5 Key Nutrients For A Healthy Pregnancy
Eating a healthy balanced diet is crucial to support optimal development of your baby during pregnancy. Make wiser food choices to meet your body's demand for more nutrients. Dietitian Sally Shi-po Poon explains the five key nutrients for a healthy pregnancy:
Folic acid, also known as folate, is a vitamin B that is important for pregnant women. Taking it regularly before pregnancy and during pregnancy helps prevent major birth defects of the fetal brain and spine called neural tube defects. The requirement for folic acid increases from 400 micrograms (mcg) daily for non-pregnant women to 600 mcg daily during pregnancy.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends all pregnant women (and all women who may become pregnant) to take a daily vitamin supplement that contains folic acid. Major food sources of folate include spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, avocado, oranges, papaya, peanuts, and breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid.
The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones which are required for proper growth and brain development of your baby. The World Health Organisation recommends 250 mcg iodine daily during pregnancy. You should consider taking a prenatal supplement containing iodine, as it is difficult to get enough iodine from food alone when you are pregnant.
Seaweed, seafood, egg yolk, dairy products and iodised salt are main sources of iodine. Kelp, in particular, contains a very high level of iodine and eating too much can affect the thyroid function adversely. You should consume kelp in moderation and no more than once a week.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in seafood and include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA is important for the visual and cognitive development of your baby. Pregnant women should aim to attain an average daily intake of at least 200 mg DHA, which can be achieved by eating 8 to 12 ounces of fish or shellfish per week.
To limit your exposure to mercury, choose salmon, sardine, catfish, pollock, Japanese jack mackerel, and shrimp. Avoid eating fish with high levels of mercury such as shark, swordfish, marlin, king mackerel, and bluefin tuna. From the food safety point of view, avoid all raw and undercooked seafood including sushi made with raw fish.
People who do not eat seafood can eat foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil. Our body can produce DHA out of ALA, but the conversion rate seems to be very low. You can consider taking a DHA supplement if you don't eat seafood.
Iron ensures optimal growth and brain development and prevents anaemia. Your body needs more iron during pregnancy and the daily recommended intake of iron is 27 mg. Iron is found in most prenatal supplements.
You should also eat a variety of iron-rich foods including red meat, poultry, fish, egg yolk, lentils, kidney beans, nuts, raisins, and iron-fortified breakfast cereals. Iron can be absorbed better if foods are eaten with vitamin C-rich foods, such as guava, oranges, kiwi fruits, sweet peppers, and tomatoes.
Calcium is required to build your baby’s bones and teeth, and pregnant women require 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Inadequate calcium intake during pregnancy may increase the risk of preterm labour and gestational hypertension. Milk, cheese and yoghurt, are the best sources of calcium.
Pregnant women are advised to consume two glasses of milk or calcium-fortified soy milk daily and choose calcium-rich foods such as Chinese cabbage (bok choi), kale, broccoli, sardines, and tofu made with calcium sulfate.
Vitamin D improves calcium absorption and is essential for bone health and development. Pregnant women need 600 International Units (IU) or 15 mcg of vitamin D a day. Expose to sunlight regularly and consume vitamin D-rich foods such as salmon and fortified food products can help you get enough vitamin D.