In a past life, I worked in preconception nutrition – aka helping people get their bodies ready for babies. I thought I’d share a little nugget of that work with a list of some of the best foods for pregnancy.
Learn about the nutrients you need, and the foods to get them from.
Just remember, we are all different! Working with a practitioner that can help pinpoint your exact needs is always best.
AND the most important nutrient, in my opinion, is love.
Biotin is technically a B vitamin but sometimes goes by the name Vitamin H.
What it does: it’s necessary for fatty acid and carbohydrate usage in the body. It also helps utilize folic acid, vitamin B12, and protein.
Where to get it: you can get biotin from egg yolks, sardines, and liver. Eating egg white, without the yolk, may contribute to biotin deficiency because egg whites contain a biotin-binding glycoprotein called avadin, which prevents absorption. You can also get it from healthy animal proteins, milk and cheese.
Related to folic acid and can be substituted for folate for certain reactions.
What it does: It’s used in the formation of DNA, RNA, and nucleic acid inside the cells. Choline also plays a role in nerve development and functioning and normal muscle contraction. It is hugely important in proper brain development.
Where to get it: Once again, egg yolks and liver are both really good options. You can also find a good amount in high quality, raw and grass-fed dairy. Other sources are calciferous veggies, high-quality meats, fish roe, and properly prepared nuts and legumes.
An omega-3 fatty acid that cannot be made inside of the body
What it does: DHA is crucial to brain development. It may be necessary for the formation of neurons and helps to protect them from oxidative stress. DHA contributes to the membrane of all cells and plays a large role in the functioning of hormones. DHA also helps to activate enzymes and absorb nutrients.
When a mother is pregnant, the fetus “hoards” DHA in order to develop, sometimes leaving the mother deficient; a DHA deficiency is thought to be associated with postpartum depression. In childhood, we see sometimes see hyperactivity in the DHA deficient.
Where to get it: The best sources are in wild fatty fish and fresh cod liver oil. You can get minimal amounts in healthy animal fats. We are able to convert ALA, from plant oils, into DHA—however, the rate of conversion is less than one and a half percent.
Folate (Folic Acid)
Most commonly associated with pregnancy
What it does: Folate is used to create DNA, and therefore new cells. Not only is new cell formation important in developing babies, but the increase in blood supply of the pregnant mother also requires folate. It is also utilized in the creation of bone marrow and antibodies. Folate helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects, increases healthy birth weight, helps prevent mental retardation, and malformations of the heart, mouth, and face.
Folate absorption is directly linked to zinc, & therefore it is important to have sufficient levels of zinc in order to be able to properly use folate. Synthetic folate, known as folic acid, has been shown to reduce neural tube defects but does not convert to usable folate in all women.
Where to get it: Dark green vegetables, liver, brewers yeast, and legumes. If you are not getting enough from your food, a supplement is recommended. Try to find one that is a natural food source of folate, rather than folic acid.
Para-amino benzoic acid
What it does: PABA stimulates your intestinal bacteria, encouraging them to make folate. It helps with red blood cell formation and protein breakdown and use. PABA plays a large role in pantothenic acid creation.
Where to get it: You can get PABA in liver, organ meats, brewers yeast, and green leafy vegetables.
Essential for every cell in the body.
What it does: Pantothenic acid allows sugar and fat to be turned into energy in the body. It helps reduce stress, synthesize cholesterol, and utilize choline. Pantothenic acid plays a role in myelination, which is the layering of a protective sheath on the axon of our neurons. The myelin sheath protects our nervous system and brain function.
Where to get it: Pantothenic acid is in organ meats, egg yolk, green vegetables, human milk (once they are out!), and properly prepared legumes.
Whole, real fat
What it does: Natural saturated fats contribute to overall better health. These fats help the functioning of brains and contribute to the health of our skin, heart, and other organs. Breast milk is 3-5% fat—and roughly 36% of the calories come from fat. It’s interesting to take note of what nature is telling us is important to a growing baby through our milk. Low-fat diets have been linked to poor brain function, heart disease, weight gain, unhealthy liver, and infertility, so it’s fair to say that fat can be an important part of baby-building.
Where to get it: Fatty grass-fed meats, fish oils, coconut oil and butters, raw grass-fed dairy, raw nuts, and grass-fed butter.
What it does: Vitamin A is hugely important during pregnancy. It plays a part in the healthy development of the eyes, skin, hair, mucus membranes, digestion, red & white blood cells, teeth, and even male reproductive hormones. Vitamin A helps to differentiate the pattern of all cells and facilitates communication between the organs.
What about overdosing? Studies show that there is an interdependent relationship between Vitamins A & D, and that when both are taken simultaneously, it reduces the risk of excessive amounts of either. The RDA in the US is 2,600IU/day. Toxic levels, without the introduction of other vitamins, is somewhere around 10,000-15,000IU/day. Certain studies claim that when Vitamin A is combined with other vitamins, and from natural sources, only anywhere from 25,000IU/day to 50,000IU/day is possibly unsafe. A program in the UK that works to increase fertility naturally recommends between 2,600IU-5,000IU/day and has not seen vitamin A issues in either direction.
Where to get it: Animal sources (in the form of retinol) include: cod liver oil, fatty fish, egg yolks, organ meats (especially liver), and healthy grass-fed/pastured animal fats. Plant sources (in the form of carotene) include: broccoli, spinach, carrots, kale, chard, tomato, red pepper, & apricot. Although the body can directly use retinol, it must convert carotene into proplasma Vitamin A, which relies on zinc for its conversion. The amount of Vitamin A actually received depends on zinc levels, among other things. It’s hard to know how much you actually get from carotene.
What it does: Vitamin D is important in the development of the bones & teeth. There is also reason to believe that it aids in lung development. It also helps with the absorption of phosphorous & calcium. Vitamin D is especially important in the last trimester of pregnancy when the skeletal structure undergoes rapid growth. Not only does the baby need Vitamin D, but the mother’s body is greatly taxed for it in these last few months. The majority of mothers are extremely deficient in vitamin D. One study, conducted in Britain, showed that up to 36% of new mothers and 32% of newborns had levels so low that it was undetectable.
Where to get it: It’s not called the sun vitamin for nothing! Getting unblocked (no SPF, clothing, or glass) sun exposure for about 10-15 minutes, or as long as you are able to without turning pink. Vitamin D sources from food are pretty poor but can be found in cod liver oil, fatty fish, fish eggs, egg yolks, grass-fed butter and lard.
What it does: As it pertains to fertility and pregnancy, Vitamin E has been found to be very important. At the time of discovery in 1992, Vitamin E was originally named “anti-sterility factor X”, since rats were not able to reproduce without it. Even tocopherol (the scientific name for vitamin E) stems from the Greek word tokos-childbirth, and ferein-to bring forth. Science has not yet uncovered why there is such a strong link, it has only been made clear that it is crucial to pregnancy. Vitamin E has been found to heal certain congenital heart defects when supplemented in early babyhood. It may also protect premature babies from hemorrhage.
Where to get it: The best sources of Vitamin E are grass-fed animal fats (they have FOUR TIMES the amount of Vitamin E as grain-fed animals). You can also get it from fresh fruits and veggies, and well-prepared nuts. Vegetable oils are high in Vitamin E, but also high in polyunsaturated fatty acid, which leach Vitamin E from the body, so it may be counterproductive.
What it does: Vitamin K is most commonly known for its blood-clotting effects. Although there is not much research on Vitamin Ks interaction during pregnancy, it is believed that it plays a part in facial structure/proportion & nervous system development.
Where to get it: Vitamin K1 (which transports to the placenta more slowly) is found in leafy greens. Vitamin K2 is found in fermented foods like sauerkraut & kefir, and grass-fed animal fats.
- Fallon, Sally, and Thomas S. Cowan. The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care. Washington, DC: New Trends, 2013. Print.
- Barnes, Belinda. Beautiful Babies, Fabulous Families, Wonderful World: For 30 Years, Restoring Natural Fertility and Creating Happy, Healthy Babies. S.l.: Foresight Association Promotion of Pre-conceptual Care, 2012. Print.