27 Pregnancy Power Foods
Fortified Breakfast Cereal
You knew folate was important before conception and during your first few weeks of pregnancy, but your needs for the B vitamin stay high the whole nine months. Experts advise getting 400 micrograms per day through vitamin supplements or fortified foods (breakfast cereal is an easy way to do it, since many brands contain 400 micrograms per bowl), and another 200 micrograms through foods that are naturally high in folate, such as asparagus and black-eyed peas.
Dried Beans & Lentils
All women need 10 extra grams of protein a day during pregnancy (for a total of at least 60 grams); beans and lentils are an excellent source, with about 15 grams per cup. They're also high in fiber, which helps to combat constipation. And 1 cup of cooked lentils meets half of your daily folate requirement. "Add them to rice dishes and salads," suggests Lola O'Rourke, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
It's not only packed with nutrients that are necessary for a healthy pregnancy – such as calcium and folate – but broccoli is also rich in fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants. And since it contains plenty of vitamin C, this popular green vegetable will help your body absorb iron when it's eaten with an iron-rich food, such as whole wheat pasta or brown rice.
Your body absorbs roughly twice as much calcium from foods while you're pregnant, so your daily needs remain the same. But since most of us get too little calcium to begin with, drinking more nonfat milk is a smart move. Each 8-ounce glass supplies about 30 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of 1,000 milligrams.
Bananas are rich in potassium and offer quick energy to fight off pregnancy fatigue. "They're also easy on your stomach if you're nauseated," says O'Rourke. Slice them up into cereal or whip one into a breakfast smoothie with yogurt, berries, ice, and a splash of orange juice.
Your daily iron needs double during pregnancy, so it's important to include plenty of iron-rich foods now. "If you don't have good iron stores, you're more likely to feel tired," warns Jo Ann Hattner, RD, a dietitian in Palo Alto, California. Meat delivers a form of iron that's easily absorbed by your body.
Soft cheeses are off-limits, but varieties such as cheddar and mozzarella can be a big help in meeting your calcium requirements – each ounce contains between 150 and 200 milligrams. Cheese is also high in protein.
Many women develop aversions to meat while pregnant. Eggs are an excellent alternative protein source, since they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs, says Hattner. There's nothing better for a quick dinner than an omelet with lots of chopped vegetables and a bit of cheese. If cooking aromas make you feel sick, hard-boil a batch of eggs to keep on hand in the refrigerator: Eat them whole for grab-and-go breakfasts and snacks, or chop them up into green salads.
It's easy to get your day off to an energizing start by trading in your usual morning bagel or muffin for a bowl of oatmeal a few times a week. Why? Complex carbohydrates like oatmeal keep you satisfied longer, and the oat bran it contains can help lower your cholesterol levels. Instead of buying high-sugar flavored oatmeal, cook up the plain kind and swirl in a teaspoon or two of maple syrup or jelly.
Cooked spinach has high levels of folate and iron, and kale and turnip greens are both good calcium sources. Increase the nutrient value of your salads by passing up traditional iceberg in favor of darker-colored lettuces (the deep colors signal higher vitamin content). You can also add greens to a sandwich or stir them into soups and pasta dishes.
By swapping your traditional white bread for a whole-grain variety, you can make sure you're consuming the recommended 20 to 35 daily grams of fiber (scan labels to find a loaf that offers at least 2 grams of fiber per slice). Whole-grain bread also supplies you with a good share of your iron and zinc.
They're packed with vitamin C, folate, and fiber, and since they're nearly 90 percent water, they'll also help you meet your daily fluid needs (skimping on your fluid intake can leave you feeling fatigued).
Nuts & Nut Butters
Fat is critical for your baby's brain development and it also helps keep you fuller longer. Experts recommend replacing some saturated fats (such as those found in meat and butter) with unsaturated, a form of heart-healthy fat found in nuts. But because they are high in fat and calories, stick to 1-ounce servings of nuts and 2-tablespoon servings of nut butters. There is one caveat, however. If you have any sort of allergy, experts recommend that you avoid highly allergenic foods, such as peanuts, during your pregnancy; some data suggests that babies can be sensitized to certain foods in utero, raising their risk of food allergies later on in childhood.
It's perfectly safe to follow your vegetarian eating plan while you're pregnant – as long as you're diligent about getting necessary nutrients such as protein (your doctor or a dietitian can help you devise a healthy plan). So be sure to include foods like tofu, which packs 10 grams of protein per half cup.
It's a tasty, portable snack that's especially helpful when you're craving something sweet. Choose dried fruits such as apricots, cherries, and cranberries (which can also help to prevent urinary tract infections), but stay away from dried bananas, since they're processed in oil and loaded with fat.
There's a whopping 5 grams of fiber in just 1 cup of dried figs. Plus, figs are a great nondairy source of calcium; one serving contains about a quarter of your daily needs (1,000 milligrams). And while your teeth may not appreciate the high sugar content, they will benefit from the potassium, phosphorus and magnesium in figs. These tooth-supporting nutrients aren't just great for your own mouth; they are essential to the 32 teeth forming below the gums in your growing baby's mouth.
Figs are also a good source of iron. Iron deficiency can cause anemia, especially during pregnancy, thanks to the increase in your blood volume and growing demands by the baby for iron to produce millions of red blood cells. Stewed figs contain about 3 milligrams of iron (about 10 percent of your daily recommended intake) in 1 cup. The same number of figs will also provide your body with 23 micrograms of vitamin K, which is needed for proper blood clotting and bone formation.
Seen as a garnish, chives tend to be overlooked. But, these small, mild-tasting green onions are a source of folate (the synthetic form is folic acid), iron, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, calcium and magnesium. Folic acid may be the most important nutrient of the first trimester. Without it, your baby has an increased risk for structural defects that could be fatal. There are 6.4 micrograms of folate per 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives.
For proper iron absorption, your body needs vitamin C. Chives give you both – about 3.5 milligrams of vitamin C and 0.1 milligrams of iron per 2 tablespoons. Plus, your sprinkle of chives has about 12 milligrams of magnesium; this mineral can help alleviate constipation, a common symptom during pregnancy. In fact, magnesium is involved in more than 300 cellular reactions, making it very important to your health and your growing baby's.
Leeks are the vegetable equivalent of a super multivitamin-mineral tablet. They are a nondairy source of calcium (55 milligrams per cup), which is essential for the development of your baby's bones. Plus, calcium may help combat some common symptoms of pregnancy, including irritability, insomnia and back and leg pains. One serving of leeks also contains close to 60 micrograms of folate as well as 0.2 milligrams of vitamin B6 (about 10 percent of your RDA), which is necessary for your body to metabolize energy from the carbohydrates, fats and proteins in your diet. There's also evidence that vitamin B6 can help alleviate morning sickness.
There's more: In one serving of leeks, there are 40 micrograms of vitamin K, 2 micrograms of iron, and 0.4 micrograms of manganese. Vitamin K is needed for proper blood-clot formation and healthy bone growth; and manganese helps support normal skeletal development in the baby.
Feeling sluggish? Reach for an artichoke. This vegetable is a great non-meat source of iron, which is an energizing nutrient. A medium boiled artichoke has about 1 milligram of iron (about 12 percent of your recommended daily intake). There's another energizing nutrient in artichokes: folate. (A medium-size artichoke has 100 micrograms.) Besides helping to prevent birth defects, folate helps your body metabolize proteins, the building blocks for the hormones and enzymes that help your body keep going.
During your pregnancy, you may suffer from constipation, which can be alleviated with some extra fiber in your diet. Artichokes are wonderful sources of fiber, with 10 grams each. And they're often recommended to soothe indigestion, another common pregnancy complaint.
Part of the healing that occurs on a regular basis in your body during pregnancy is the repair of muscles. As your uterus grows, your back, abdominal and hip muscles are required to stretch in new ways. With sufficient protein in your diet, these muscles will be better armed to keep up with their new tasks. Adding pumpkin seeds to your diet will help boost your intake of protein; there are 5 grams of protein per serving. These tasty seeds also contains sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium and many other minerals involved in muscle health and hydration. One of the most important minerals required for healing is zinc –1 cup of pumpkin seeds provides close to half of your daily needs.
One serving of pumpkin seeds contains more than 25 percent of your recommended daily intake of magnesium, which helps speed your ability to use carbohydrates, fats and proteins as sources of energy. Pumpkin seeds are also a vegetarian source of iron, with about 2 milligrams per cup.
A paste made from sesame seeds, tahini contains all of sesame's nutrients, including healthy oils called omega-6 fatty acids. A few tablespoons of tahini contain more than 6 grams of the fats, which are required for proper cell integrity and healthy nervous and immune system function.
Proper development of your milk glands, placenta, and uterus is also dependent on having sufficient levels of healthy fats in your body. Tahini is also a good source of thiamin, phosphorus, copper and manganese, all key to your baby's healthy development.
Basil is a pregnancy superfood. This fresh herb is a good source of protein, vitamin E, riboflavin, and niacin; plus, it's a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese.
Basil is also packed with iron, vital for keeping your energy levels up; calcium, essential for strong bones and teeth; and folate, vital for many processes, including fetal cell growth and division. (One serving of basil has 20 micrograms of this B vitamin.) Whenever possible, choose fresh basil, because it contains more of these nutrients than dried basil.
Herring contains 2 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per 3 1/2-ounce serving, giving it one of the highest concentrations of fish oil of any seafood. Plus, as a small, cold-water fish with low levels of such contaminants as mercury, it's a no-brainer choice for pregnant women.
A high dietary intake (more than 2 grams a day) of DHA during pregnancy has been found to support brain development in the womb. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women with higher blood levels of fish oil had babies with better sleep patterns in the first 48 hours following delivery compared with women with lower levels.
Experts have hypothesized that an infant's sleep reflects the maturity of his nervous system, so adding fish into your diet can help your baby's brain mature and help you get much-needed sleep after labor.
- RELATED: Fish Oil During Pregnancy
Sweet, sticky and packed with sugar, molasses is not the type of food you want to start spooning onto every dish. But molasses has a few hidden nutritional gems, including magnesium, manganese (1 tablespoon has 15 percent of your daily needs) and vitamin B6.
Manganese is an essential mineral that plays a role in normal bone development, and that's important for your growing baby. Vitamin B6 plays a role in your sodium-phosphorus balance, which determines how much water you have in your body. And potassium is another mineral involved in water retention. Getting enough vitamin B6 and potassium may help shrink your swollen feet and ankles. Molasses has about 290 milligrams (8 percent of your daily needs) of potassium and 0.1 milligrams (7 percent of your RDA) of vitamin B6 per tablespoon.
Red Bell Peppers
One red bell pepper delivers nearly three times as much vitamin C as an orange! The nutrient is famous for keeping the immune system in fighting form, a benefit that’s particularly helpful in pregnancy, which can cause kinks in a woman’s immune system. Vitamin C’s antioxidant powers may also promote fetal brain development and help your body absorb much-needed iron. So power up a stir-fry or salad with bell peppers, stat.
Baked, roasted, or mashed—just one of these tubers delivers more than 400 percent of your day’s vitamin A! Plus, sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber (even more so with the skin on!) and energizing complex carbs that fill you up for few calories.
Just one cup of plain yogurt earns you 30 percent of your daily calcium requirement. Yogurt is often fortified with probiotics, good gut bacteria that may reduce your baby’s risk for developing eczema or other allergies later in life. Go for the plain varieties and sweeten with some fruit and cinnamon or ginger.