Nourish - 7 Nutrients and Supplements to Look For in a Prenatal Diet
If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, you’re probably already aware that you should be eating a healthy diet. Naturally, this is to ensure that you and your baby receive plenty of good quality nutrients necessary for optimum health and wellness.
But even if you are eating well, you can’t always trust you’re getting ALL the nutrients essential for a healthy pregnancy from your food at the recommended levels. Therefore it is advisable to supplement alongside with a good prenatal vitamin.
This will help you to cover any nutritional gaps in your diet and ensure that you obtain the correct quantities of each nutrient. Consequently, this should help to prevent any deficiencies and support you and your baby’s health during pregnancy.
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet. Especially when you’re pregnant or trying to conceive.
What You Need to Look Out For And Why in Your Diet and Prenatal Vitamins
All vitamins and minerals work together to function and absorb at their best. Naturally, it’s best to eat a wide variety of foods to get an abundance of nutrients in your diet. Then you supplement with a prenatal vitamin and mineral complex to fill in any gaps.
It is also strongly advised that you do not take the following nutrients as a separate supplement unless otherwise stated by a health care professional.
No. 1 – Folate
Folate is essential for proper cell replication and thus for the development and maintenance of body tissues and systems, especially the nervous system.
Folate is well known for its preventative effects against developmental issues. One commonly known about one is spina bifida. This is a condition where the bone encasement that protects the spinal cord is not fully developed.
If you are deficient in this nutrient before you become pregnant, the developing foetus is at an increased risk for neural tube defects. This is a developmental condition that adversely affects nervous system development in the foetus. The preventative dose recommended by most experts is typically 400ug per day pre and during pregnancy.
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 found in food, while folic acid is a synthetic form. When supplementing, it is always best to look for the natural form, sourced from foods.
Folate is part of the B-Vitamin complex family, and when supplementing with a high dose of a single B vitamin, it may deplete the other B vitamins. It is therefore advisable to supplement with a good B complex alongside. This is unless you’re taking a prenatal which will have these included.
In addition to this, it’s worth taking note that folic acid can also hide any signs of B12 deficiency. If you’re vegan, vegetarian or generally worried about your b12 levels, it is a great idea to supplement with a B-complex that has a decent dose of B12.
Food sources rich in folate include:
- Lentils and legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans and pinto beans.
- Green leafy veg including spinach, kale, turnip greens, bok choy, parsley, and romaine lettuce.
- Veggies such as asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli and beetroot.
- Fruit including pineapples, raspberries, mangoes and kiwi fruits.
No.2 – Iron
Your growing baby will use up a lot of iron from your own supply, especially during the last 2 months of pregnancy. If blood tests show that iron levels are low, iron supplements may be necessary. Anaemia can cause serious complications during delivery and is easy to prevent with the right nutrition.
Iron works and absorbs best when combined with other nutrients, including vitamin B12, folate, vitamin C, copper and molybdenum. All of these can be found in a well-balanced diet, and of course, they’ll be the correct levels in a prenatal vitamin.
If you have troubles with iron supplements, such as digestive upsets including nausea, diarrhoea or constipation, it might be worth upping your food intake to reach your levels instead.
Food sources rich in iron include:
- Lentils and legumes e.g chickpeas, black beans and haricot beans.
- Dried fruit e.g dates, raisins, figs, prunes and apricots.
- Nuts e.g almonds, pecans, walnuts and cashews.
- A variety of vegetables e.g beetroot and especially green leafy veg.
- Grass-fed liver and lean meat. Regarding meat, find the best quality meats from local farmers and farmers markets and look for animals that were grass-fed and preferably organic.
- Organ meats can be quite a controversial topic these days and it is totally up to you on where you stand with this.
- Treacle and molasses are also good sources.
No. 3 – Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for a multitude of bodily functions from mood, immunity through to bone health. It can also help reduce the risk of many pregnancy-related complications. Vitamin D is important for your baby’s muscle, bone and hormone development. Additionally, it helps support your immune system during pregnancy.
Check with your health care professional for what levels are optimum for you, and whether your prenatal vitamin levels are suitable.
Food sources rich in vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines and canned tuna
- Fortified dairy and soya products
- Some mushrooms.
Mushrooms you say?
Just like humans, mushrooms have the ability to produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, similar to humans.
Portobello mushrooms have good amounts of vitamin D and Shiitake mushrooms are also considered a good source of vitamin D.
- And of course the most well-known source – the sun!
As it can be very difficult to get the recommended amount of Vitamin D from your food and sun alone, it is recommended that most people get their levels checked and supplement accordingly. Especially when pregnant.
For more info on vitamin D, check out this post on What’s the Scoop on: Vitamin D.
No. 4 – Zinc
Zinc is an extremely important mineral, necessary for proper growth and development of the foetus and the growing child in the womb. Zinc helps with the development of the baby’s healthy skin, bones and teeth.
Low zinc levels are linked to premature birth, low birth weights, neural tube defects and other neurological problems. Therefore it is essential to make sure you are not deficient in this nutrient.
High doses of zinc long term can interfere with copper utilization and cause deficiency. For this reason, always take zinc in combination with other nutrients, such as in a prenatal vitamin to ensure maximum absorbency and efficient utilisation.
Food sources rich in zinc include:
- Lentils and legumes
- Seeds e.g sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Nuts e.g almonds
- Avocado and bananas.
- Red meat
- Organ meats such as liver
- Shellfish is an excellent source of this nutrient though some people are dubious of this during pregnancy. Always talk to a health professional, dietician and/or nutritionist beforehand if you have questions.
No. 5 – Calcium
The need for calcium is greatly increased during the last 3 months of pregnancy. This is when the baby takes what it needs to form its own healthy bones and teeth. A lack of this mineral in the mother’s diet will often cause leg and foot cramps and a susceptibility to tooth decay in the mother. That’s why it’s important to keep up your levels in order to prevent this unfortunate side-effect of birthing a human!
Food sources rich in calcium include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Brasiccas e.g broccoli,
- Fried fruit e.g figs
- Whole grains/pseudo-grains e.g millet, oats
- Nuts e.g almonds
- Seeds e.g sesame, pumpkin, chia, hemp, sunflower
- Fish e.g sardines
For more info on calcium and getting your recommended intake, have a read over this blog on Can I Get Enough Calcium on a Plant-based Diet?
What Are The Additions You Need to Add to Your Prenatal/Nutrient-rich Diet?
No.6 – DHA Omega Supplement
Omega-3s are an incredibly vital nutrient to consume preconception and all the way through the pregnancy. Even afterwards! They play a pivotal role in foetal growth and development and are particularly essential for brain, eye and nervous system development.
Ensure you take a high quality, purified fish oil supplement such as:
For preconception and during pregnancy you want to buy a fish oil (or algae) with high levels of DHA.
During pregnancy, the daily requirements of DHA increase. Especially during the first few weeks of embryonic development when brain cell division is most active. The mother’s blood needs to supply the foetus with large amounts of DHA, therefore her levels must be sufficient.
This supply needs to continue throughout the pregnancy for continuous foetal development, in particular the last trimester which is the period for most of the eye development.
If you wish to breast-feed, DHA is the most predominant omega-3 fatty acid in breast milk, and after birth, the infant will receive DHA from the mother.
This time is still a significant time for the babies continuing brain and eye development. Studies show that babies receiving adequate DHA from their mother during pregnancy and lactation have better vision and even IQ scores!
DHA is not always easy to include in your diet especially if you are worried about eating fish that may contain too many contaminants and heavy metals.
Supplementing high-quality sources of these fats can help reduce the risks of complication and give the baby the necessary nutrients for good development.
There has also been research carried out which found a lowered development of major depression during and after pregnancy in those that consumed omega 3 fats.
Food sources rich in omega-3s include:
- Oily fish
- Chia seeds, hemp, linseeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Consuming plenty of oily fish can be great for the omega oils, but there is always the danger of heavy metal contamination which you want to avoid. Supplementing is a great way to avoid overconsumption of heavy metals through fish.
No.7 – Probiotics
A baby is born with a sterile gut and begins to develop its own gut bacteria based on the gut flora of the mother when passing through the birth canal. If breastfed, then this continues from nursing in the months afterwards. This makes it essential that the mother has an optimum balance of good bacteria in her gut to enable a good development in her baby.
A high-quality probiotic will help ensure that your baby will get a good dose of beneficial bacteria, which may reduce the risk of illness in the first few years. Probiotics are best obtained from high-quality supplements such as Optibac, Biocare or Udo’s.
Udo’s infant probiotic formula can even be taken from birth up until the age of 5 to ensure your child’s friendly bacteria levels are flourishing.
Food sources rich in probiotics include:
So there you have my 7 Nutrients and Supplements to Look For in a Prenatal Diet.
You’ll find a lot of varying information in books, online and from other people about which vitamins are the best. Remember that every woman is different and they all have different nutritional needs. Try out different brands and find out what diet and supplements work for you.
It is recommended that you consult with your doctor/midwife/health care professional before deciding which prenatal vitamin is right for you. Equally, it is important to test whether you have any deficiencies you need to cover. You may need additional nutrients, and now is the best time to find out and cover those gaps.
Please remember that prenatal vitamins are a supplement and not a substitute for a healthy diet. You should still do your best to consume a diet rich in the nutrients listed above.
*Please note this is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you are taking medication or have a diagnosed condition.