Nutrition for Pregnancy: A comprehensive look at what nutrient your preganant body needs and where to get those nutrients from your diet.
Nope, there are no plus signs at my house.
Some of you may be thinking if I am talking about pregnancy, I must be pregnant. But no, that ship has sailed.
However, many of you are pregnant or plan to be pregnant in the future. And nutrition during pregnancy is the foundation for the nutrition of your child. Truthfully, nutrition leading up to pregnancy is crucial, as is after pregnancy for breastfeeding.
Foods to fuel your body before, during and after pregnancy (and beyond)
You know that nutrition is extra important around pregnancy. Here’s the skinny on which foods are especially beneficial for you and your baby, including some interesting facts and useful tips about these nutritious and delicious foods!
Nutrition for Pregnancy
Almonds: Looking for a snack to support healthy energy levels that is also rich in the heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats important in baby’s cognitive and visual development? Go nuts for almonds! In a one-ounce serving of almonds (approximately 20-25 almonds), you can also find a good amount of protein, fiber, and the minerals calcium and magnesium. Calcium and magnesium are critical components of strong bones and teeth, and are also intricately involved in normal nerve, muscle and cardiac function. Just make sure you eat almonds with the skin on – the skin contains powerful antioxidant compounds and fiber!
Dates: Dates are rich in dietary fiber to aid digestive regularity and equipped with a good balance of key minerals – including calcium for strong bones, iron for healthy red blood cells and oxygen transport, and potassium for electrolyte and fluid balance. What’s more, they offer powerful and protective antioxidant capacity important for fighting off oxidative damage and keeping cells healthy. With their sweet taste, dates are a wonderful alternative to added sugars in many recipes – get clever with salad dressings, cereals, desserts, trail mix, pasta, appetizers, and much more. Look for dates that are shiny, uniform in color and completely intact.
These two recipes are some of my favorite treats that feature dates:
Pumpkin Seeds: Pumpkin seeds are just too good to reserve for a single holiday in October! Noshing on these seeds will provide you with high quality protein, healthy mono- and polyunsaturdated fats and the minerals copper, magnesium, and zinc. For mom, the healthy fats in pumpkin seeds provide energy and may support healthy cholesterol levels and overall heart health. At the same time, baby can reap the cognitive and vision-related benefits. Lastly, the rich mineral content of these seeds promote numerous activities in the body from antioxidant function, to energy production, to immune support, and various structural roles related to cell membranes, bones and connective tissues.
I think that tossing toasted pumpkin seeds into trail mixes is perfect!
Sweet Potatoes: Struggling with bloating, swelling and constipation? The potassium and fiber in sweet potatoes may help! Potassium maintains normal fluid balance in the body, while fiber—with adequate fluids—supports healthy digestion and intestinal regularity. Sweet potatoes are also high in vitamins A and C, which are antioxidant nutrients that support optimal eye and immune health. Did we mention that these fabulous root vegetables are fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium?
Make a side of hasselback sweet potatoes to compliment any dinner.
Quinoa: Pronouced “keen-wah”, this grain-like seed is a fantastic addition to any diet. So fantastic, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations declared the year 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa. What’s so special about this grain-like seed? It is rich in quality protein, fiber, folate, phosphorus and magnesium – equating to major benefits for growth and development, digestive regularity, and bone metabolism! A cooked cup of quinoa provides 8 grams of quality protein, 5 g of fiber, and 19%, 30% and 28% of the Daily Value for folate, magnesium and phosphorus, respectively.
Recipes featuring Quinoa:
Chia: Ch-ch-ch-chia! Chia seeds are a fantastic source of the minerals calcium, phosphorus and manganese as well as fiber and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The powerful mineral trio promotes healthy bone development of both mom & baby, while the rich supply of fiber helps mom maintain good digestive regularity. Add the gift of healthy fats, and this seed gives quinoa some competition! Chia seeds are easily digested and do not need to be ground in order to be consumed.
Mango: All of the nutrients packed within a mango provide awesome benefits for both mom and baby, during pregnancy and postpartum. This tropical fruit provides you with dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, and B6, and contains natural enzymes and antioxidants that have digestive and protective benefits. So while moments of pregnancy and even parenthood may seem far from paradise, just close your eyes, picture a beach and grab a mango!
Get your tropical groove on with this Mango Ginger Smoothie.
Spinach: Overflowing with nutritious goodness, spinach packs tons of key nutrients. In fact, 100 grams of this leafy green (which is a little more than three cups of raw spinach and just over a half a cup of cooked spinach) contains almost all of the essential vitamins and minerals. For an expecting mom or a mom-on-the-go, this is great news as these nutrients are critical for mom and baby during and after pregnancy! Choose organic spinach from your grocery store or local farmers market. Spinach is highly susceptible to pesticide spraying so opt for the pesticide-free variety.
Some fabulous recipes that feature spinach are:
Kale: Kale is a hearty, flavorful and fantastically nutritious leafy green that provides wholesome goodness for the whole body! The rich supply of antioxidant vitamins A and C support mom and baby’s immune, vision and skin health, while vitamin K promotes strong bones and normal blood clotting. Experts agree that kale is surely a food to eat and enjoy during pregnancy, and a leafy green to incorporate in the usual diets of kids and adults alike. Kale is also very versatile – try layering it in lasagna, tossing it into stews and soups, using it as the base of a winter salad, adding it as a pizza topping or simply steaming! Kale is also a great green to juice or blend in a smoothie.
Olive Oil: Olive oil is bursting with healthy monounsaturated fats – the ‘good’ fats that support optimal growth and development of baby while sustaining mom’s energy and nutritional needs. This fabulous oil also contains natural plant based polyphenol compounds that offer both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits! Olive oil is graded based upon its degree of processing. You can find extra virgin, virgin, refined and pure olive oil. Extra virgin is the least processed, obtained from the original pressing of the olives, and is known for its delicate flavor and strongest health benefits. Experts recommend purchasing and consuming extra virgin olive oil over all the other varieties for these reason.
Blackstrap Molasses: Blackstrap molasses bears a robust, bittersweet flavor and provides key vitamins and minerals especially important during the perinatal period. Iron for oxygen transport, vitamin B6 for a healthy nervous system and calcium for strong bones are just a few of the nutrients tucked away within this healthful and natural sweetener. Blackstrap molasses pairs well with beans, gingerbread cookies and breads, soups, sausage patties, stews, basted meats, smoothies, granola and steak sauces. Although its distinct flavor may not mix in all recipes, it’s worth getting creative in the kitchen and swapping out alternative sweeteners for this naturally sweet and nutritious syrup! Look for organic, unsulphured blackstrap molasses.
Lemons: When life hands you lemons…pucker up!! Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C, a water-soluble antioxidant vitamin that is essential to a strong immune system, supports key structural functions throughout the body, and enhances the body’s ability to absorb non-heme iron found primarily in plant-based foods! Considering the increased iron needs associated with pregnancy, it surely makes sense to include vitamin C rich foods like lemons in the diet—for both mom and baby. To maximize the juice of a lemon for squeezing, roll it around on a hard surface before slicing open.
Check out this Lemon Chicken Salad.
Ginger: Ginger is a spicy, hot, zesty and aromatic herb alive with well-known therapeutic properties. Aside from being a natural digestive health aid, ginger has become an infamous remedy for the characteristic symptoms of early pregnancy—nausea and vomiting. Studies suggest 1 gram per day (taken in divided doses) of ginger root as an efficacious amount for relieving pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting as well as menstrual discomfort. Be sure to chat with your primary care physician if choosing to take supplemental ginger if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Ginger is perfect steeped in tea or in this smoothie.
Cranberry: Naturally rich in vitamin C for immune strength and fiber for digestive health, cranberries also contain an array of protective plant-based nutrients known as phytonutrients. Select phytonutrients arm cranberries with the ability to promote a healthy urinary tract by inhibiting the adherence of harmful bacteria to the urinary tract walls. The skin and flesh of the cranberry account for the vast majority of the fruit’s phytonutrient content, so aim for whole cranberries. Bring on the protective benefits of this tart fruit!
Cranberries are perfect in oatmeal and in trail mixes or in Cranberry Walnut Bread.
Oats: For those who chose to incorporate whole grains into your diet, oats are an excellent choice. The protein and fiber in oats keep mom energized and full, while vitamin B1 and the minerals manganese, zinc and magnesium support a healthy metabolism, immune system and skeleton! Oats are naturally gluten-free, but sometimes come in contact with gluten when cultivated. If following a gluten-free diet, be sure you select pure oat products that claim 100% gluten-free on the label.