If there is one time in life where nutrition becomes of utmost importance it is in pregnancy. Pregnancy is the building of a whole other human being and placenta plus maintenance of mum’s well-being and because nutrients are the key fuel source to keep the body functioning food plays a major role in both preventing adverse pregnancy outcomes and maintaining a happy healthy pregnancy. In order to keep our bodies thriving we need a vast variety of all vitamins, minerals and macronutrients (protein, fats, carbs) to thrive, however due to pregnancies increased demand for fuel there are a few key nutrients in which pregnant women need to be mindful of
Protein – Among the macronutrients, protein requires the most attention during pregnancy. Protein is the building block of our bodies. It makes up our hair, skin, nails, tissue, hormones, enzymes and pretty much anything structural that you can see. So, as you can imagine the demand for this nutrient progressively increases in order to maintain maternal tissue and foetal growth. Protein sources include – all animal products (meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs), beans, legumes, nuts & seeds
Omega 3 DHA/EPA – Omega 3 fatty acids are an essential part of our diet, simply because our body cannot make them therefore they are completely dependent from the foods we eat. The 2 main types of Omega 3’s that are well researched in health are EPA and DHA. In general, these fats help keep inflammation in check, maintain memory and overall brain function as well as keep our cells functioning correctly. In pregnancy it becomes even more essential for the healthy development of baby’s brain and retina (eyes) as this is where the highest concentration of DHA is contained. In the long term these nutrients help with the psychomotor neurodevelopment of baby. Omega 3 fatty acid sources include – fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines as well as their oils and the precursor nutrient can be found in walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.
Iron – A common nutrient that becomes deplete during pregnancy due to the huge demand of its use is iron. It plays essential roles in the transfer of oxygen to tissues as well as helping to build a baby’s own supply of blood network. During pregnancy iron requirement progressively increases until the third month where adequate stores must then be maintained to support both maternal and foetal levels. Food sources of iron include – red meat, almonds, parsley, soy beans, sunflower/pumpkin seeds, thigh pieces of poultry and legumes.
Iodine – A nutrient not well spoken about but is incredibly important. Iodine is a major component of thyroid hormones and therefore ensure the proper functioning of this endocrine system which is vital for proper growth, metabolism, formation of organs and tissues as well as maintaining adequate body temperature. During pregnancy when iodine is necessary also for the production of foetal thyroid hormones, women need to increase iodine intake by about 50%. Iodine deficiency is considered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the most important preventable cause of brain damage. Food sources of iodine include – asparagus, cod, garlic, mushrooms, seaweed (nori) and sunflower seeds.
Calcium – Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body with 99% located in the skeleton and teeth so you can imagine its importance during pregnancy when a whole new set of skeleton and teeth need to be created. The requirement for this mineral increases during pregnancy from 50mg/day to up to 330mg/day towards the end of pregnancy. Calcium rich foods beside dairy include – almonds, broccoli, buckwheat, egg yolk, green leafy vegetables, molasses, sardines/salmon with the bones, turnips
Vitamin D – Known as the sunshine vitamin, this nutrient plays a critical role in the early stages of pregnancy in modulating the immune system to ensure healthy implantation of the embryo as well as being vital for proper calcium absorption for both baby and mum (see importance of calcium above). Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked with an increased risk of developing pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes which makes it an important nutrient to promote a healthy pregnancy. Apart from consistent sun exposure food sources of vitamin D include – cod liver oil, egg yolk, real butter, sprouted seeds and pork liver
Folate – Probably the most well-known nutrient to be aware of during pregnancy and for good reason, folate plays a crucial role in the synthesis of DNA which is of course the blueprint of our bodies. Due to folates heavy involvement for the development of cells and foetal growth, during pregnancy folate becomes of utmost importance to not only ensure a healthy developing baby and placenta but to also reduce the risk of neural tube defects. The recommended daily intake for folate during pregnancy increases by up to 25% to support the increased need of this nutrient. Some food sources of folate include – beans, eggs, green leafy vegetables, lentils, liver and other organ meats, sprouts, soybeans.
As you can see there is a lot to consider with pregnancy, however sticking to a wholefood fresh food diet, rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and quality proteins is the single best way to ensure all bases are being covered. It is always recommended to seek professional guidance for supplementation of specific nutrients from a qualified health professional who is experienced in overseeing pregnancy care.
Marangoni, F., Cetin, I., Verduci, E., Canzone, G., Giovannini, M., Scollo, P., … Poli, A. (2016). Maternal Diet and Nutrient Requirements in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. An Italian Consensus Document. Nutrients, 8(10), 629. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/artic...