Congratulations! Pregnancy is exciting and exhilarating.
For some women, it can also bring endless aches, pains, nausea and fatigue—and concerns about your child’s future.
Well, your child’s future starts now. Each day of pregnancy brings new milestones in your growing baby’s development—from her little beating heart to her tiny fingernails. The best way to nurture her quick development starts with eating a healthy diet filled with essential macro- and micro-nutrients.
These nutrients support your changing body as you support the life growing inside of you. Your nutrient intake should increase during pregnancy so that you and your baby can stay healthy and strong.
The following foods contain the fiber, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals you need for a healthy pregnancy.
Legumes include beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts. They’re packed with a wide range of essential nutrients that you and your baby need to thrive.
Beans are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals including folate, thiamin, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, and many other minerals.
Lentils are also an excellent source of nutrition required for pregnancy. One cup of lentils contains 18g of protein, 90% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of folate, and 37% of your RDI of iron.
Beans and lentils are considered the most economical source of complete protein—so you don’t have to break the bank trying to find healthy foods to support your pregnancy. If your pregnant belly can’t stomach the thought of eating beans and lentils, disguise them in burgers or patties. Who knew eating nutritious foods could be so simple and inexpensive.
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids play many important roles during pregnancy.
A 2009 study published in The Journal of Epidemiology found that pregnant women in countries with high seafood intake appeared to be virtually free of depression. The study brought to light the association between depression during pregnancy and low omega-3 intake.
Other studies show the important role of omega-3 fatty acids in fetal brain development. Furthermore, there is evidence that preterm delivery is associated with low levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the fetal brain.
The best fish to eat for those omega-3s? Eat mackerel, trout, herring, salmon, sardines, and albacore tuna. These foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.
To get the third kind of omega-3 fatty acid, alphalinolenic acid (ALA), eat chia seeds and flaxseeds which are both incredibly rich in this nutrient.
Dark, leafy green vegetables including kale, spinach, collard green, mustard greens, and many others, are bursting with nutrition.
One cup of raw kale will fill your dietary needs of vitamins A, C, and K for one day. It is also an excellent source of protein, fiber, folate, calcium, and iron. Vitamin A is essential for embryonic growth—it assists in the development of the heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, and bones, and it builds the circulatory system, the respiratory system, and the central nervous system. Vitamin C is necessary to make collagen to form your tiny baby’s tendons, bones, cartilage, and skin.
Not to the mention that leafy greens are teeming with antioxidants in the form of vitamin C, carotenoids, and chlorophyll.
Broccoli is another superfood-must when pregnant. This cruciferous vegetable contains many antioxidants including sulforaphane, which may prevent cancer and certain inflammatory conditions—a nasty side-effect of pregnancy.
Broccoli is made of 20% protein, and it’s packed with fiber to prevent uncomfortable pregnancy constipation. Broccoli is an excellent source of iron, staving off anemia in pregnant women, and it contains folate, which lowers the risk of neurological defects like Spina Bifida.
Plus, research suggests that babies born to mothers who eat cruciferous vegetables—which contain phytochemicals—have a lower chance of developing leukemia and lymphoma during infancy and childhood.
Feeling queasy? Studies show that ginger is a safe and effective nausea remedy for pregnant women. One such study, published in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2001 showed a significant decrease in nausea and vomiting with ginger supplementation during pregnancy.
Ginger also has powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-viral activity—perfect for a time when you need to be your strongest and healthiest.
Grass-fed beef is a great option for those carnivores out there. Research shows that grass-fed beef contains more nutrients than grain-fed beef. It has 3 times as much omega-3 fatty acids as its counterpart.
Grass-fed beef contains all the nutrients of grain-fed beef and then some. It contains vitamin A, vitamin E, and more of other micronutrients like potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, and sodium.
Both grass-fed and grain-fed beef are loaded with iron and protein—two musts for pregnant women. For some added nutrition, reach for the grass-fed option, although it does tend to be pricy.
Chicken and turkey are excellent sources of high-quality protein. For lean meat, choose chicken breast and grill it or bake it in the oven. Chicken is a good source of B-complex vitamins as well as certain minerals including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and selenium.
If you’ve developed an aversion to poultry during pregnancy, don’t sweat it. There are plenty of other sources from which to get those proteins!
Eggs are another economical and easy source of protein. They are incredibly versatile and they contain a very important nutrient which is not easy to find in other food sources. The compound choline is found in the highest concentration in egg yolks.
Choline is needed for normal function of all cells. It is critical in normal development of the brain, particularly in memory. In one study, rat pups who were given choline supplements in utero had a change in brain function resulting in lifelong memory enhancement.
This is one of the best examples on how proper nutrition during pregnancy can affect your child for the rest of his life.
Whole grains contain way more fiber, protein, and minerals than refined flour. They will help to keep your digestive system running smoothly, while keeping you full for longer. Same goes with brown rice instead of white rice.
Choosing to eat foods that are less processed and refined will help keep you on track during pregnancy.
Nuts contain the good kind of fat which keep your cholesterol levels in check. They also contain protein, vitamins, and minerals which are important for your—and your baby’s—overall health.
Almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios are the healthiest nut choices because they have omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber. Walnuts have highest amount of fatty acid ALA.
Chia seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds are just about the healthiest seeds out there. They’re packed with omega-3 fatty acids, and they’re great sources of magnesium and fiber.
For a snack which provides a steady release of energy, rather than a spike followed by a crash, get yourself a handful of healthy nuts and seeds.
For a positive pregnancy experience, eat foods that make you feel good. Get the most out of your meals by using fresh, organic, and unprocessed ingredients with maximum nutrition value for you and your growing baby.
Ariela is passionate about women’s health and cooking. She loves combining her interests to experiment in the kitchen and write about healthy eating and living habits, delicious food, and enjoying exercise.