Ok, so you are pregnant and you now have to think about feeding your growing baby, as well as choosing the right foods for you of course. So let’s make it simple – if there were 5 key nutrients to focus on during your pregnancy what would they be?

Women need to pay particular attention to their diets to ensure they are getting all they need, and even more so during pregnancy.

Click on each nutrient below to find out where you can get all that you need for both you and your baby.

  1. Calcium
  2. Iron
  3. Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fats
  4. Folic Acid
  5. Vitamin D

1. Calcium

When we think of calcium we think of milk – milk and dairy foods are the best foods to eat/drink to ensure you get enough calcium every day.

It is recommended that we have 3 servings of dairy foods each day. Calcium is needed for healthy bones and for your baby’s developing bones while you are pregnant. So, by choosing a glass of milk, a carton of yoghurt or an ounce of cheese 3 times a day you will be getting all the calcium you and your baby need.

Remember that if you cook with milk or cheese the calcium is still there so we can add cheese sauce, melted cheese on toast, hot chocolate drinks, milk added to your tea or coffee and milk on your cereal in the morning to this list.

And it’s a good idea to choose low fat products – half the fat (or less) but the same amount of calcium which is good news for your bones.

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So if you start the day with a high fibre breakfast cereal with low fat milk (1), snack on a low fat yoghurt with some chopped fruit at 11am (2), include cheese with your lunch (in a wholemeal sandwich or wrap) (3), you have reached your target – well done! And while some of these foods may not be your preferred choices, just remember to include some low-fat dairy food from the list above in a meal or snack and you are well on your way to your 3-a-day.

And if you are not a milk drinker or dairy fan? Well have a chat with your healthcare professional about a Calcium supplement – they will be able to recommend something to help you reach your calcium goal each day.

2.  Iron

You have heard of Ironman but it is more like Iron-woman now that you are pregnant!  You need more iron now to help make the extra blood needed by you and your baby. Vitamin C is also important to have with iron rich foods as it helps your body use the iron from food.

You need to think of iron regularly when choosing foods to make sure you are getting enough.  Think of lean red meat (beef, lamb and pork), chicken, oily fish and eggs. Other non-animal foods which contain iron include breakfast cereals with added iron, peas, beans and lentils, dried fruits (prunes, apricots, raisins) and green vegetables like broccoli and spinach.  Try to include at least one of these iron-rich foods at lunch and again with your evening meal.

Vitamin C can help your body to release the iron from the food so stock up on these good sources of Vitamin C to boost your iron levels:

•  Oranges (or freshly squeezed juice)
•  Berries
•  Kiwi fruit
•  Tomatoes
•  Potatoes
•  Green vegetables
•  Peppers

Think of combining one of these foods with your iron-rich foods to pack a nutritious punch So have your freshly squeezed juice with your wholegrain breakfast cereal or a baby spinach and tomato salad with an omelette – all simple combinations to ensure you get the most from your meal.

3. Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fats

While they sound very scientific and futuristic, chances are you have heard of the Omega fats before? They are getting lots of attention as they seem to be important for our heart and general health. And now that you are pregnant, they are important for the healthy development of your baby’s brain and eyes.

The fish oils would make up a large part of this family of fats, the latest healthy eating guidelines recommend that pregnant women should try to include oily fish once or twice per week. So choose your favourites – salmon, herring, mackerel, trout and sardines are oily fish and are packed with Omega-3 fish oils.

Some popular vegetable oils are also good sources of Omega fats so are worth using in cooking or for making a tasty salad dressing:

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•  Rapeseed
•  Linseed
•  Walnut
•  Flaxseed

Some of these important fats are also found in other foods:

•  Meat, chicken and eggs
•  Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and sesame)
•  Wholegrain, nutty breads and breakfast cereals

4. Folic Acid

Nutritionists generally prefer to recommend getting all the nutrients you need from eating whole foods rather than taking supplements or tablets, with one exception. For a healthy pregnancy, a folic acid supplement is recommended both before you become pregnant and for the first 12 weeks. Folic acid is important for the development of a healthy spine and brain in the early stages of pregnancy.  The risk of spina bifida can be reduced if all Mums-to-be were taking a daily folic acid supplement so if this pregnancy is a surprise, it is a good idea to start taking folic acid as soon as you find out you are expecting.

So why can’t you just eat a diet rich in naturally occurring folic acid (called Folate)? It seems that to get the maximum benefit of this nutrient from the B vitamin family, a supplement of 400 micrograms per day is the best option.  However, it is also a good idea to know a little more about folate and choose foods high in this vitamin to boost your levels at this time.

Commonly eaten foods that naturally contain folate include:

•    Green leafy vegetables (think of spinach, broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts)
•    Peas and beans
•    Some fruits, especially oranges

Many foods now have folic acid added to them as they are made so these can be a good option for you too. They include:

•    Many brands of breakfast cereal
•    Some brands of milk
•    Some breads

So become Folate Friendly and check the labels!

5.  Vitamin D

Vitamin D is receiving lots of good press at the moment and it’s benefits seem to be far-reaching – from its role in building strong bones to heart health and even the prevention of certain cancers. However, in Ireland we have poor levels of this important vitamin, due mostly to the fact that we do not get enough sunlight to produce vitamin D on our skin.  Often called the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’, vitamin D is converted into its active form when we stretch our arms and legs out in the sun for a few minutes on a bright sunny day.

However, lack of sunlight and more awareness of the importance of using sunblock now mean that our levels of Vitamin D are critically low.  In fact the Food Safety Authority of Ireland have identified pregnant women as an at risk group for low vitamin D levels and this has a direct impact on their baby as the stores your baby are born with are related to your own levels during pregnancy.

Vitamin D does occur naturally in foods but some of the foods are not eaten everyday and so our intakes can be less than perfect.

Good sources of vitamin D include:

•  Oily fish – herrings, mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout
•  Eggs – the yolk contains the Vitamin D
•  Fortified foods – some brands of milk, spreadable margarine and breakfast cereals have added vitamin D so check the label.

If these are not foods you regularly choose, you may need to talk to your healthcare professional about taking a supplement that includes Vitamin D.

If you would like to discuss your diet during pregnancy with one of our nutritionists please contact our Careline or have a read of our article about Top Nutrients.