Oh, the joys of pregnancy! As soon as you announce your pregnancy, everyone under the sun, from your mother-in-law to your massage therapist, starts to pepper you with advice. A lot of is helpful, but some of it is downright wrong, especially as it relates to what to eat to fuel your growing baby. Here’s a no-nonsense list of foods that are packed with the essential nutrients your little one needs for healthy growth and development. Time to eat up momma!
If you’ve been plagued by leg cramps during your pregnancy, it’s time to get more avocado. Half of this creamy, delicious fruit contains 345mg of potassium, 114 calories, and nearly 5g of fiber. A lack of potassium can cause leg muscles to cramp. During pregnancy you need 4700mg daily of the mineral, which sounds like a shocking amount, but most fruits and vegetables contain at least some potassium. If you’re breastfeeding, that amount jumps to 5100mg per day, so it’s smart to get used to packing lots of this important electrolyte into your diet.
The ever-popular avocado toast is a delicious way to start your day. Change it up by topping the avocado with fresh fruit, spice mixes like za’atar, and baby kale.
You know that omega-3 fatty acids are so important for your baby’s developing brain, but you might be confused about the best way to get those important fats. Unfortunately, lots of pregnant women have gotten the wrong message about seafood, thinking that it’s not safe to eat during pregnancy, which has translated to pregnant women eating just ¼ of the recommended amount of seafood per week. The DHA omega-3s found in fatty fish are essential to the healthy development of a growing baby’s brain and nervous system, especially during the last trimester. In fact, a recent study in Nutrition Journal reported that moms-to-be who eat two seafood meals per week can boost their baby’s IQ by an extra 3.3 points by age 9. And moms–it’s also important to get enough for your own health–omega-3 deficiency increases your risk of experiencing depression.
The good news is that it’s actually easy to get the recommended 8-12 ounces of seafood each week, especially when you keep canned tuna on hand. Bumble Bee’s Omega-3 Albacore Tuna packs in extra omegas for a total of 500mg of EPA and DHA combined in each 2-ounce serving. The recommended daily intake of DHA during pregnancy is 300mg.
Tuna sandwiches are delicious of course, but tuna is also tasty mixed with fresh lemon juice, chopped parsley, chopped olives and some extra virgin olive oil. You can use this satisfying and healthy mixture to top an arugula salad, or serve it on whole grain toast or crackers. I also love tossing tuna with pasta and steamed veggies with some olive oil, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon–delicious!
It’s time to bone up mommas! Calcium is essential for building baby’s bones and teeth. This mineral is found in milk, yogurt, cheese, spinach, broccoli and almonds. Most women don’t get enough (we need 1000mg daily), so make an effort to add a few extra servings each day. If you don’t get enough from your diet, baby will borrow calcium from your bones and teeth (yikes!), which can leave you with brittle bones down the road.
There are many reasons why Greek yogurt has become the star of the dairy aisle. It’s loaded with protein (because it requires twice as much milk to make), boasting about
14g of protein per 5.3-ounce cup. It also contains probiotics, which help to maintain a healthy digestive system. Additionally, it provides 15 percent of your daily calcium requirement, plus it has a smooth and creamy texture.
Topping Greek yogurt with frozen wild blueberries adds 6g of fiber and only 80 calories, plus an antioxidant boost. Two tablespoons of chopped almonds add crunch and extra calcium, plus 90 calories, 4g protein, 1.5 g fiber, and healthy fats.
You’ve probably been reading lots in the news about vitamin D. It’s known as the trusty sidekick to calcium, helping the mineral get absorbed by the body. It’s also been linked to preventing cancer, boosting immunity, reducing inflammation and improving mental health.
During pregnancy, it’s vital to get enough vitamin D to help support your baby’s growing bones and teeth, and to make sure that her immune system functions properly once she leaves the womb. Pregnant women need 600 IU of vitamin D daily, but many experts recommend 1000 or more IU daily. Up to 4000 IU per day is safe, according to the Institute of Medicine.
One egg serves up 20 IU of vitamin D. The vitamin D is in the egg yolk, so don’t ditch it! Other good sources are fortified milk (98 IU per 8 ounces), salmon (360 IU per 3.5 ounces) and canned tuna (200 IU per 3 ounces).
Egg yolks also contain choline, which is essential for your little one’s developing brain and can help prevent birth defects. You need 450mg daily of choline and you can knock out 125 mg with just one egg. Luckily, there are hundreds of delicious ways to enjoy eggs! Just make sure to fully cook them to avoid food safety issues.
When I was pregnant, I craved eggs every day and the quickest way to get one on my plate was to fry one up. I usually put it on top of a piece of whole grain bread, but I also loved serving them over whole grains, like farro. Ancient grains like farro and sorghum do take a while to cook, but once cooked, you can freeze them in airtight containers for up to three months. And of course, quinoa is another healthy, protein-rich whole grain that takes just 15-20 minutes to cook. Eggs are delicious on all of them–try a little salsa, sriracha or grated Parmesan cheese for an added flavor boost.
Oranges & Orange Juice
Folic acid is essential to the development of your baby’s spinal cord and spinal nerves. It’s key in preventing spina bifida and it’s important to get enough both before and during your pregnancy. You’re likely already taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid, but you’ll also want to eat plenty of foods that are rich in this B vitamin too. The daily goal for folic acid is 600mcg (micrograms).
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and is important for the growth of new cells and your body is doing a ton of that right now. During pregnancy, you need 85mg of this important antioxidant and breastfeeding pushes the requirement up to 120mg. Lucky for you, oranges and OJ are a fantastic source of both folic acid and vitamin C, all in a delicious, refreshing package. One orange contains 48mcg of folic acid, plus 64mg of vitamin C. An 8-ounce glass of orange juice (which is equivalent to 2 oranges) covers your vitamin C needs for the day and boasts 80mcg of folic acid.
Other fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C include bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, kiwi and mango.
Folic acid-rich foods also include fortified cereal and breads, lentils, edamame, spinach, asparagus and wheat germ.
Iron is necessary for the formation of red blood cells, which your body is busy making during pregnancy, as blood volume increases by a whopping 50 percent. Your daily requirement jumps from a doable 18mg per day pre-pregnancy to 27mg per day during pregnancy, which many women find daunting to get. Your prenatal vitamin will give you some iron, but what you eat is also essential for covering your needs.
Not only do you need the extra iron to make all those new red blood cells, but baby also stores up on iron in the womb, which is super smart on his part because breast milk is low in iron. Iron efficiency anemia is very common during pregnancy and can leave you feeling sluggish (even more than usual) and out of breath. Dizziness and difficulty concentrating are other signs you could be anemic.
You probably know that red meat is an excellent source of iron. Even women who have been vegan or vegetarian for years often experience such strong cravings for meat that they throw their dietary restrictions aside and tuck into a juicy beef burger. If you’re feeling like a cave girl, go for it! You can always return to your prior eating habits once baby enters the world.
There are two different types of iron–heme and non-heme. Heme iron comes from animal sources and is easiest for your body to absorb. Non-heme iron comes from plants and our bodies aren’t as efficient at absorbing it, so you’ll need to eat more of it to get enough for your baby.
In addition to beef and bison, which supply about 3g of iron per 4-ounce serving, you’ll also get plenty of this mineral in chicken, eggs, salmon, Swiss chard, and dried apricots.
I know it seems like a lot is on your plate right now, but with a few tweaks, you can get your diet in ship shape and feel great about what you’re fueling your body and your baby with.