10 (Surprising!) Prenatal Power Foods

Foods that provide the nutrition you need for a healthy pregnancy.

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As you know, folate, fiber and iron are essential nutrients for you and your growing baby. What you may not know is that you can get all three by eating chives. Or, how about adding figs to your diet to boost your calcium intake? From The 100 Healthiest Foods to Eat During Pregnancy, here are 10 unexpected (and delicious!) foods that will provide the nutrition you need during pregnancy.

1. Figs

Serving Size: 1 cup (about 8 dried figs)

There's a whopping 5 grams of fiber in just 1 cup of dried figs. Plus, figs are a great nondairy source of calcium; one serving contains about a quarter of your daily needs (1,000 milligrams). And while your teeth may not appreciate the high sugar content, they will benefit from the potassium, phosphorus and magnesium in figs. These tooth-supporting nutrients aren't just great for your own mouth; they are essential to the 32 teeth forming below the gums in your growing baby's mouth.

Figs are also a good source of iron. Iron deficiency can cause anemia, especially during pregnancy, thanks to the increase in your blood volume and growing demands by the baby for iron to produce millions of red blood cells. Stewed figs contain about 3 milligrams of iron (about 10 percent of your daily recommended intake) in 1 cup. The same number of figs will also provide your body with 23 micrograms of vitamin K, which is needed for proper blood clotting and bone formation.

Tasty Tips If you don't like the seedy texture of dried figs, try fresh ones. Or, purée them, then use the purée as a sweetener or fat substitute in recipes. You can make fig purée by combining 8 ounces of dried figs with 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup of water in a blender.

Suggested Recipes

Bulgar Breakfast Bowl with Dried Figs

Pork & Spinach Salad with Figs

2. Chives

Serving Size: 2 tablespoons, chopped

Seen as a garnish, chives tend to be overlooked. But, these small, mild-tasting green onions are a source of folate (the synthetic form is folic acid), iron, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, calcium and magnesium. Folic acid may be the most important nutrient of the first trimester. Without it, your baby has an increased risk for structural defects that could be fatal. There are 6.4 micrograms of folate per 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives.

For proper iron absorption, your body needs vitamin C. Chives give you both—about 3.5 milligrams of vitamin C and 0.1 milligrams of iron per 2 tablespoons. Plus, your sprinkle of chives has about 12 milligrams of magnesium; this mineral can help alleviate constipation, a common symptom during pregnancy. In fact, magnesium is involved in more than 300 cellular reactions, making it very important to your health and your growing baby's.

Tasty Tips Chives are easy to find at your local market, and they're also easy to grow at home. Sprinkle some on your salad or soup. Or go with the all-time favorite use and sprinkle them on your baked potato. More great ways to eat them: Mix chopped chives into softened cream cheese before you spread it on a bagel, cracker, tortilla chip or slice of bread. Stir them into dips or add them to hummus.

Suggested Recipes

Cheddar and Scallion Bites

Fish Fillets with Saffron, Tomatoes, Corn and Chives

3. Pinto Beans

Serving Size: ½ cup, dried

Pinto beans are one of the healthiest foods on Earth. There is 1 milligram of copper (about 100 percent of your recommended daily amount), 5 milligrams of iron (about 19 percent of your RDA) and more than 400 milligrams of phosphorus (that's more than half of your daily needs) in 1∕2 cup. Copper aids in forming red blood cells; iron is important for making hemoglobin, the substance in your red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to your baby; and, phosphorus works with calcium to ensure that your baby's bones and teeth are growing properly.

Pinto beans are also packed with fiber; one serving contains 15 grams. (As a pregnant woman, you need about 28 grams of fiber each day.) One of the best strategies for helping to avoid the nausea and vomiting commonly experienced during the first trimester is to keep your belly feeling satisfied and full. Foods with a high fiber content can be an ally in your battle against morning sickness.

Tasty Tips The healthiest (and the cheapest) way to eat beans is to buy dried beans and soak them overnight first. If you are using canned pinto beans, be sure to rinse them well first to remove the extra sodium. For bean dip, cream a can of pintos in your blender or food processor. (Use a little veggie broth if you need to add liquid.) Then, pour the beans into a microwave-safe container and heat them.

Suggested Recipes

Hearty Minestrone Soup

Spelt, Tomato and Bean Stew

Chocolate Parsnip Chili

4. Leeks

Serving Size: 1 cup, raw

Leeks are the vegetable equivalent of a super multivitamin-mineral tablet. They are a nondairy source of calcium (55 milligrams per cup), which is essential for the development of your baby's bones. Plus, calcium may help combat some common symptoms of pregnancy, including irritability, insomnia and back and leg pains. One serving of leeks also contains close to 60 micrograms of folate as well as 0.2 milligrams of vitamin B6 (about 10 percent of your RDA), which is necessary for your body to metabolize energy from the carbohydrates, fats and proteins in your diet. There's also evidence that vitamin B6 can help alleviate morning sickness.

There's more: In one serving of leeks, there are 40 micrograms of vitamin K, 2 micrograms of iron and 0.4 micrograms of manganese. Vitamin K is needed for proper blood-clot formation and healthy bone growth; and manganese helps support normal skeletal development in the baby.

Tasty Tips Leeks have a very mild, sweet flavor, making them especially appealing when you're suffering from morning sickness. If your stomach's sensitive but you can't face plain broth, try adding sliced leeks and shiitake mushrooms with minced fresh ginger. To prepare leeks, cut off the fibrous green tops and the base, then slice the stem in half. Rinse thoroughly to remove any hidden grit, and cut into small pieces.

Suggested Recipes

Second Trimester: Salmon and Aspargus Salad with Leeks

Lentil Celery Root Soup With Leeks

Curried Squash and Apple Soup with Leeks

5. Artichokes

Serving Size: 1 medium artichoke

Feeling sluggish? Reach for an artichoke. This vegetable is a great nonmeat source of iron, which is an energizing nutrient. A medium boiled artichoke has about 1 milligram of iron (about 12 percent of your recommended daily intake). There's another energizing nutrient in artichokes: folate. (A medium-size artichoke has 100 micrograms.) Besides helping to prevent birth defects, folate helps your body metabolize proteins, the building blocks for the hormones and enzymes that help your body keep going.

During your pregnancy, you may suffer from constipation, which can be alleviated with some extra fiber in your diet. Artichokes are wonderful sources of fiber, with 10 grams each. And they're often recommended to soothe indigestion, another common pregnancy complaint.

Tasty Tips For a truly decadent delight, dip steamed artichoke leaves in melted organic butter mixed with freshly squeezed lemon juice. If you use oil-based jarred artichokes, enjoy them in a salad and use the oil as part of the dressing. Canned artichokes are almost always packed in water, but have a lot of added sodium; rinse them before eating.

Suggested Recipe

Simple White Bean Salad Topped with Artichokes

6. Pumpkin Seeds

Serving Size: ½ cup

Part of the healing that occurs on a regular basis in your body during pregnancy is the repair of muscles. As your uterus grows, your back, abdominal and hip muscles are required to stretch in new ways. With sufficient protein in your diet, these muscles will be better armed to keep up with their new tasks. Adding pumpkin seeds to your diet will help boost your intake of protein; there are 5 grams of protein per serving. These tasty seeds also contains sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium and many other minerals involved in muscle health and hydration. One of the most important minerals required for healing is zinc—1 cup of pumpkin seeds provides close to half of your daily needs.

One serving of pumpkin seeds contains more than 25 percent of your recommended daily intake of magnesium, which helps speed your ability to use carbohydrates, fats and proteins as sources of energy. Pumpkin seeds are also a vegetarian source of iron, with about 2 milligrams per cup.

Tasty Tips Research has shown that roasted seeds have far more protein, minerals and fiber than raw ones. You can buy pumpkin seeds raw and roast them at home: Melt organic butter or heat macadamia nut oil or olive oil and toss in the pumpkin seeds to coat. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Season with turmeric, garlic or cayenne pepper. Roast at 300° F until crisp.

Suggested Recipe

Maple-Glazed Rutabaga With Pumpkin Seeds

Super Start Hot Cereal

7. Tahini

Serving Size: 2 tablespoons

A paste made from sesame seeds, tahini contains all of sesame's nutrients, including healthy oils called omega-6 fatty acids. A few tablespoons of tahini contain more than 6 grams of the fats, which are required for proper cell integrity and healthy nervous and immune system function.

Proper development of your milk glands, placenta and uterus is also dependent on having sufficient levels of healthy fats in your body. Tahini is also a good source of thiamin, phosphorus, copper and manganese, all key to your baby's healthy development.

Tasty Tips Tahini is great on crackers, in hummus and other dips, or as an ingredient in salad dressing. It's easy to make your own hummus: Drain a can of chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) and cream them in a blender or food processor (add a little vegetable stock if they're too dry). Add tahini, garlic, lime juice and cracked black pepper, to taste. The texture will get thicker and the flavors will blend better if you let the hummus chill in the fridge for an hour or more before eating.

Suggested Recipes

Cooking Class Hummus

Avocado Goddess Dip

Napa Cabbage Salad with Sesame Dressing

8. Basil

Serving Size: 10 tablespoons fresh basil (whole leaves)

Basil is a pregnancy superfood. This fresh herb is a good source of protein, vitamin E, riboflavin, and niacin; plus, it's a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese.

Basil is also packed with iron, vital for keeping your energy levels up; calcium, essential for strong bones and teeth; and folate, vital for many processes, including fetal cell growth and division. (One serving of basil has 20 micrograms of this B vitamin.) Whenever possible, choose fresh basil, because it contains more of these nutrients than dried basil.

Tasty Tips Enjoy the fresh, spicy leaves in a caprese salad. It's super-easy to put together: Line your salad plate with buttery lettuce leaves (like Boston or Bibb lettuce). Then create a circle of alternating half-slices of tomato, mozzarella cheese and basil leaves, fanning them on top of each other. Drizzle olive oil (and balsamic vinegar if you like) over the salad and add a sprinkling of salt—you need that iodine.

Suggested Recipes

Green Tea Poached Salmon with Buckwheat and Lemon Basil Oil

Lemon-Basil Turkey Burgers

Chickpea Salad With Fresh Herbs

9. Herring

Serving Size: 1 fillet (5 ounces)

Herring contains 2 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per 3 1∕2-ounce serving, giving it one of the highest concentrations of fish oil of any seafood. Plus, as a small, cold-water fish with low levels of such contaminants as mercury, it's a no-brainer choice for pregnant women.

A high dietary intake (more than 2 grams a day) of DHA during pregnancy has been found to support brain development in the womb. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women with higher blood levels of fish oil had babies with better sleep patterns in the first 48 hours following delivery compared with women with lower levels.

Experts have hypothesized that an infant's sleep reflects the maturity of his nervous system, so adding fish into your diet can help your baby's brain mature and help you get much-needed sleep after labor.

Tasty Tips If you've ever tasted herring, it's probably been pickled, the most popular way to eat it, or doused in cream. But you can also find fresh herring at your local fish store. The bones are soft and easy to remove. Fresh herring is great grilled or baked with acidic flavors like white wine and lemon.

10. Molasses

Serving Size: 1 tablespoon

Sweet, sticky and packed with sugar, molasses is not the type of food you want to start spooning onto every dish. But molasses has a few hidden nutritional gems, including magnesium, manganese (1 tablespoon has 15 percent of your daily needs) and vitamin B6.

Manganese is an essential mineral that plays a role in normal bone development, and that's important for your growing baby. Vitamin B6 plays a role in your sodium-phosphorus balance, which determines how much water you have in your body. And potassium is another mineral involved in water retention. Getting enough vitamin B6 and potassium may help shrink your swollen feet and ankles. Molasses has about 290 milligrams (8 percent of your daily needs) of potassium and 0.1 milligrams (7 percent of your RDA) of vitamin B6 per tablespoon.

Tasty Tips Blackstrap molasses is the healthiest choice. If possible, look for organic, unsulphured blackstrap molasses, which contains fewer contaminants. Try it as a sweetener in your oatmeal, smoothies or yogurt, and in breads and other baked goods or in ginger tea. Or, it makes a yummy barbecue sauce for pork or chicken.

Suggested Recipes

Apple-Ginger Bread

Grilled Chicken with Watermelon Barbecue Sauce

For 90 more nutritious and delicious foods you should be eating while expecting, take a peek at the pages of The 100 Healthiest Foods To Eat During Pregnancy. $20, amazon.com.

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