Fortified foods like vitamin D-enriched milk or calcium-added orange juice seem like an easy way to get the nutrients you need. But are they the best way to nourish you and your baby? The answer depends on the nutrient as well as the food it’s fortifying. “Adding nutrients can encourage people to look at a food as having a health halo when in reality it may be full of sodium, unhealthy fats or added sugars,” says Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D., an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. Plus, too much of certain nutrients could cause unwanted side effects. Here, experts tease out the science from the sales pitch.
According to a study from the University of Colorado, most pregnant women aren’t getting enough vitamin D. “This vitamin is crucial to the development of your baby’s teeth and bones,” says Elizabeth Ward, R.D., author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy (Wiley). “But many expectant moms aren’t meeting the 600 IU daily recommendation.”
Manufacturers have been fortifying milk with vitamin D since the 1930s to prevent rickets in children, and it can now be found in fortified eggs, orange juice, cereal, yogurt and non-dairy milks like soy and hemp. Some mushrooms are even being zapped with UV rays to provide vitamin D.
Should you bite? Yes. “Few foods contain it naturally, so choosing vitamin D-fortified foods can help bring you closer to your daily needs,” says Ward.
The daily recommended intake of calcium during pregnancy is 1,000 milligrams. This mineral is necessary for your baby’s bone development, and if you don’t have enough, your baby will leach calcium from your bones. Look for it in fortified orange juice, tofu, bread, cereal and dairy alternatives like soymilk and almond milk.
Should you bite? Yes, if you’re not getting enough from whole foods. “If you’re consuming three or more servings of low-fat dairy along with other natural sources, such as dark leafy greens and almonds, you probably don’t need calcium-fortified items,” says Young.
Omega-3s, more specifically the DHA found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines, are polyunsaturated fats vital to the development of your baby’s brain, nervous system and eyes, says Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy (Holt). What’s more, Harvard University scientists recently found that adequate intake during pregnancy may lower the risk of childhood obesity. You need 200 to 300 milligrams during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. They’re added to chocolate, pasta, milk, eggs, tortillas and peanut butter.
Should you bite? No. “The amount of omega-3 fatty acids added to some foods is low, so you’d have to consume huge amounts to get the recommended intake,” says Somer. Instead, aim for 12 ounces of seafood a week (for pregnancy-safe seafood sources, go to fitpregnancy.com/safeseafood) or take a daily supplement. We like Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA ($29, nordicnaturals.com).