In his book, Optimum Nutrition Before, During and After Pregnancy, well-known nutritionist and wellness expert, Patrick Holford uses the analogy of a garden to explain what your baby needs in-utero. “Making a healthy baby is like gardening,” he says. “The best you can do is get the soil healthy, plant the seed, then feed and water it regularly.” He adds that your nutritional status (or your diet in general), at the time of conception and into your pregnancy is the single most important determinant of your baby’s growth in those critical early stages. This is where those all-important prenatal superfoods play a role…
A is for arugula and asparagus
Both of these veggies contain a substantial amount of folate and soluble fibre, says Abby Courtenay registered dietitian at Nutritional Solutions. Folate is especially important in the first trimester as it protects against neural tube defects (such as Spina Bifida).
B is for barley, bulgur wheat and buckwheat
These wholegrains are high in fibre and when eaten as part of a balanced diet, they can help control your blood sugar levels and prevent blood sugar spikes and dips, says Abby. Pregnancy cravings are the worst, don’t let blood sugar dips make them unbearable!
C is for carrots
These contain beta-carotene which is not only the precursor to vitamin A, but also a powerful antioxidant to protect you and your baby from free radicals, says Abby.
D is for dairy
Full-cream or low-fat (unsweetened and unflavoured) dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and pasteurised cheese pack a good protein and zinc punch and also give you some much-needed calcium that will help replenish your calcium stores.
E is for eggs
They’re rich in essential omegas as well as phospholipids – a type of fat that’s critical for optimal brain development, says Patrick Holford. To boost your levels of phospholipids, Patrick advises aiming to eat five cooked free-range eggs a week.
F is for fruit
Fruits with the peel on are generally high in fibre and various phytonutrients such as vitamin C. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron from plant sources and assists with cell division (aka your baby’s growth), says Abby.
G is for ginger
Known for its anti-nausea benefits, ginger is also an ideal anti-inflammatory food and is a fabulous tummy soother too.
H is for honey
Pasturised honey is safe, and even beneficial, during pregnancy. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, honey helps to ease coughs and sore throats. It’s also rich in a variety of key nutrients including folate, potassium, zinc and iron, to name a few.
I is for ice-cream
If you want to avoid gaining too much weight in pregnancy, ice-cream is an ideal treat to have occasionally. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who ate at least one daily serving of full-fat dairy products, such as ice -cream, gained less weight than those who didn’t. However, it’s important to read nutritional labels and opt for homemade ice-cream with little to no sugar per 100g.
J is for Jerusalem artichokes
Did you know that Jerusalem artichokes are rich in iron (important for pregnancy) and other essential nutrients such as vitamin B1 and phosphorus? They’ve also been known to boost the immune system, lower blood cholesterol levels and keep blood pressure stable.
K is for kale
Kale is a nutrition powerhouse! This leafy green is rich in iron, calcium and folate – all the nutrients you need in abundance during pregnancy.
L is for legumes
Chickpeas, beans, lentils and split peas are all nutritious legumes that are high in magnesium, explains Abby. Magnesium assists in maintaining a healthy blood pressure and may be beneficial for women who experience leg cramps, she adds.
M is for Marmite
This salty spread contains a few simple ingredients, and is also gluten free and low in calories, providing nearly 50% of the recommended daily allowance of folic acid per serving.
N is for nuts
Seeds and nuts such as flaxseeds, almonds, cashews, pecans and pumpkin seeds contain a variety of nutrients that have antioxidant properties, plus a host of essential vitamins and minerals such as manganese and copper.
O is for oranges
No surprise here. Oranges are packed with vitamin C and will be your best friend if you come down with a nasty cold or flu during pregnancy.
P is for protein
You guessed it, protein offers the building blocks responsible for the growth and development of your baby. “Many women develop an aversion to protein in their first trimester and as a result may also suffer from zinc or iron deficiency,” explains Abby. Chat to your dietitian about alternative protein sources and supplementation.
Q is for quinoa
This ancient grain is packed with protein, plus it’s a low GI grain and high in fibre that will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
R is for raspberries
These little fruits offer a good spread of nutrients and several antioxidants, says Ian. They’re particularly high in vitamin C, folic acid and vitamin B2 – ideal for keeping those pregnancy nerves at bay.
S is for sardines and salmon
These fish sources are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which your body can’t make on its own. Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish are important during pregnancy and breastfeeding as they’re involved in the development of your baby’s brain, central nervous system and eyes. Try to eat at least two portions of fish per week.
T is for tomatoes
These red veggies are rich in lycopene – a potent antioxidant that belongs to the carotenoid family. Lycopene has been shown to protect your heart, skin and bones and reduce your cancer risk. It also helps to lower blood pressure, which is important during pregnancy.
U is for unsweetened chocolate
We’re talking about the darkest chocolate you can find. Dark chocolate has a higher cocoa content, which also means it’s rich in flavonols – a type of antioxidant known to help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Just remember to practise portion control!
V is for veggies
All types of veggies are regarded as superfood,s because they contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals, and they’re a good source of fibre while being low in fat and sugar.
W is for wholegrains
Constipation is a common problem during pregnancy. Wholegrain breads, cereals and starches such as brown rice and oats are high in fibre, which will help you to stay regular.
X is for xylitol
Although it’s not considered a superfood on its own, this sugar substitute is far better for you than typical white, refined sugar. It helps to control insulin levels and is known to prevent dental cavities and reduce plaque.
Y is for yoghurt
The full-fat, creamy kind that contains less preservatives and artificial sweeteners. This gut-friendly food is also rich in calcium, B vitamins and zinc.
Z is for zucchini
This versatile veggie is delicious in salads, as a pasta substitute and as an accompaniment to any main meal. It’s rich in folate, vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C, calcium, manganese and more!
More about the expert:
Abby is a registered dietitian currently working as a Nutrition Educator and content creator for Shaw Academy in Cape Town. She graduated with a Bachelor of Dietetics at the University of Pretoria and also holds a Masters’ degree in Nutrition from the University of Stellenbosch. Learn more about Abby Courtenay here.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .