s important: This crucial B vitamin is involved in the development of the fetus’ neural tube – the beginnings of the brain and spinal cord.
Taking folic acid (the synthetic supplement form of folate) may reduce the risk of spinal cord birth defects, especially spina bifida. It also helps prevent anemia, “which can become a serious complication of pregnancy,” O’Connor says.
Because birth defects can occur at the beginning of a pregnancy, many doctors recommend you start taking folic acid if you’re even trying to have a baby.
If possible, “folic acid should be taken at least a month prior to conception,” Daneshmand says.
Get it in your pregnancy foods: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends 600 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid for pregnant women – which is the amount often included in prenatal vitamins.
But food sources are preferable to supplement forms, says O’Connor. So get more folic acid during pregnancy with oranges and orange juice, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, beans, bananas, broccoli and fortified cereals.
“Continue including those food sources in the diet along with a supplement to keep the intake consistent and adequate day after day,” O’Connor says.

2. Vitamin B12
Why it’s important:
This vitamin plays a role in the development of the nervous system, and along with folic acid, it may be involved in neural tube development, according to the NIH.
Get it in your pregnancy foods: Pregnant women should get 2.6 mcg of B12, the NIH says.
Most women absorb enough through their diet during pregnancy, says pediatrician Erika Landau, M.D., author of The Essential Guide to Baby’s First Year (Penguin). “If you have a healthy diet and are taking prenatal vitamins you should be OK.”
Because the main food sources are animal products, the American Dietetic Association recommends B12 supplements for strict vegetarians during both pregnancy and lactation. This ensures that enough of the vitamin is transferred to the fetus and infant.
B12 can be found in milk and milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs and nuts, as well as fortified cereals.
3. Iron
Why it’s important:
Iron is part of hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.
When you’re pregnant, your body makes 30% more blood, so you have enough to share with your baby. A lack of iron could hurt your ability to make additional red blood cells, putting you at risk for iron-deficiency anemia (and increasing your baby’s risk of anemia in infancy).
Doctors often give pregnant women iron to supplement their diet during pregnancy, especially if they’re anemic or at risk of developing anemia, says O’Connor.
Get it in your pregnancy foods: The recommended daily allowance for iron is 30 milligrams (mg) for pregnant and lactating women, up from 18 mg per day for non-pregnant women under 50. This amount is often included in prenatal vitamins, but can also be met by three daily servings of iron-rich foods a day. This boost can cause constipation in pregnant women, so it’s important to drink adequate fluids (at least 8 cups of water per day, according to the Cleveland Clinic) and get plenty of fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Highly fortified breakfast cereals are a good source of iron, containing as much as 18 mg per serving.
Other good sources include whole grains, breads, lean beef, chicken, clams, crab, fish, egg yolks, oysters, pork, shrimp and turkey – as well as fruits such as berries, apricots, dried fruit, grapes, oranges, plums, prune juice and vegetables.
Lean beef is one of the best sources, says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, Ed.D., R.D., associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.  “Strive for lean beef three times a week,” he says.
4. Vitamin C
Why it’s important:
A vitamin C deficiency is associated with a low-birth-weight baby, pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure) and anemia (because it helps the body absorb iron), says Landau. It’s best to get it from foods rather than supplements, because “moms should focus on eating as many fresh fruits and vegetables as they can,” she says.
Get it in your pregnancy foods: Pregnant women should get 120 mg of vitamin C per day, according to the NIH.
Good natural sources include red bell peppers, broccoli, collard greens and vegetable juices, along with mangos, papayas, cantaloupe, strawberries, oranges and orange juice.
5. Zinc
Why it’s important:
A zinc deficiency may also contribute to pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure). The condition is associated with swelling of the body’s tissues and excess protein in the urine, and zinc helps the body absorb protein rather than excrete it.
Get it in your pregnancy foods: The RDA of zinc is 11 mg for pregnant women and 12 mg for lactating women, says O’Connor. Additional zinc supplements aren’t usually needed if a woman is already taking prenatal vitamins and eating a good variety of foods, she says. High-protein foods such as meat, chicken and fish are good sources of zinc. Dark meat chicken contains more than light meat.
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