GROWING A BABY? HERE ARE THE 10 ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS YOU’LL NEED DURING PREGNANCY

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The story goes a little something like this...

You do a pregnancy test and it’s positive. “Yay!” you think to yourself. Then after the initial excitement, you start to think, “Oh no, I had a glass of wine last night” and “What if that sashimi I ate was off?”. You might start to worry about whether your diet and the vitamins you’re taking are sufficient for nurturing the cells growing inside of you.

If you have ever been pregnant, or even if you are trying, you’ll understand what I am talking about.

Having a healthy balanced diet containing all the essential micronutrients is important for the baby’s growth and development, as well as the mother’s health and wellbeing throughout the pregnancy.

Although the old saying “eating for two” is not entirely true, throughout pregnancy you will need to increase your intake of  micro and macronutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and protein. With respect to caloric intake, it is recommended women increase their intake by 250 calories in the second trimester and up to 500 calories in the third trimester depending on your starting BMI.

Generally speaking, your baby needs more energy to grow big and strong!

Before I get into all the science and food you can eat, I wanted you to know that I know what it feels like to be completely nauseous and basically only want to eat cheese, bread and crackers.  My first trimester was not fun, I remember feeling nauseous all day, luckily I never had to vomit but I was always nauseous and all I wanted to eat was bread, haloumi, avocado and crackers. If you are similar to me, what I would say to you is get in as many whole grains, starchy vegetables, protein and fats like avocado as you can (toasted sandwiches and soups became my best friend as I could get all of these into one meal), try eating more frequently to reduce the nausea and finally have compassion and don’t be too hard on yourself, you are growing a human!

Here is a list of the top 10 essential nutrients for pregnancy and why we need them so bub can grow…

  1. Folate -  folate or B9 is a water soluble vitamin that has been found to help reduce congenital birth defects affecting a baby’s  brain and spine. For a pregnant woman, the daily intake increases from 400mg to 800mg. Doctors and health practitioners recommend folate be taken as a supplement in addition to consuming more folate rich foods as it is hard to get the recommended daily dose from food alone.

    Foods rich in folate include dark leafy greens such as spinach, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, citrus fruits, eggs, legumes and asparagus.

    If you’re trying, folate or folic acid supplementation should start three months prior to conceiving, and is especially important during the first trimester of pregnancy. You can continue with folate supplementation all the way through pregnancy.

  2. Iron - Iron is one the most depleted nutrients during pregnancy. It is an important component of haemoglobin, which is the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body.   A university study found that a baby whose mother was iron deficient, even if the deficiency didn’t reach anaemia, before conception and during early pregnancy was at higher risk for profound and long-term negative effects on brain development.  

    During pregnancy, a woman produces 50% more blood for the baby and to compensate for the blood lost during childbirth.  Iron is needed to produce this additional blood and also oxygen to the baby.

    A non-pregnant woman requires 18mg of iron daily, which increases to a daily dose  of 27mg for women who are pregnant.

    We want to incorporate iron from meat and plant sources, that is haem and non-haem iron foods, into our diet to ensure we are obtaining adequate iron daily and eat these with vitamin C based foods for optimal iron absorption.  Cooking plant-based iron foods will also increase absorption. Some iron rich food sources to include in the diet are mussels, beef, salmon, lamb, green lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, spinach, cashew nuts and oats. To put it in food terms, 100g of mussels contain 6.7g of haem iron, 100g of beef contains 3.5mg of haem iron and 1 cup of green lentils contains 3mg of non-haem iron. A lentil stew or a lamb roast are also perfect dishes to get your daily iron in.    

  3. Iodine - Iodine is a chemical element required for growth and survival.  It plays a major role in the body as it is an essential element required for the production of the thyroid hormone.  The thyroid hormone is critical for the normal development of a baby during pregnancy, as the thyroid hormone plays a role in the regulation of metabolic processes such as growth and energy expenditure.

    For a pregnant woman, the daily dose of iodine increases to 200mcg a day from 150mcg. Iodine rich foods included airy, eggs, poultry, tuna, seaweed, kelp, and iodised salt.  Try adding some seaweed to your salad or milk to your morning oats.

  4. Calcium - Calcium is an essential nutrient needed to help build a baby’s bones and teeth.  In addition to this calcium helps with muscle contraction, helps a baby grow a healthy heart, nerves, muscles and develop a normal heart beat and blood clotting abilities. Calcium intake for a pregnant woman is 1200mg.

    In addition to dairy (yogurt, cheese, milk), calcium can be found in foods such as sardines and canned salmon, almonds, sunflower and sesame seeds, broccoli, dark leafy greens and tofu.

  5. Vitamin D - Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, which means that it is absorbed along with fats and stored in the body’s fat tissue. Vitamin D assists with the absorption of calcium and helps develop baby’s bones and teeth.  Vitamin D is also helpful for immune function and healthy cell division.

    Vitamin D is a hormone which requires sunlight to be able to be made by the body.  We can also get vitamin D through consuming foods such as egg yolk, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, mushrooms and cheese.

  6. Vitamin C - Vitamin C is needed during pregnancy as it assists the body to make collagen (structural protein that is a component of cartilage, tendons, bones and skin). It is also important for tissue repair, wound healing, growth and repair of bones, acts as an antioxidant and protects cells from damage.  It also assists with iron absorption. A pregnant woman needs around 60mg of vitamin C per day.

    Some great sources of vitamin C are kiwi fruit, which contains 91mg of vitamin C in just on serve, capsicum, orange, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit and tomatoes.  

  7. Zinc - Zinc is an important mineral during pregnancy for cell growth, brain development and the production and function of DNA. It also plays a role in supporting the immune system and wound healing.  Zinc has also been associated with reducing the risk of low birth weight and preterm labour. Pregnant women require 11mg of zinc per day.

    Foods that are rich in zinc and available to eat during pregnancy include red meat (100g of beef contains up to 5.8mg of zinc), pork, cashew nuts, almonds, peanuts and yoghurt.

  8. DHA - DHA, also known as omega 3 fatty acid, is required during pregnancy for growth and development. Omega 3 fatty acids are critical for foetal neurodevelopment, reducing inflammation and also for reducing the risk of low birth weight and preterm birth.  It is recommended that pregnant women limit their fatty fish intake to two times a week and take Omega 3 supplementation to ensure they are receiving adequate amounts in their diet.

    Fatty fish such as salmon, trout and sardines are high in omega-3, as well as mussels, flaxseed (ground and oil), linseeds, walnuts, chia seeds and roasted soybeans.

  9. Protein - Protein is one of the major macronutrients.  It is important for the growth and development of your baby, as it helps with tissue growth and the rapid multiplication of cells.  Protein intake during pregnancy should be between 75g to 100g of protein per day.

    Rich sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, dairy, beans and legumes.  100g of chicken breast contains about 34g of protein and one boiled egg contains approximately 8g of protein.

  10. Fibre - Fibre is even more important during pregnancy due to the production of hormones which lead to constipation in many women.  Some fibres are also prebiotics which are essential for developing a healthy microbiome in the mother that can be passed onto baby..

    Generally whole fruits and vegetables contain fibre, some other sources include legumes, beans, brown rice, whole grain bread, rolled oats, peanut butter and almonds.  

During pregnancy it is important to drink lots of water and see your doctor or healthcare provider before taking any pregnancy supplements.


One day meal plan for pregnancy

Breakfast

  • Spinach, zucchini, parsley, capsicum and shaved cheese scrambled eggs with toast and avocado; or

  • Overnight oats with chia seeds and topped with yogurt, nuts and seeds, banana and berries.

Lunch

  • Toasted roasted vegetable, cheese and chicken sandwich on soy linseed or wholegrain bread (I used to have this with a side of pumpkin and sweet potato soup); or

  • Brown rice and canned salmon salad with hard feta or avocado (vegetables include, spinach, cucumber, green beans, tomato, capsicum and carrot.

Dinner

  • Grilled lamb cutlets, charred mixed greens salad (broccolini, brussel sprouts, baby spinach, green beans) with tahini, olive oil and lemon dressing, and roast potatoes; or

  • Grilled salmon with roasted vegetables and quinoa salad.

Snacks

  • Handful of mixed nuts (brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts are my top 4) or nut butter

  • Fruit (these are easy to grab and go)

  • Greek Yoghurt and berries

  • Toast with nut butter and banana

  • Boiled eggs


As always, before consuming or taking anything during pregnancy it is important that you consult with your midwife or doctor to ensure that this is a right product for you, or contact MotherSafe.