Eating for Two: Important Nutrients for a Healthy Pregnancy

Header shoppingThere are many pregnant people out there who look forward to using the excuse that they are eating for two to answer their cravings’ call;  ice cream and pickles, cheesecake for breakfast (my guilty pregnancy pleasure), or that big tub of poutine.  Everything in moderation, I say. Everything with the exception of some potential hazards (see Foodie’s Guide to Eating in Pregnancy).  Give in to those cravings for a treat every now and then.   Then boost up on some great foods to have a healthier pregnancy.

It is incredibly important to eat nutritiously throughout your pregnancy, considering the fact that you are growing an entire human being in your body. Pregnancy is not a time to cut calories but to use your calories to pack in a good punch. Good nutrition is needed by our bodies to have healthy, low risk pregnancies.  Here is a list of those important nutrients and how to get them into you!  Stay tuned for the next instalment with a shopping list for pregnancy that includes these nutrients below.  In another week or so, I’ll get around to a week’s meal plan based on these ingredients with some great recipes.

What your body needs in Pregnancy:

ironmeat-1319198-1278x517  Iron 

 It is one of our body’s essential minerals that has the important job of oxygen transfer.  Iron is part of the formation of haemoblobin, the bit on our red blood cells that carries oxygen to all of our cells, including the baby’s.  During pregnancy, our blood volume nearly doubles to support the pregnancy, requiring lots of iron to keep our hemoglobin levels up.  It is currently recommended for pregnant women to get 27-30mg of iron per day.

Most of us think of liver first, or red meat, as the best sources (heme), and it is a good source, just not as tasty to some.  Chicken livers are also a great source at 6 mg per serving.  Choosing lean meats or cuts gives you the benefits of the meat without as much fat to go along. There are many non-meat (non-heme) sources of iron that have added nutrients as well.  Try beans or lentils (3-5 mg per ¾ cup) or the same serving size of cooked oatmeal for 4.5-6.6 mg.  If you dare try octopus, it is loaded at 7.2 mg for 2.5 oz of that leggy delight.  Other fantastic sources include those leafy greens like spinach and kale, asparagus, dried raisins and apricots, and broccoli.


With a recommendation of 1000mg per day, calcium is another essential mineral needed for  calciummaintenance of mom’s bones and teeth, creation of babe’s bones and teeth, and keeping our blood pressure stable.  With this one, we generally point to dairy, for good reason.  Dairy products are stocked full; 1c of milk gives you about 300mg, hard cheeses can dish out 250-500mg in 1.5 oz and a serving of plain yogurt is just a bit less (260-270mg).  The cows got all of that fantastic calcium in their milk by eating greens; a half cup of spinach or kale can provide 100-150mg.  Open up a can of sardines for 286mg or munch on some almonds for 100mg for a couple nuts over ¼ cup. For those who are dairy challenged – try non-dairy milks or yogurts which are generally equivalent in their calcium levels.

Folate-Rich-Foods Folate

This nutrient is responsible for setting up your baby’s spine and nervous system.  Early in development, the cells roll up and create a sort of cylinder, called the neural tube.  Without enough folate, there can be an incomplete closure of this tube, leading to conditions like spina bifida.  Due to this fact, much of our processed foods are fortified with it, like breads and cereals.  A supplement to all people planning a pregnancy is recommended so that your body has a good store as soon as you get pregnant.  Be sure to ask your care provider about this. Folates are also abundant in other foods and you might easily reach the 600mg recommendation from your diet.  Chicken livers come again here with 420-518mg in 2.5 oz, almost your entire days’ worth.  Lentils and beans will give you almost half of the recommended daily amount in a ¾ cup serving and asparagus is back with 88 mg per 4 stalks.  Avocado, broccoli, oranges, spinach, and beets will also offer up a healthy dose, as well as a colourful plate.


Zinc is a great mineral needed for immune system function and cell growth for your baby.  We don’t need as much of it, only 11 mg a day.  This might be easy if you like chicken livers (3-6mg per serving) which seem to be a new superfood for pregnancy, according to the nutritional stats.  A serving of peas, lentils, whole grains, and milk will give you approximately 1-2 mg.  Or boost up your weeks’ worth with some oysters (cooked, of course) for a whopping 33-136mg.


Another important nutrient in the neural tube formation for your baby, as well as it’s nervous system and brain,  choline is becoming a new focus in pregnancy health and nutrition.  To reach a 450mg daily recommendation you could try eggs (145mg each), shrimp (150gm/serving), asparagus (1c= 47mg) or broccoli (62 gm/c).

Essential Fatty Acids

This group of fats (omega 3) are really important in the formation of your baby’s brain. salmon-1324139-640x480 There are 2 main types that we will refer to as ALA and DHA; writing out their full names is a nightmare.  Between the two types, pregnant women should aim for 1.4 grams per day.  ALA fats (great for building great cell structure) come from nuts and seeds sources flax and chia are at the top), as well as eggs, meats and dairy products, which gives great options for vegetarians and vegan.  DHA (the brain one) really only comes from sea life, but algae is high in DHA and can be taken as a supplement for vegetarians.  For those who eat fish, salmon is a great source and can provide you with your entire daily recommendation in one serving.

Vitamin D

This sun loving vitamin is essential in building bones and in protecting the immune system.  Our primary and best source of Vitamin D is from the sun and we can boost that with our diet, though few foods are rich in this one.  Salmon and fatty fish could make up half of the 600 Units recommended daily.  Many foods are now fortified with Vit D so we get it in our milk and juice.  Eggs are a good source with 30-45 Units per egg.


We need roughage in pregnancy, we need to keep our gut system going as it naturally slows down due to hormonal shifts.  Include fiber and your diet and help ward off constipation!  Those beans with all of that folate and iron also have lots of fiber.  Whole grains with every choice: bread, rice, pasta will up your fiber and a slew of other great nutrients for a balanced diet.  And fruits and vegetables, from all of the colours of the rainbow, to not only boost your fiber but also those vitamins and minerals that make our skin shine! No limit on this stuff!


Proteins are great fuel and the amino acids that make them up are the building blocks of each of our cells.  We need 60g/day as pregnant women and there are so many choices out there.  Lean meats are better than fatty ones, with the exception of fish.  Beans and lentils come up again with 15 g per cup, cooked.  Eggs are a great choice because they contain all of the essential amino acids for the building of babe’s new cells.  For vegans, those beans or tofu are great choices and can be prepared in so many different ways.

The list of nutrients needed in our diet is exhaustive, so this is just a quick breakdown of some of the pregnancy specific benefits of the above goodness.  Take a look at Josee’s post on eating cheaply to apply here and stay tuned for a grocery list and meal plan!

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Becca Raper is a registered midwife with Generations Midwifery Care.  Learn more about Becca here.