The pregnancy diet - Most important vitamins during pregnancy
A nutrient rich diet is very important during pregnancy so that your body can stay healthy and support your baby’s growth and development. Your body will need a higher amount of different key vitamins, minerals and other nutrients during each trimester and you will need to have a well balanced diet that includes a variety of food groups- fruits, vegetables, grains, protein sources and dairy products.
As you probably all heard the questionable great advice: “now you need to eat for two”, but in truth your body only really needs extra calories from the second trimester… I know… I was very disappointed to find this out too…
You will need an extra 200 calories per day during the second trimester and 3-400 calories per day during the third trimester.
During the first trimester you have to makes sure to provide the right amount of nutrient to your body and the baby with the same amount of calories you would consume normally. One of the most important nutrients you will have to have loads of is folate or folic acid, which will convert into vitamin B and is the most essential for rapid cell division and growth. The only difference between folate and folic acid is that whilst folate can be found in foods, folic acid is synthetic and made into supplements.
In fact, pregnancy is known to double the need of dietary folates, which also to protect your baby against brain and spinal cord problems.
At least 400mcg folic acid is recommended per day, which you can easily get by consuming greens, legumes, nuts, citrus fruits and others, such as pasta and rice.
Just 1cup of peas contains almost a 100 micrograms of folate, whilst one cup (200 g) of cooked lentils contains 358 mcg.
Beetroots are also great source of folate as a single cup (140 g) of raw beetroot has 148 mcg of folate and they also provide vitamin C, potassium and magnesium.
I have included a great article by Rachael Link, MS, RD on healthline.com with a list of foods that can contain a high amount of folate, which I have provided a link for great article at the bottom of this page.
Your doctor also might advice you to take folic acid supplements.
Iron is another essential nutrient you need to make sure to take enough daily, which is 27 mg per day throughout the whole pregnancy. Iron is important to make red blood cells, which during your pregnancy will increase by 50%, You need the extra iron to help to grow your baby and the placenta.
Red meat and fish are some of the best sources of iron, but if your diet doesn't include animal protein, you can easily get iron from nuts, beans, grains and dark leafy greens.
- A cup of lentils (cooked) has 6.6 mg iron, whilst a cup of red kidney beans has 6 mg of iron.
- Cooked spinach has 6mg of iron per cup.
- A handful of nuts, such as almonds, cashews, peanuts or hazelnut have around 2mg of iron. The same amount as whole grains, such rice, oatmeal or barley.
- And great news, dark chocolate has lot of iron too! - 5mg per square.
Little tip- Having Vitamin B6 rich food, such as sunflower seeds, pistachio or dried prunes can help to ease nausea.
During second trimester calcium, magnesium and vitamin D and C are especially important. These nutrients will help your baby grow strong bones.
Pregnant women need 1000 mg of calcium and 400 mg of magnesium per day. Magnesium can also help prevent the uterus from contracting prematurely.
You will find plenty of magnesium in whole grains, seeds and some fruits. Including vegetables, such as broccoli, green beans, cabbage or nuts will provide both magnesium and calciu
Magnesium rich foods:
- Bran cereal, which has 112 mg of magnesium per ½ cup
- 1 cup of cooked brown rice has 86 mg
- Fishes (mackerel, halibut or cod) have around 82 mg per serving
- And by just eating one banana for breakfast you will have 32 mg of magnesium
Calcium rich foods:
- 1 cup of cooked kale has 180 mg of calcium
- Milk has 280 mg of calcium per cup
- Herbs, such as basil, oregano or parsley have between 26-52 mg of calcium per two tablespoon
Calcium and magnesium rich foods:
- 1/2 cup cooked spinach has 80 mg of magnesium and 120 mg of calcium
- A small handful of almonds (around 12 almonds) have around 30 mg magnesium and 20 mg of calcium
- A cup of cooked Swiss chard will provide 100mg of calcium and 150 mg of magnesium
Vitamin D is bit trickier to include through diet, and your doctor may advice you to take vitamin D supplements from the beginning of the pregnancy. As we all rely on sun as the source of vitamin D, it is also not easy to find vitamin D rich foods. Pregnant women need around 30 mcg vitamin D per day, which you can mostly find in oily fishes- salmon, sardines and mackerel are only contain an average of 7mcg per serving. 20-30 mins of sunbathing during the summer can also help to keep your vitamin D at a healthy level.
Taking enough iron daily is even more important during the second and third trimester.
Vitamin C is always an important nutrient to include in our regular diet and even more so during pregnancy. The need for vitamin C is increased in pregnancy due to larger blood volume in your body to support the healthy growth of your baby. Vitamin C is important for the development of collagen, to protect cells and can also help to absorb more iron.
During pregnancy you should have at least 60mg vitamin C in your daily diet. Greens and citrus fruits are full of vitamin C. One orange has 78 microgram of vitamin C, a lemon has 83 mcg, a cup of cooked broccoli has just over a 100 mcg whilst half cup of strawberries has 89 micrograms of vitamin C.
Although omega-3 fatty acid should be also taken from the beginning of your pregnancy, as the European Food Safety Authority advises pregnant women to take 450 mg of omega-3 fatty acid per day.
At the same time , your baby’s brain development mainly happens during your last trimester, therefore you need to start taking more omega-3 fatty acid, which around 650mg per day. Eating fish twice a week can provide an efficient amount of omega-3 for the week.
Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are mainly oily fishes, flaxseeds, chia seeds and some greens.
- 100g of salmon, mackerel or sardines will serve around 3000mg of omega-3 fatty acid.
- A handful of soybeans have around 500mg
- A cup of raw spinach will provide 40 mg of omega-3 fatty acids
Towards the end of your pregnancy, foods that contain vitamin K (basil, kale, cucumber or prunes) are essential to help your body to heal well after the birth. Leeping your diet high in protein as well.
All in all, it is essential to include a great variety of grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and protein in your diet, but you still might not get enough of the nutrients from your diet. Unfortunately many women start their pregnancy without enough iron and folate to meet their body's increased demands and are unable to bring their levels up through diet alone.
Supplements can be a good solution to make sure your body has efficient amount of all nutrients every day.
15 Healthy Foods That Are High in Folate (Folic Acid) by Rachael Link, MS, RD - https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-folate-folic-acid
Folate Values for Listed & Selected Foods - https://cchealth.org/folic-acid/list.php