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13 Foods Every Pregnant Woman Should Eat
What should a pregnant woman eat? There is a wealth of conflicting information on what women should eat while pregnant. This brief overview outlines some of the biggest sources of nutrition that women should add to their diet during pregnancy and why.
Pregnancy is a time of extreme highs and lows in a woman's life. At once, she is filled with incredible joy and unbelievable fear. There are many things that can go wrong during pregnancy, which is why most mothers try to eat the healthiest foods they possibly can to give their baby the best start in life.
But with so many conflicting reports about what is healthy for pregnant mothers to eat, it is difficult to find what really is best for baby.
During pregnancy, a woman needs extra nutrients of all kinds or else her body will deplete her own vitamin and mineral stores to ensure the baby grows healthy and strong. Good news for baby can equal bad news for mom and many women always have nutrient deficiencies and weaker bones and teeth after their babies are born.
If you aren't sure what to eat during your pregnancy, this list of nutrient-rich foods is a good place to start. These same foods also provide excellent nutrition when a mother is breastfeeding her child. The following foods and nutrients are particularly important for pregnant and nursing mothers to consume daily.
Eggs are amazing and contain nearly a whole day's worth of nutrients in just a serving or two. Eggs have high-quality protein, fat, antioxidants, and other important nutrients. Eggs contain both vitamin B12 and B6, which are particularly important to eat during pregnancy to build a strong brain for the baby.
Eggs also contain high levels of choline, which is essential for strengthening memory, improve learning ability, and creating effective cognitive function. Vitamin B6, a nutrient that is often deficient in American diets, is linked both anecdotally and in some studies with reducing morning sickness, which is reason enough to eat more of it for most women aside from all of the other numerous benefits.
Studies show that when pregnant women eat a higher amount of choline, their babies are protected from common issues, including stress disorders, metabolic disorders, and other health complications that last into adulthood.
Fish can be a little risky to eat during pregnancy due to the high mercury content in most fish. However, fish is also one of the best sources of omega-3 fats in the diet, which makes it extremely beneficial to eat as well. Sardines and salmon are two fishes with the highest EPA and DHA levels, which are essential for creating healthy brains in developing fetuses.
Sardines are naturally low in mercury due to their short life spans. Some salmon is incredibly high in mercury, but Alaskan salmon and sockeye salmon have some of the lowest levels of mercury due to their protected status and short life spans. If you are worried about mercury exposure, limit your fish intake to once or twice weekly and supplement with krill oil or cod liver oil to ensure you get enough omega-3 fats.
Most Americans are deficient in vitamin D, but it is even more important for pregnant women to get enough vitamin D. A deficiency in vitamin D during pregnancy can increase the risk for complications during the pregnancy and delivery and cause health problems later in life for the child.
Early deficiency in vitamin D has been linked to problems like diabetes, strokes, heart disease, colds, asthma, allergies, and dental problems. For the mother, a vitamin D deficiency can increase risk for gestational diabetes, prenatal infections, preeclampsia, and preterm birth. If you cannot go outside daily to get some sun during your pregnancy, supplementing with vitamin D can help boost your levels. Studies suggest that taking up to 4,000 IUs daily is safe during pregnancy.
If you are worried about taking too much vitamin D, supplement less and try to get outside in the sun for at least 10 minutes a day.
Sweet potatoes contain high levels of antioxidants and vitamin A, which are known to fight cancer. A diet high in antioxidants while pregnant will help prevent complications and ensure each cell reproduces with minimal errors. Of course, eating sweet potatoes is not a prevention for all pregnancy complications or fetal health problems, but a diet rich in essential nutrients will definitely help ensure you are offering your baby the best possible tools for growth.
Leafy greens are essential for everyone's health, but are even more essential for developing fetuses. Dark leafy greens contain large amounts of essential vitamins C, A, and K1. Dark leafy greens also contain high levels of antioxidants and work to support the immune system, digestion, and prevent constipation all at the same time.
Did you know that avocados contain almost 20 different kinds of nutrients? Avocados contain vitamin E, vitamin K, B vitamins, vitamin E, potassium, vitamin C, and many others. Avocados are also high in healthy monounsaturated fat and fiber, which is beneficial for both moms and developing babies. Avocados are attributed with the ability to improve digestion, control blood sugar, and improving the skin's appearance.
Grass-fed beef is lower in bacteria infection than conventionally-raised beef which is reason alone enough to eat it. But grass-fed beef also has higher nutrient levels and a reduction in the anti-nutrients commonly associated with beef, which makes grass-fed beef essential for any pregnancy diet. Eat whole cuts of meat rather than ground for even further reduction in contamination risk.
Pasture-raised chicken is healthier and happier than conventionally-raised chicken. Chicken contains numerous vitamins also found in eggs, including choline, selenium, protein, and B vitamins. Chicken, in fact, provides all essential B vitamins necessary for the health of mom and baby.
Did you know that developing babies need full-fat milk? Human breast milk is one of the highest-fat milks in the world, so it makes sense that developing fetuses also benefit from a higher fat content in the diet. Full fat milk contains a variety of healthy nutrients including zinc, protein, calcium, B vitamins (including the often-neglected B6), magnesium, phosphorous, and many others that are essential for building healthy muscular and bone systems.
Ideally, raw, grass-fed and pasture-raised cows milk is the healthiest, but if you cannot obtain raw milk, purchase the most natural milk you can (many states sell non-homogenized full-fat milk in grocery stores). Raw milk is healthiest because it contains enzymes that make it easier to digest the milk.
You can also get similar benefits from eating full-fat yogurt, while also benefiting from the bacterial cultures found in yogurt. Whole dairy products made from grass-fed raw milk are a rich source of healthy fats, protein, calcium, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and more. Grass-fed raw butter, milk, and cheese from high-quality sources are all beneficial. When you eat dairy while pregnant, always choose full-fat and as unprocessed as possible.
Many Americans get surprisingly little fiber in their diets considering how many grains we eat on average. Fiber intake becomes even more important during pregnancy. According to a study conducted by Monash University in Australia in 2015 found that when women followed high-fiber diets while pregnant, their babies were less likely to be diagnosed with asthma later in life. A high-fiber diet can also reduce the risk of developing many common diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and stroke.
In general, it is best to get your fiber from vegetables and fruit rather than grains, as the fiber in grains is much harder for the body to process. The body may reject grain fiber as waste, which defeats the purpose and could leave you still lacking in vital fiber. Vegetable and fruit fiber, on the other hand, is usable by the body and will not cause digestive problems in most people.
Chia seeds may seem like an odd top choice for pregnancy foods, but chia seeds contain many nutrients essential for the health of mom and baby during pregnancy. Chia seeds contain protein, healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and dozens of vitamins. These seeds contain a powerful punch of nutrients that is easy to consume since the seeds are so tiny. Chia seeds also have the advantage of a long shelf life, which means they won't get rancid as fast as many seeds, like flax seeds.
Why should pregnant women make sure to eat enough berries? Berries contain phytochemicals that can boost the immune system, fight cancer, protect the heart, resist allergies, prevent blood sugar spikes, have high vitamin C levels, boost iron absorption, and are full of fiber. Berries are also extremely high in other vitamins like vitamin K1.
Berries contain concentrated amounts of the disease-fighting phytochemicals found to boost your immunity, prevent cancer, protect your heart, and prevent seasonal allergies. Berries are lower in sugar than many fruits, so they are less likely to destabilize your insulin levels. Berries also contain high amounts of vitamin C, which will help your body absorb iron, and a good amount of fiber.
Did you know that bacteria is essential to our overall health, particularly mental health? Studies are released almost every day that indicate the strong importance of the right balance of bacteria in the intestines to support mental health. Some studies even suggest that the right balance of bacteria can reduce the symptoms of common infant irregularities, including autism, allergies, irritability, premature labor, eczema, and colic.
Did you know that what a man eats can influence the health of a baby? A man has to take care of what he eats earlier in the game than a woman, but what he eats pre-conception may be just as important as what a woman eats post-conception.
In fact, most of a baby's folate levels are attributed to the father's folate intake, not the mother's. When a man has a folate deficiency, his children are 30 percent more likely to have folate-related birth defects. This data was found by Canadian researchers in 2014 and published in the journal Nature Communications.
The study authors stated that the study "... shows that there are regions of the sperm epigenome that are sensitive to life experience and particularly to diet. And that this information is in turn transferred to a so-called epigenomic map that influences development and may also influence metabolism and disease in the offspring in the long term."
Most of the studies cited in this article outlined both the importance of eating a healthy diet during pregnancy, but also the importance of a healthy diet before conception. Both what a woman eats and what a man eats before conception will influence the health of the baby for the rest of its life. A study from 2013 found that when women ate a vegetable-rich diet for the year leading up to their pregnancies were less likely to have babies with birth defects, such as brain development disorders, cleft lips, cleft palates, and spina bifida.
By taking steps throughout your childbearing years to eat a healthy diet, even if you are not actively trying to conceive, you are more likely to produce strong, healthy offspring. What may be most important is that health choices you make even before your baby is conceived can affect their health into old age and beyond. How nutritional intake has such a long effect is puzzling and not entirely known, but the evidence is clear: a healthy diet produces much, much healthier babies and adults for life.
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