Pregnancy is undoubtedly a sacred time in a mother’s life — a period in time when two hearts beat within the same body. A nutritionally rich diet saturated with vitamins, minerals and fibrous foods is extremely important during pregnancy to maintain the health of the mother and to aid the optimal development of the child.
Reset spoke to University of Alberta trained nutritionist Megan Pope, co-founder of health food blog Restorative Raw, about the importance of nutrition for maintaining a mother’s health at this crucial stage in her life, as well as for contributing towards the correct development of her child. Megan suggested a list of five key nutrients required for a safe and healthy pregnancy and birth.
“Folic acid is a B vitamin essential for DNA development, cellular growth and red blood cell production. Having adequate levels of folic acid before you become pregnant is important because neural tube defects can arise in the very early stages of pregnancy, sometimes before you are even aware of conception. This nutrient offers the spinal chord and brain a buffer against damage, which is detrimental to the development of the central nervous system of the fetus.
“The recommended dietary allowance (RDA), the estimated daily amount of a nutrient suggested for 97% of the population, when it comes to folic acid is 600 micrograms (mcg) for pregnant mothers. This nutrient can be found in adequate amounts in a variety of healthy whole foods.”
Megan suggests that pregnant mothers consider the following foods to access large amounts of folic acid:
- 1/2 cup cooked lentils (360mcg)
- 1 whole avocado (160mcg)
- 1 cup of spinach (60mcg)
Although it is possible to obtain decent amounts of folic acid from whole foods, it is often recommended that mothers supplement folic acid to ensure they are adsorbing enough to enable the healthy growth of their child.
Calcium helps grow and maintain strong bones and teeth. Megan tells Reset that, “Calcium is a crucial mineral required by the body for skeletal growth and renewal as well as the maintenance and growth of teeth. Bones go through a continual cycle of breaking down and rebuilding, it is therefore important to consume adequate amounts of calcium regularly during pregnancy to ensure the proper development of a baby’s skeleton and teeth. If deficient, calcium will be leeched from the mother’s own bones and delivered to the baby which may contribute towards an increased risk of osteoporosis.
“Calcium also plays a role in muscle contraction, which includes the vital biological function of keeping a regular heartbeat. This mineral also plays an important role in the release of certain hormones and proper neural transmitting.”
The RDA of calcium intake for pregnant women is a total of 1300 milligrams for mothers within the age range of 14 and 18 and 1000 milligrams for mothers between the ages of 19 and 50.
Megan’s suggestions for food sources to obtain calcium during pregnancy include:
- 1 cup of plain yogurt (420mg)
- 2 tablespoons tahini (460mg)
- 1 cup hemp milk (320mg)
Megan adds: “Calcium can also be found in abundance within dark leafy greens such as bok choy, collard greens and broccoli, which are also full of other beneficial and health providing micro-nutrients. It is also important to note that steaming or cooking leafy green vegetables enhances the bioavailability of the nutrients within them.”
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D plays an important role in bodily functions. It is crucial for good overall health and strong bones as well as aiding the function of the brain, lungs and heart. That said, vitamin D deficiency is a common phenomena in the U.S. with symptoms that include bone pain, fatigue and depression. Long-term deficiency is associated with an increased risk of cancer, type 1 diabetes and autoimmune disorders, making it paramount to ingest sufficient amounts whilst pregnant.
Our bodies make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but only a small amount can be accessed from foods. Megan explains: “Vitamin D works to maintain levels of calcium and phosphorous in the body and is also responsible for skeletal formation. Lack of vitamin D during pregnancy may severally impact skeletal health, which can have life long implications for the health of the baby. Vitamin D also contributes to the intestinal absorption of vital minerals such as iron and zinc.”
The RDA for vitamin D for pregnant mothers is 600IU for pregnant mothers.
Megan notes that since “vitamin D is hard to find in abundance within whole food sources, it is advised that pregnant mothers, especially those who live in climates lacking regular sunlight, should seek supplementation of the vitamin.”
Iron is an essential mineral, assisting the transportation of oxygen in the blood, which helps the body to maintain healthy cells.
Megan explains: “Iron is a mineral which is an essential component of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying substance found within red blood cells. There are two types of iron; non-heme (plant-based) and heme (from animal protein sources). Heme iron is much more readily absorbed by the human body, whereas non-heme iron is much less bio-available to the human body. To enhance non-heme absorption foods high in vitamin C should be eaten at the same time. During pregnancy there is an increased need for iron to aid in oxygen transfer across the placenta and to help the baby build red blood cells. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in North America.”
The RDA when it comes to iron intake for pregnant women is 27mg. This daily guideline can be met using Megan Pope’s food source recommendations:
- 1/2 cup white beans (4mg)
- 1 square dark chocolate (5mg)
- 1 cup cooked spinach (6mg)
Megan also suggests: “If pregnant and only consuming non-heme iron sources, it is recommended to take an iron supplement to ensure adequate intake.”
Being a water-soluble vitamin, our bodies do not store vitamin C, therefore we need to be sure to constantly supply our bodies via the food we eat. As well as being an anti-oxidant, vitamin C plays a role in protecting against heart disease, high blood pressure, common colds and even cancer.
Megan points out why vitamin C is a crucial nutrient during pregnancy: “Vitamin C helps to build a baby’s blood vessels, cartilage, bones and immune system. As the body undergoes the physical changes of pregnancy, vitamin C plays an important role in repairing any damage such as rebuilding tissues and fighting against infections that may threaten the health of both mother and baby. The immune system becomes weakened when the body faces large levels of stress, and the physical and mental changes that pregnancy brings about belong to this category.”
The recommended daily allowance during pregnancy is 85mg. Megan suggests adequate levels of vitamin C can be obtained from:
- 1/2 cup raw red bell pepper (100mg)
- 8 oz orange juice (124mg)
- 1/2 boiled broccoli (54mg)
- 1/2 cup strawberries (52mg)