My husband and I are trying to get pregnant. What should I be concerned about related to nutrition?
A woman’s body needs some extra nutritional “building blocks” during pregnancy, and there are a few nutrients that are especially important to include.
Folate – Also known as folic acid, adequate intake of this nutrient has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in newborns. Good food sources include greens like spinach and broccoli, legumes like pinto beans and lentils, and fortified grains like cereal or tortillas. Even if you eat these foods, a prenatal vitamin will help ensure folate needs are met.
Iron – Growing a new human means making extra blood cells, and extra blood cells mean more iron. Many women are iron-deficient in the first place, and needs increase dramatically for pregnancy. Meats, beans, green vegetables, and fortified grains are good iron sources, but absorption tends to be best from meats like beef, chicken, and fish. Cooking with an iron skillet can also add iron to foods. Again, a prenatal vitamin will help ensure iron needs are met.
Calcium – Keep in mind, pregnancy means your body is building a whole new person. That includes bone, so it makes sense that calcium needs increase for pregnancy. Dairy is the best choice for calcium, although tofu, oranges, and almonds are also good sources.
Protein – Protein needs increase by about 50% during pregnancy. Some women may already eat enough protein to cover this, but others may need to add as much as 20-30 grams of protein daily to help build the extra body tissues in pregnancy.
Despite the need for extra nutrients, calorie requirements are not increased as much as some may think. Most pregnant women only need to add around 300 calories to their daily intake to support pregnancy, which is not “eating for two”. The key is to add foods that are rich in the above nutrients, mainly leafy greens, lean proteins (preferably including meat), beans, dairy, and whole grains. A prenatal supplement is essential to help make sure these bases are covered. In fact, it’s a good idea to begin taking one before you’re pregnant to eliminate deficiencies early on.