Every year, scientists uncover information about the critical role nutrients play in the mental and physical development of the fetus, including their ability to reduce the risk of birth defects and disease in newborns. Prenatal vitamins can help, but they can’t do the job alone, which is why your diet is so important.
The basics: Try to eat 300 extra calories a day, focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein; they’re the best sources of the important nutrients highlighted here. Limit fat to 30 to 35 percent of calories daily, and sugar to no more than 10 percent of calories. During your second and third trimesters, add two snacks a day (see “Power Snacks,” below).
Calcium (1,000 mg):
Your developing baby needs this mineral for bone growth. Getting an adequate amount also can help prevent you from losing bone density during pregnancy.
A Day’s Worth of Calcium: 1 cup 2% milk, 1 cup instant fortified oatmeal, a salad with 1 cup chicory greens, 1 ounce cheddar cheese and 1 cup low-fat yogurt.
Folate (600 mcg):
This B vitamin and its synthetic form, folic acid, protect against defects of the fetus’s brain and spinal cord, such as spina bifida. Because these neural-tube defects develop in the first 28 days after conception—before many women realize they are pregnant—experts say it is essential that all women of childbearing age eat foods rich in folate or fortified with folic acid, and that they take a daily supplement before becoming pregnant.
A Day’s Worth of Folate: 1 cup orange juice from concentrate, 1 cup fortified oatmeal and 1¼ cup chickpeas.
Iron (27 mg):
Iron helps both your and your growing baby’s blood carry oxygen, and plays an important role in proper muscle and organ function. Vitamin C aids absorption of iron from foods such as dairy, vegetables, fruits, grains and eggs; a 5-ounce glass of orange juice or a cup of steamed broccoli is enough to get the job done.
A Day’s Worth of Iron: 1 cup fortified oatmeal, 2 slices whole-wheat bread, 3 ounces broiled beef tenderloin, 1 baked potato with skin and 2 cups cooked spinach.
Protein (71 g):
The amino acids in protein are responsible for tissue growth and repair in your body as well as your baby’s. “One way to get enough protein each day is to consume two 3-ounce servings of meat, plus three servings of dairy products,” says Lola O’Rourke, M.S., R.D., a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
“For vegetarians, beans, eggs and nuts are good meat-free sources of protein.” Avoid eating fish with high mercury content such as shark, mackerel and swordfish; safer types of fish such as salmon and flounder are OK, just don’t limit your intake to one type or exceed 12 ounces of fish per week.
A Day’s Worth of Protein: 1 cup reduced-fat (2%) milk, 1 egg, 3 ounces turkey breast, 1¼ cup baby lima beans and 3 ounces salmon.