There’s no magic formula for a healthy pregnancy diet. In fact, during pregnancy the basic principles of healthy eating remain the same — get plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. However, a few nutrients in a pregnancy diet deserve special attention. Here’s what tops the list.
Folate and folic acid — Prevent birth defects
Folate is a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects, serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. The synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods is known as folic acid. Folic acid supplementation has been shown to decrease the risk of premature birth.
How much you need: 400 to 800 micrograms a day of folate or folic acid before conception and throughout pregnancy
Good sources: Fortified cereals are great sources of folic acid. Leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and dried beans and peas are good sources of naturally occurring folate.
Calcium — Strengthen bones
You and your baby need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps your circulatory, muscular and nervous systems run normally.
How much you need: 1,000 milligrams a day; pregnant teenagers need 1,300 milligrams a day
Good sources: Dairy products are the best absorbed sources of calcium. Nondairy sources include broccoli and kale. Many fruit juices and breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium, too.
Vitamin D — Promote bone strength
Vitamin D also helps build your baby’s bones and teeth.
How much you need: 600 international units (IU) a day
Good sources: Fatty fish, such as salmon, is a great source of vitamin D. Other options include fortified milk and orange juice.
Protein — Promote growth
Protein is crucial for your baby’s growth throughout pregnancy.
How much you need: 71 grams a day
Good sources: Lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs are great sources of protein. Other options include beans and peas, nuts, seeds and soy products.
Iron — Prevent iron deficiency anemia
Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy, you need double the amount of iron that nonpregnant women need. Your body needs this iron to make more blood to supply oxygen to your baby.
If you don’t have enough iron stores or get enough iron during pregnancy, you could develop iron deficiency anemia. You might become fatigued. Severe iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy also increases your risk of premature birth, having a low birth weight baby and postpartum depression.
How much you need: 27 milligrams a day
Good sources: Lean red meat, poultry and fish are good sources of iron. Other options include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, beans and vegetables.