Top 10 Pregnancy Superfoods
Nutrition plays a huge role during pregnancy. The choices moms make can help the developing little one to thrive and avoid potentially serious issues that can arise from different deficiencies. There are many different vitamin and nutrient packed foods that can be easily incorporated into a mom’s weekly diet, otherwise known as superfoods. Here are some of my favorite superfoods which all have benefits to both mom and baby:
Superfoods such as Salmon are rich in Vitamin D and DHA. Vitamin D is involved in modulating the immune system and regulating the secretion of several hormones. DHA is the major polyunsaturated fatty acid contained in the human brain and retinal rods and is essential for brain and retinal development of the fetus during pregnancy.
There is also extensive literature confirming the importance of DHA intake for maternal health to reduce the risk of premature birth and post-partum depression, for the composition of breastmilk, and for overall infant health.
A women’s DHA requirement increases to 100–200 mg per day during pregnancy and lactation, based on studies that have shown the association between increase in the content of DHA in breastmilk and a better overall health status of the infant, especially in terms of visual acuity and cognitive development. The consumption of two servings of fish per week allows achieving the adequate DHA content in breastmilk. 1
Wild Salmon is a superior choice in amount of omega -3s and has less contaminants than farm raised which can contain PCBs, dioxins, and chlorinated pesticides. 2
2. Full Fat Yogurt:
Whole milk yogurt (as long as you tolerate dairy) is a delicious way to get in calcium and providing you check the label for inclusion, healthy probiotics as well. Calcium is essential for fetal development. The requirement increases during pregnancy (from 50 mg/day at the halfway point, up to 330 mg/day at the end) and lactation, due to the mobilization from the maternal skeleton, the greater efficiency of intestinal absorption and the increased renal retention. Adequate Calcium intake also contributes to higher birth weight, reduced risk of preterm delivery, and better blood pressure control. 3 Eating probiotic foods has a myriad of benefits, including better nutrient absorption, immune health and passing these benefits on to baby.
Lentils are chock full of folate, manganese and high in fiber. Folate intake is especially important to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. According to recent studies, folate intake during pregnancy should also reduce the risk of congenital heart disease and support proper development of the placenta. The RDA during pregnancy increases by 50% for pregnant as compared with non-pregnant women of childbearing age going from needing around 400mcg to 800 mcg. 4 One cup of lentils supplies 358mcg of folate. 5 Lentils contain manganese which activated enzymes play important roles in the metabolism of carbohydrates, amino acids, and cholesterol. Manganese is also needed for the formation of healthy cartilage and bone. 6 Lentils are also high in fiber which can help with blood sugar control.
This dark leafy green superfood is loaded with beneficial nutrients like: vitamin K, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate. Vitamin K1 plays a role in bone and face development. It is also an important factor in blood coagulation. 7 Calcium, is the most abundant mineral in the human body with 99% of it located in the skeleton and in the teeth. Calcium is critical to reach the peak bone mass in the first decades of life and to maintain bone mass in adulthood. Pregnant mothers are at even greater risk of iron deficiency, that may affect growth and development of the fetus and increase the risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight and post-partum hemorrhage. According to some recent studies, inadequate iron intakes during pregnancy are associated with increased cardiovascular risk for the offspring in adulthood 8 To increase the absorption of non-heme iron which is the type in plants, add a little vitamin C such as lemon. Vitamin A is important for lung growth in human fetuses, as well as total birth weight. 9 Vitamin C functions as an essential cofactor in numerous enzymatic reactions such as the biosynthesis of collagen, carnitine, and catecholamines, and as a potent antioxidant. It is also important for proper formation of blood vessels, connective tissue and bones. 10 Folate is important to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Folate naturally occurring in foods is different than folic acid which is added to foods and some supplements. Folate is more bio available and better absorbed than folic acid. 11
5. Grass Fed Beef:
Grass fed beef is loaded with nutrients like heme iron, b12, and protein. Make sure it is grass fed beef, this does effect the amount of nutrients. The heme Iron in beef is more bioavailable in animal products therefore a higher amount is absorbed. Pregnant mothers are at an even greater risk of iron deficiency, that may affect growth and development of the fetus and increase the risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight and post-partum hemorrhages. According to some recent studies, inadequate iron intakes during pregnancy are associated with increased cardiovascular risk for the offspring in adulthood 12 Having enough iron can also help reduce fatigue. Iron is also needed to make hemoglobin which is necessary because blood volume increases especially during the second and third trimesters so you don’t become anemic. Vitamin B12 is a vitamin with metabolic roles closely related to folate and homocysteine, and is found in animal-derived foods only. It is important for the synthesis and methylation of DNA, and plays a role in the energy production of the cell. B12 also plays a role in fetal growth. 13 Beef is also very high in protein with 4oz supplying 20g of protein, this is great in supporting muscle growth and development.
6. Fermented Foods:
Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are amazing superfoods for gut health, immune system as well as influencing baby’s gut health. With 70-80% of your immune system residing in your gut, eating lots of good bacteria helps keep mama healthy, your body able to absorb nutrients better and hormones to work properly. Incorporating probiotic and fermented foods every day such as, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, apple cider vinegar etc. will all contribute to robust gut health. Each type of probiotic food can contain different strains of probiotics, it’s good to have a wide range of probiotic strands as each type can have different benefits. Improvement of maternal intestinal microbiota composition, relief of possible gastrointestinal complaints, reduced infant’s risk of developing atopic dermatitis, atopic sensitization and gastrointestinal symptoms as well as changes in fetal and infant’s growth have been reported as positive health effects of probiotics 14 There is a growing literature on how gut microbiota might influence anxiety, depression and cognition via the microbiota-gut-brain axis 15 Probiotics during pregnancy and breast-feeding offers a safe and effective mode of promoting the immunoprotective potential of breast-feeding and provides protection against atopic eczema during the first 2 years of life. 16
Blueberries contain vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber. Antioxidants such as vitamin C provide cell protection from the damage caused by the increased oxidative stress associated with pregnancy. 17 Potassium can help with electrolyte balance and help prevent muscle cramps. Folate is important in proper neural tube development. Blueberries contain a moderate amount of fiber which is important to help aid digestion.
Beets have several benefits including folate and iron. Folate is especially important to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. According to recent studies, enough folate during pregnancy should also reduce the risk of congenital heart disease and support proper development of the placenta. 18 Having enough Iron can help reduce fatigue. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin in order to support blood volume increases especially during the second and third trimesters so mama doesn’t become anemic.
Avocados are superfoods that are unique among fruits and vegetables in that, by weight, they contain much higher amounts of the key nutrients folate and potassium, which are normally under-consumed in maternal diets. Avocados also contain higher amounts of several non-essential compounds, such as fiber, monounsaturated fats, and lipid-soluble antioxidants, which have all been linked to improvements in maternal health, birth outcomes and/or breast milk quality. 19 Studies on fiber intake in pregnant women and the risk for preeclampsia and gestational diabetes consistently encourage greater maternal fiber intake for a reduced risk for both diseases. During pregnancy, the folate requirement for a mother increases due to new cell and tissue formation including increase in red blood cell mass, enlargement of the uterus, development of the placenta, and growth of the fetus. Insufficient maternal folate intake has been linked to increased rates of low birth weight, preterm birth, cardiac defects and neural tube defects however, the risk for all of these outcomes can be significantly reduced with adequate intake. 20 Avocados are also loaded with potassium. A study on women with gestational hypertension that showed the odds of getting gestational hypertension decreased significantly with roughly 250–300 mg higher intakes of potassium per day. This is less than the amount of potassium found in one-half of a medium-sized avocado. 21
10. Whole Eggs:
Whole eggs as superfoods are a great source of nutrients for mamas to be. While much of the nutrients are contained in the yolks, the whites also supply needed protein. Pregnancy and lactation are times when demand for choline is especially high; transport of choline from mother to fetus lactation further increases maternal demand for choline, resulting in further depletion of tissue stores. Choline during pregnancy is especially important because it influences brain development in the fetus and because it is important for maintaining normal plasma homocysteine concentrations during pregnancy. High maternal homocysteine concentrations are associated with increased incidence of birth defects. Choline and folate are also very important later in pregnancy when the memory center, the hippocampus is developing impacting fetal memory. 22 Biotin which is specifically in the egg yolk has been shown to prevent cleft palate and limb hypoplasia. Current research indicates that at least one-third of women develop marginal biotin deficiency during pregnancy. 23 Methionine which is actually in the egg white is essential for growth and tissue repair in mama and baby. 24
Don’t forget to mix in some superfoods into your next meal!