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Essential nutrients during pregnancy

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There are 7 essential nutrients that are, without a doubt, the best gift you can give your child during pregnancy.

There is increasing scientific evidence that your feeding during this stage will have a direct relationship with your baby's growth and development.

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Here are 7 essential nutrients that shouldn't be missing from your diet if you're on the "sweet high".

Basic principles of a healthy diet

What you eat during your pregnancy will not only influence your health, but it will also affect your baby's health in the short and long term.

The goals of eating a balanced diet during pregnancy are as follows

  • Covering your nutritional needs.
  • Prepare your body for childbirth.
  • Satisfy your baby's nutritional needs.
  • To ensure the energy reserve in the form of fat for breastfeeding.

For these reasons it is extremely important that you have a healthy, balanced and varied diet while you are pregnant.

The basic principles of a healthy diet will remain the same.

Your diet should include:

  • Lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Moderate amounts of beans, legumes, fish, eggs, lean meat, and other protein
  • Moderate amounts of dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese (or calcium-fortified dairy products)
  • Limited quantities of foods and beverages high in fat and/or sugar.

In addition to all the nutrients you will get from a healthy and varied diet, there are some vitamins and minerals that are very important for the proper development of your baby.

During pregnancy all vitamin and mineral requirements increase. Here's what you need to focus on:

Essential nutrients: Folic Acid

This is one of the essential nutrients during pregnancy.

It is recommended that you start taking folic acid 2 or 3 months before conception, and also during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

If your pregnancy was unplanned and you haven't been taking a daily folic acid supplement, don't worry, but start taking it as soon as possible.

Why is folic acid an essential nutrient during pregnancy?

The intake of folic acid (together with multi-vitamin complexes) throughout the gestation reduces the incidence of malformations.

Conversely, a low maternal folic acid is a risk factor for neurological problems in the baby.

Some women are at increased risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect (NTD). These women are recommended to increase their intake of folate-rich foods and also a daily supplementation of folic acid in high doses.

What foods contain folic acid?

Folic acid is found mainly in green leafy vegetables (spinach, green asparagus, broccoli, chard or lettuce).

Photo by Carly Jayne on Unsplash

Also in citrus fruits, avocado, beet, legumes (lentils, peas, chickpeas or soy), nuts and seeds or whole grains.

Essential nutrients: Vitamin D

Vitamin D is on the list of essential nutrients during pregnancy. 

It is particularly important for the growth and development of your baby's bones, and it helps maintain your bone health as well.

This vitamin plays a key role in bone mineralization. Also in the function of the nervous, muscular and immune system.

What are the risks to you and your baby if you have a vitamin D deficit?

A deficit of vitamin D is associated with an increased risk of complications during pregnancy, such as gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, or an increased risk of cesarean section in the first pregnancy.

And in the case of the baby, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to low birth weight, intrauterine growth retardation and impaired fetal bone development.

How do you get vitamin D?

Your skin produces vitamin D when you expose it to the sun.

A deficit of this vitamin can occur if you are pregnant during the autumn and winter months, if you avoid the sun because of the changes it can produce in your skin, or if you use a sunscreen all the time.

Dairy and dairy products, eggs, and oily fish also provide vitamin D, but they only cover 10% of your daily needs during pregnancy.

To make sure you get enough vitamin D during pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is advisable to take vitamin D supplements. This way you will also give your baby enough vitamin D for the first few months of life.

Essential nutrients: Vitamin C

Ascorbic acid or vitamin C is one of the essential nutrients for pregnant women.

It provides antioxidant protection against disease, while at the same time offering protection against birth defects.

This vitamin is also involved in the growth and tissue repair processes of the fetus. It also improves your immune system and iron absorption, thus decreasing the risk of anemia.

If you're worried about stretch marks, ascorbic acid has the ability to build collagen. Collagen provides elasticity to the stretched skin tissues as your tummy grows during pregnancy.

Women who do not receive the recommended amount of ascorbic acid are at increased risk of developing pre-eclampsia or severe eclampsia (two conditions that cause high blood pressure).

Low levels of vitamin C are also associated with HELLP syndrome. This is a disorder in which pregnant women suffer from increased liver enzymes, low platelet counts, and breakdown of red blood cells, posing a danger to both mother and baby.

Vitamin C in the right measure

Some studies show that taking too much vitamin C in supplement form during pregnancy can increase the risk of preterm birth. 

There are examples of a few cases of babies born with scurvy (severe vitamin C deficiency) when moms-to-be took vitamin C supplements. 

Excess vitamin C in the form of supplements can also cause stomach upset.

The best option for pregnant women is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, and make sure you are eating at least one food rich in vitamin C every day

What foods are a good source of vitamin C?

Vitamin C is found mainly in fruits and vegetables, preferably fresh and raw.

An excellent source of ascorbic acid is oranges and orange juice.

Red and green peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants and broccoli also offer good quantities.

The amount of vitamin C that you and your baby need varies by stage of life, but it is essential to consume enough daily for the short and long-term health of both of you.

Essential nutrients: Calcium

Calcium is important for both your current and future health and that of your baby, which is why it is on the list of essential nutrients during pregnancy.

It is essential for developing healthy bones and teeth. It also plays a key role in various processes in the body, including muscle contraction, blood clotting, nerve function, enzyme activity and hormone release.

During and after pregnancy, this essential mineral contributes to the development of the baby and gives you the following benefits:

  • Develop strong bones and teeth.
  • Develop a healthy heart, nerves and muscles.
  • Develop a normal heart rhythm.
  • Improve blood clotting ability.

Calcium also plays a role in preventing pre-eclampsia, a condition that occurs during pregnancy, which is associated with high blood pressure and high protein in the urine.

Throughout your pregnancy and while breastfeeding, you will be the only source of calcium for your baby.

If your diet doesn't contain enough calcium, your body can begin to remove it from your bones to nourish your baby. This could impair your health and cause osteoporosis in the future.

What foods are a good source of calcium?

3/4 of the calcium in the diet is obtained through dairy products, but vegetables and legumes, and to a lesser extent, whole grains and nuts also provide calcium. However, the absorption of calcium from these foods is lower.

The best sources of calcium are dairy products. Foods such as cheese, milk and yogurt contain calcium in a form that is easily absorbed by adults. For example, 300 ml of milk will give you approximately 350 mg of calcium. 

Dairy products, such as fortified milks for pregnant or nursing mothers, are also made with other important nutrients that are beneficial to bones and teeth, such as phosphorus, vitamin D, magnesium and protein. 

Other good sources of calcium are sardines, cereals, fruits such as figs, bread, almonds, and leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale.

Essential nutrients: Iron

Another essential nutrient during pregnancy is iron.

Your body needs more iron during pregnancy to ensure that your baby has enough blood supply to receive the necessary oxygen and nutrients.

Did you know that your body becomes more efficient at absorbing iron as your pregnancy progresses?

It also retains more iron during this period by not losing blood during menstruation.

Still, it's quite common for women to develop an iron deficiency during pregnancy, so it's important to eat plenty of foods that are high in iron.

What foods contain iron?

You will find high levels of iron in foods such as red meat (especially beef or lamb). Also in legumes, nuts, eggs, wholemeal bread and green vegetables such as watercress and spinach.

Other sources of iron may be fortified foods such as nutritious milks that are specially designed for pregnant and nursing women.

There are other nutrients that promote iron absorption and some that do the opposite.

For example, Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from plant sources. Therefore, if you drink a glass of fruit juice along with a meal like beans (also called habas or porotos) your body will absorb more iron.

Tea or coffee, on the other hand, can decrease the amount of iron your body absorbs from vegetable sources, so it's a good idea not to consume them with meals.

Essential nutrients: DHA

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is fundamental for the correct brain and visual development of your baby.

It is also necessary to prevent pre-eclampsia (dangerous power surge for mother and baby).

It also prevents premature birth and helps the baby to be born at an appropriate weight.

These are all powerful reasons to incorporate foods that provide adequate levels of omega-3s into your diet to help your child develop and grow up healthy.

DHA is a form of chicken fat that your body cannot produce on its own and can only obtain through food.

Your child will get DHA as it grows inside you and also later when it feeds on your milk. Your body will provide it with all the nutrients it needs to develop and grow.

What foods contain DHA?

Oily fish, some nuts, seeds and algae are natural sources of DHA.

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is recommended that you eat 2 to 3 times a week a portion of oily fish.

If fish isn't your thing, you also have the option of taking omega-3 supplements in capsules or DHA-fortified nutritional milks.

A daily intake of 200 milligrams of DHA will contribute to the normal brain and visual development of your baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Essential nutrients: YODO

Why is iodine another essential nutrient during pregnancy?

During the first trimester of pregnancy, your child will not be able to make thyroid hormones, so it will be totally dependent on your thyroid which, in turn, has to do extra work and consumes more iodine.

What is the risk of iodine deficiency?

An iodine deficit can cause alterations in the formation of the baby's nervous system, which can lead to a decrease in the IQ or to the child having hyperactivity or other neurocognitive disorders.

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that iodine deficiency during pregnancy is one of the main causes of neurological problems in newborns.

A lack of iodine can also lead to premature delivery or low birth weight.

What foods are rich in iodine?

Some foods rich in iodine are dairy products, seafood or some fish such as cod, tuna or clams.

You will also find iodine in seaweed, some cereals, most fruits and iodized salt.

Iodized salt consumption is a very effective method of supplementing iodine.

Iodized salt contains approximately 60 milligrams of iodine per kilogram of salt, so that an intake of about 3 or 4 grams of salt per day meets the daily iodine requirement, without exceeding the maximum daily salt intake (less than 5 grams per day) recommended by the WHO.

Always remember that the best gift you can give your child is to take care of yourself. This means eating right, making sure you get the essential nutrients, being physically active, avoiding environmental toxins, and maintaining an adequate weight.

All of this will not only help you cope better with this stage but also ensure that you have sufficient nutritional reserves for your baby's growth and development.

Conclusion

Eating a balanced diet is a concern that is intensified during pregnancy, as healthy eating at this stage has a positive influence on both the mother's and baby's health.

In these 9 months all the vitamins and minerals requirements increase so it is important that you make sure to include these 7 essential nutrients:

Folic Acid: Spinach, chard, green asparagus, broccoli, lentils, pinto beans...

Vitamin D: Non-skimmed dairy, blue fish...

Vitamin C: Citrus, red fruits, pepper, Brussels sprouts...

Calcium: Dairy, fortified milks, fish with bones, legumes, cereals...

Iron: Cockle clams, quail, partridge, ox, beef...

DHA: Mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardine, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, fortified milks...

Iodine: Fish, seafood, iodized salt, seaweed...

There is no special diet to follow during pregnancy. The important thing is to have a varied and balanced diet.


Disclaimer

The information presented on nutrigrow.club is not intended to provide or replace the advice of your pediatric physician or medical nutritionist. 

The information presented in this post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Full medical clearance must be obtained from a licensed physician before modifying a child's diet. 

The authors assume no liability to any person or entity for any liability, loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application or interpretation of the information presented in this post.


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