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Have you just found out that you’re pregnant and wanting to know how nutrition can help support your little one’s health?
So often, all the nutrition information given to pregnant women is to just avoid a couple of high risk foods.
But you’re here because you want more.
We know that nutrition is not just about a list of foods to avoid, but intentionally eating nutrient-rich foods to support the health of mom and baby.
That is why we have created a list of the top superfoods to eat during pregnancy and why they’re beneficial.
Let’s get started!
What is a superfood?
There’s no universal definition for the term “superfood.” It is typically a buzzword for a food that contains a high amount of a certain nutrient(s).
With that being said, all of the foods discussed in the article are simply foods high in certain nutrients that research shows is important for a healthy pregnancy.
Superfoods for Pregnancy
1. Eggs in Pregnancy
Eggs are a great food to incorporate during pregnancy because they are a rich source of choline.
Choline in Pregnancy
Choline is a vitamin that is important for baby’s brain development and preventing neural tube defects (1).
Unfortunately, many prenatal vitamins do not contain choline. While it is recommended to choose a prenatal vitamin that contains choline, it is helpful to boost your intake through food as well.
Other Sources of Choline
Not a fan of eggs? That’s okay! While eggs have some of the highest amounts of choline, foods like beef, salmon, chicken, and brussels sprouts can also help boost your choline intake (1).
2. Salmon in Pregnancy
Salmon is a rich source of the omega 3 fatty acids. Some research indicates that omega 3s may help reduce risk of preterm birth before 37 weeks and may help reduce the risk of preeclampsia (2, 3).
There is also evidence to suggest that fish can help baby’s brain development and cognition (4).
Other Sources of Omega 3s
If salmon isn’t your thing, omega 3s can be found in other fish.
Some prenatal vitamins contain omega 3 fatty acids (often listed as DHA and EPA, which are types of omega 3s). Always talk to your provider before beginning a new supplement, especially during pregnancy.
Is It Safe to Eat Fish during Pregnancy?
There is often some confusion about if it is safe to eat fish during pregnancy. The answer is yes, most cooked fish are safe and can benefit your baby’s development.
The FDA recommends 8-12 oz of low mercury fish per week. This review has a great table of which fish to eat and which to avoid while pregnant.
3. Full Fat Greek Yogurt in Pregnancy
Yogurt is a good source of calcium, protein, and probiotics. Probiotics are bacteria that can help promote gut health.
In addition, yogurt is a good source of vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are fat soluble vitamins and are easier to absorb when eaten with a source of fat.
This is why full fat yogurt is recommended over fat free yogurt. The natural dairy fat will make it easier to absorb many of the vitamins in your food.
Is Greek Yogurt Safe During Pregnancy?
Yes! Yogurt, and Greek yogurt, are safe as long as they are made with pasteurized milk and stored at a temperature of 40 degrees or below.
Alternatives to Full Fat Greek Yogurt
No worries! If you are more comfortable sticking with a low fat yogurt, you could add nuts or seeds to make a parfait. This would add some healthy fats to the yogurt, aiding in vitamin absorption.
Regular yogurt (rather than greek yogurt) also has all of the above benefits with a lower protein content, so it can be a great addition to your meals if you’re not into greek yogurt.
4. Avocado Benefits for Pregnancy
Avocados are a great power food to eat during pregnancy because they contain a wide variety of essential nutrients.
The benefits of avocado during pregnancy include healthy fats, fiber, potassium, folate and vitamin A (5).
Note, vitamin A supplements are not safe during pregnancy.
5. Spinach in Pregnancy
Spinach during pregnancy is a good source of folate. Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is essential during pregnancy for the baby’s central nervous system.
Folate is especially important during the first few weeks of pregnancy because this is when the neural tube, which forms the brain and spinal cord, is developing. Inadequate folate during pregnancy has been shown to increase risk of neural tube defects.
Alternatives to Spinach
Most leafy green vegetables are good sources of folate, including broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus, and dark green lettuce varieties.
While most fruits are not good sources of folate, it can be found in bananas, papayas, and citrus fruits. Folate can also be found in beans and peanuts.
6. Beef in Pregnancy
Beef is an excellent source of iron, which can help prevent iron deficiency anemia. People with iron deficiency anemia will often feel tired and lack energy.
Adequate iron is needed to help your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by 50%, so your iron needs are also higher.
Alternatives to Beef
Most other meats are also good sources of protein. So if beef doesn’t sound good, you could also try chicken, pork, or fish to boost your iron intake.
For those of you looking for a plant-based source of iron, consider adding beans, peas, and iron-fortified cereals to your meals.
7. Cheese in Pregnancy
Cheeses can be a great addition to your diet during pregnancy due to calcium, fats, and protein. You’ll want to choose pasteurized cheeses during pregnancy to reduce risk of listeria.
Adequate calcium intake is important because our bodies need to maintain steady levels of calcium in our bloodstream.
When our intake of calcium is low, calcium will be pulled from bones to keep our blood levels of calcium steady. However, this can increase mom’s risk for weakened bones.
There have been some studies to suggest that calcium supplementation of more than 1,000mg per day may decrease risk for preeclampsia and preterm birth (6).
Calcium is also one nutrient that can help prevent leg cramps during pregnancy.
For reference, 1,000mg of calcium from food sources is the equivalent of about 5 slices of cheddar cheese or 3.5 cups of milk. Talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements.
Alternatives to Cheese
If cheese isn’t your thing, calcium can also be found in other dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, ice cream, and cottage cheese.
Calcium is naturally found in figs, broccoli, spinach, and arugula. Some foods are also calcium-fortified, such as orange juice, nut milks, and cereals. Check the calcium content on the nutrition label to see if calcium has been added.
8. Sunflower Seeds in Pregnancy
Sunflower seeds made the list because they are both a good source of folate, iron, healthy fats, and protein.
One perk of sunflower seeds during pregnancy (and sunflower seed butter) is that they are shelf stable and allergy friendly. For women who have food allergies or work in nut-free facilities, sunflower seeds are a great option for a quick, nutritious snack.
9. Ginger in Pregnancy
Ginger is a superfood for pregnancy because studies show that ginger can improve nausea and vomiting in pregnant women (7). This meta-analysis indicates that a dose of 1,000mg of ginger per day for at least 4 consecutive days improved nausea.
While this superfood is more about managing symptoms, keeping nausea at bay is essential to provide adequate nutrition during pregnancy.
How to Use Ginger
Ginger is a root with a fairly strong spicy taste. You can make hot or iced ginger tea, and sometimes adding lemon and honey can help the flavor if the tea is too spicy on its own.
You can also dilute it with water, so you would have a larger quantity of tea to drink, but the flavor would be weaker in each sip.
Ginger can also be added to baked goods, or made into syrups or candies.
As long as you get enough to improve symptoms, take the ginger in whatever form you can best tolerate.
Do I Still Need a Prenatal Vitamin?
Taking a prenatal vitamin is recommended regardless of your diet during pregnancy. This serves as a nutrient safety net.
Since we tend to eat different foods each day, we will naturally have variations in the amount of vitamins and minerals we eat as well. Add in common pregnancy issues like nausea and getting full quickly, and it’s possible that your intake of some nutrients may fall short.
Therefore, it is always a good idea to take a prenatal vitamin throughout the entirety of your pregnancy.
Final Thoughts: Top Superfoods in Pregnancy
Superfoods for pregnancy are foods that are rich in key nutrients for mom and baby’s health.
Some of the top superfoods for pregnancy are:
- Full fat greek yogurt
- Sunflower seeds
The best diet for pregnancy is one that includes plenty of variety in fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy.
And one last thing. Between nausea, heartburn, early fullness, and fatigue, it can be really challenging to eat a nutrient rich diet.
Having enough energy (calories) is also a high priority for mom and baby. A prenatal vitamin can provide a great backup for vitamins and minerals for the days (or months) where the nutrient-foods just aren’t going to work for you.
And that’s okay! If you are struggling to eat, just eat whatever you can tolerate. Any food you eat is providing your body and your baby with some form of nutrition.
However, if you can tolerate a wider variety of foods, start by incorporating some of the foods from this list into meals and snacks.
To learn more about how to incorporate these superfoods for pregnancy into your diet, check out this article on easy pregnancy breakfast ideas.