We’ve compiled a list of nutrient-rich power foods for pregnant and lactating women. You might think of these foods as nature’s original multitaskers, because they deliver multiple essential nutrients for mama and baby in every bite.You cannot have a healthy pregnancy without ensuring that your diet meets your changed nutritional needs.
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Are you wondering about the food you need to eat to ensure a healthy pregnancy? Are you looking to create the perfect pregnancy menu? Let us help you out!
What it’s got: Whether you like them fried, scrambled, hard-boiled or served as an omelet, eggs are the gold standard for prenatal protein. They also happen to be a great source of folate, iron and choline.
Why it’s good for both of you: Not only are eggs a relatively cheap, versatile and convenient source of protein, but they contain choline too. Never heard of that last one? Choline is critical to fetal brain development and reduces the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. But to reap the benefits, you’ll have to eat the whole thing (so forget the egg-whites-only order); choline is contained in the yolk. If your cravings are more for a burger than eggs Benedict, you’re in luck — there’s also choline in beef. Bonus: Give baby a brain boost by buying eggs fortified with omega-3s.
What it’s got: Don’t just save these guys for Thanksgiving — sweet potatoes are full of nutritious fiber, vitamin B6, potassium (even more than bananas have!), vitamin C and iron, as well as copper and beta-carotene.
Why it’s good for both of you: Sure, other foods on our list offer many of the same nutrients, but we’re singling out sweet potatoes for their beta-carotene — an antioxidant that your body converts to vitamin A. And as you may recall, vitamin A plays an important role in the development of baby’s eyes, bones and skin. Sweet potatoes are also a great way to meet your iron quota. Not only do these orange spuds contain iron, but they also have copper — a mineral that helps your body absorb iron. So swap in sweet potatoes for your usual sides; they’re great mashed, baked or French-fried (um, yum!)
What they’ve got: This crunchy (and convenient) snack is full of healthy fats (including those brain-boosting omega-3s we mentioned earlier), protein, fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Plus, noshing on nuts will help make a dent in the 800 milligrams of magnesium you’re supposed to get now that you’re preggers.
Why they’re good for both of you: Munching on magnesium-rich foods helps reduce the risk of premature labor and aids in the development of your baby’s nervous system. A quarter cup of almonds contains 98 milligrams of magnesium, so keep a stash in your purse for a convenient prenatal power snack on the go. Cravings control: If you feel like a bottomless pit these days, try noshing on shelled pistachios. They take longer to eat, giving your body more time to register that it’s full.
Beans and Lentils
What they’ve got: If you’re not a big meat eater (or one at all), beans and lentils are great sources of protein and iron, as well as folate, fiber and calcium. And beans (especially baked ones) are also bursting with zinc.
Why they’re good for both of you: Beans boast a bunch of the baby- and mom-friendly minerals found in animal products, so they’re a great option for vegetarian and vegan moms-to-be. Beans are also rich in zinc — an essential mineral that’s linked to a lower risk for preterm delivery, low birth weight and prolonged labor. Beans bother your stomach? Other great sources of zinc include meat, chicken, milk, fortified cereals, cashews, peas, crab and oysters (just don’t eat them raw!).
What it’s got: Sure, you know it’s a great source of protein, but lean beef and pork are also packed with iron and B vitamins.
Why it’s good for both of you: Your body needs a lot more protein now (about 25 extra grams a day) to help the fetus grow and to ensure his or her muscles develop properly. Same goes for iron: Not getting enough of this mineral can impair baby’s growth and increase the risk for preterm delivery and low birth weight. Iron is important for mom, too — it’s necessary for red blood cell formation (to prevent anemia). During pregnancy, your blood volume increases, so you’ll need to up your iron intake (to around 27 milligrams a day). Bonus: Meat supplies a hefty dose of vitamins B6 (helps baby’s tissue and brain growth, while easing mom’s morning sickness) and B12 (helps to maintain healthy nerves and red blood cells).
What it’s got: Down a glass in the morning to fill up on folate, potassium and, of course, vitamin C.
Why it’s good for both of you: You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about folate and folic acid (the synthetic form that you get in supplements and fortified foods), and with good reason: It’s a necessary nutrient for preventing certain birth defects early on in pregnancy and for ensuring a healthy pregnancy after that, so try to get about 600 micrograms a day. The potassium in OJ is important for keeping your muscle function, metabolism and overall health in check. Like iron, pregnant women need to consume more potassium, because of their expanding blood volume. And as you already know, orange juice is an excellent source of vitamin C, which, in addition to fighting colds, helps your body better absorb iron and keeps both your and baby’s teeth and bones healthy.
You can also get your vitamin C from broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, red peppers and a variety of citrus fruits, including another prenatal power food — mangoes, which are packed with more than 20 different vitamins and minerals. Bonus: Opt for OJ that’s fortified with vitamin D, which increases blood circulation in the placenta and aids in calcium absorption so that your baby will have stronger bones.
What it’s got: Surprise! Plain yogurt actually contains even more calcium than milk. Plus, it’s got essential bone-building nutrients, including protein, B vitamins and zinc.
Why it’s good for both of you: Calcium is essential for keeping your bones and teeth healthy and helping baby to develop his or hers, and skimping on this key nutrient could put you both at risk. Expectant moms should get at least three servings of calcium a day to reduce the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery. If your calcium count comes up short, your body will take the calcium baby needs from your bones, putting you at greater risk for osteoporosis later on. Bonus: Snack on Greek yogurt topped with fruit for double the protein (and fiber) punch.
What it’s got: Those oats are filled with fiber, protein and vitamin B6.
Why it’s good for both of you: Start your morning off right with a nice big bowl of oatmeal. Whole grains are great for keeping your energy levels up, especially if morning sickness has you feeling a bit drained. Plus, all that fiber will help with another pregnancy pleasantry: constipation. But the benefits don’t just stop with mom. This convenient breakfast dish (yep, the instant kind is great too!) also contains protein and vitamin B6, both of which are important for baby’s development. Bonus: Look for a variety that’s fortified with iron, B vitamins and folic acid.
What it’s got: You had to know these guys were gonna make the list. Chock-full of antioxidants and nutrients, dark-green veggies — including spinach, asparagus, broccoli and kale — should really be on everyone’s plates.
Why it’s good for both of you: These super foods are especially important for moms-to-be and developing babies. That’s because, in addition to all those antioxidants, leafy greens supply calcium, potassium, fiber and folate, plus another important nutrient we haven’t told you about yet: vitamin A. Because of its role in helping baby’s eyesight develop and aiding in bone and skin growth, it’s important for moms to nosh on vitamin A-filled foods too. No midnight cravings for asparagus or spinach? Oranges are also a great source.
What it’s got: This oily fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein.
Why it’s good for both of you: Forget about preordering Baby Einstein DVDs — just incorporate salmon into your diet over the next nine months. The omega-3 fatty acids (aka DHA and EPA) in fish help baby’s brain to develop, and higher levels of DHA in newborns have even been associated with higher IQs, advanced motor skills and fewer neurological problems later on. Omega-3s are good for the development of baby’s eyes, too, and salmon is also a great source of lean protein for moms-to-be. Worried about seafood? Salmon’s low in mercury and considered safe for expectant moms, but limit your intake to two servings of six ounces or less each week to be safe. Just not feeling fish right now? Snack on walnuts and almonds.
Your baby needs calcium for his growing bones, and you need it to keep yours strong and to help your muscles and nerves function. Aim for about 1,200 mg (that’s four servings) every day. One of your best bets? Yogurt: cup for cup, it contains as much calcium as milk — plus it’s packed with protein and folate. The active cultures (i.e., good bacteria) in yogurt can also help prevent stomach upset as well as yeast infections (which are more common in pregnancy). Blend yogurt with fruit into smoothies, layer with granola in a breakfast parfait, substitute for sour cream or mayo in sandwich fillings, dips and salad dressings, or simply spoon it out of the carton.
Tip: To get the most calcium out of each serving, look for products that are also fortified with vitamin D, which boosts absorption.
Carrot and peppers
Carrots and red peppers are packed with beta-carotene, which the body converts it to vitamin A — critical for the development of your baby’s eyes, skin, bones and organs. They’re also a good source of vitamins B6 and C, plus fiber to keep things movin’. Both are perfect for munching on the go, with or without dip. Carrots also shred neatly into almost anything (from salads to meatloaf to cakes to muffins). And sweet red peppers are perfect in salsa, stir-fries and pasta dishes; or roast (with a little olive oil, garlic, and lemon) and add to sandwiches, salads or antipastos.
Tip: Watch your intake of “preformed” vitamin A. It’s found in some supplements, fortified foods, medications and skin products (look for the word “retinol” on the label as a clue). Unlike beta-carotene, which is completely safe during pregnancy, excessively high levels of preformed A can increase the risk of birth defects.
Good news if your stomach does flips at just the thought of veggies: mangos contain more vitamins A and C bite for delicious bite than a salad. It’s a perfect complement to both sweet and savory dishes. Blend it into smoothies or soups, chop it up in salsas or relishes, simply scoop and enjoy.
Tip: Like bananas, this tropical favorite is also packed with magnesium, which may help relieve a common pregnancy symptom: leg cramps.
OK, it’s not technically a food — but getting enough is just as important to your health as any nutrient. Water has lots of benefits for you and your growing baby: building new cells, delivering nutrients, flushing toxins and more. Water also makes your tummy feel full, so you’re less tempted to reach for chips or cookies, and it can help with constipation during pregnancy. Plus the dangers of dehydration are real: It can up the risk of early labor. So fill up one of those stainless-steel water bottles and take it wherever you go.
Tip: Water from all sources counts (100 percent juice, milk, soup, tea), so don’t stress too much if two quarts a day of plain water is, well, too much to swallow. Focus instead on total fluid intake.
Of course this is just a short list. There are plenty of other nutritious powerhouse foods to choose from — grains of all kinds, seeds, yams and winter squash, apricots, kiwi (one small kiwi contains as much vitamin C as an orange, plus it’s unparalleled for its laxative effects), papaya and much more.
One last word to the wise: How much you eat is as important as what you eat. If you’re starting your pregnancy at a healthy weight, you don’t need any extra calories in the first trimester, only 300 extra calories a day in the second trimester (about a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt and a whole-wheat English muffin), and 500 more in the third trimester. If you’re underweight to begin with, or are carrying multiples, your doctor may suggest you eat a bit more; if you’re overweight, a bit less. Following her recommendations will help keep your pregnancy weight gain on track — which in turn lowers your risk for having a baby who’s too small or too large and reduces your risk for complications like gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
Edamame is the Japanese term for fresh, boiled soybeans. These delicious green pods are typically available lightly salted and frozen. Simply thaw them out and pop the beans out of the pods to enjoy. Edamame is a pregnancy power food because it is an excellent source of protein and fiber. Edamame, like all soy foods, is also great source of B vitamins, including folate. A cup of edamame provides a full day’s worth of folate, and these tasty little beans are also packed with zinc, copper, magnesium, and iron.
Whether you enjoy frozen peas, snow peas, or baby pea-in-the-pod English shelling peas; peas are a great choice for pregnant women. Peas are an excellent source of plant-based protein and are a good source of calcium, magnesium, and folate. Plant-based proteins are important; they can substitute for pro-inflammatory animal proteins and are easily used by the body. Peas also have lots of vitamin C. Peas are an over-looked snack: simply microwave a small bowl of frozen peas and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Snap peas