6 nutrients you should include in your pregnancy diet

Best-selling author and leading cookery expert, Annabel Karmel gives advice on how to ensure optimal pregnancy nutrition.

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Eating a balanced and nutritious diet during pregnancy will give your baby the best possible start in life. A steady supply of vitamins, minerals, protein and other nutrients is crucial to your baby’s development. A healthy diet also allows your baby to have good stores of nutrients that will be necessary for the first few months after birth.

Include these 6 nutrients in your pregnancy diet:

Super nutrient

Importance

Where to find it

Folic acid It’s recommended that women who are planning to conceive should take 400mcg of folic acid a day, up until they reach their 12th week of pregnancy. Research has shown that an increased intake of folic acid during early pregnancy dramatically reduces the risk of your baby having neural tube defects. Good sources include:
  • Breakfast cereals or breads with added folic acid (check the label); yeast extracts, citrus fruits and juices, pulses and green leafy vegetables including brussels sprouts, spring greens, broccoli and spinach.

Note: Food must be eaten raw or very lightly cooked, otherwise the folic acid is destroyed.

Iron Large quantities of iron are essential for the developing blood supply of the foetus. Iron is also important for placenta development, and you need to build up your baby’s store of iron for him to draw on in his first year.
  • An easily absorbed form of iron is found in red meat, with smaller quantities in poultry and fish, particularly dark meat and oil-rich fish.
  • Plant-based foods and eggs contain a form of iron that isn’t easily absorbed.

Sources include:

  • Fortified cereal and bread, eggs, green leafy vegetables, pulses, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

The absorption of this form of iron is enhanced by eating food that contain vitamin C. If your iron stores are low, try to avoid dairy, eggs, tea and coffee with iron-rich-meals – these all block iron absorption.

Omega-3 fats These are the fats found in oil-rich fish. They’re a major component of brain, eye and nerve tissue, and so are critical to the development of your baby. The brain continues developing after birth, so keep up the supply if you are breastfeeding.
  • Oil-rich fish like salmon, tuna, trout, herring, kippers, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and canned versions of any fish, except tuna, are good sources of omega-3.
  • If you don’t eat fish, you can get small quantities of plant-based omega-3 oils from a number of foods. Unfortunately only small quantities of these get converted in the body to the omega-3 that we need.

Plant sources include:

  • Walnuts and walnut oil, linseeds and linseed oil, grapeseed oil, some green vegetables including rocket and broccoli and soy foods.
Vitamin C Vitamin C is vital to babies’ development, because of its function in the formation of skin and bone. Particular attention also needs to be paid to vitamin C because of its role in iron absorption. Good sources of vitamin C include:
  • Berries and currants, citrus fruits, melon, kiwi, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, kale and tomatoes.

Note: Foods must be eaten raw or very lightly cooked, otherwise the vitamin C will be destroyed.

Magnesium Magnesium is the second most abundant mineral in the body, so your baby needs to accumulate a lot of it. Its roles include skeletal development and energy metabolism. Rich sources of magnesium include:

  • Green leafy vegetables, wholegrain cereal products, nuts and seeds.
Zinc Zinc is required for cell division, the formation of muscles and energy metabolism. While the requirements for zinc doesn’t increase during pregnancy, significantly more is required while breastfeeding. Easily absorbed sources include:
  • Red meat, fish and shellfish, poultry and eggs and dairy foods.

Sources that are less easily absorbed include:

  • Pulses, wholegrain foods, green leafy vegetables, nuts and pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
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