This B vitamin helps protect against neural-tube defects such as spinal bifida. Recent research also suggests that consuming the recommended daily dose of 600 micrograms during the first trimester may reduce mental and emotional health problems in children. In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration mandated adding folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) to refined grains such as bread, pasta, rice, crackers and cereal. “Folic acid is absorbed nearly twice as well as the naturally occurring folate found in foods,” says Ward.
Should you bite? Yes, but be aware of how much you’re getting. Eating fortified products in addition to taking a prenatal vitamin could cause your daily intake of folic acid to zoom past 1,000 micrograms, which can put you at risk for abdominal cramps, diarrhea or sleep issues. It’s OK to include some fortified refined grains in your diet, but don’t shun unfortified whole grains, such as brown rice. “Whole grains have more fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients essential for a healthy pregnancy that are removed when they are refined,” says Ward.
Getting the recommended 28 grams of fiber each day can help alleviate constipation, minimize cravings and stabilize blood sugar levels, which reduces your risk for gestational diabetes, says Young. It’s being added to yogurt, juice, pancake mix, pasta, granola bars and frozen desserts enriched with one or more different forms of fiber, including oat fiber, bran, inulin, maltodextrose and polydextrose.
Should you bite? No. “Too often, fiber-enriched foods contain mostly processed grains or high amounts of sugar and aren’t healthy,” says Young. “There’s also no research to prove that adding fiber to foods is as beneficial as consuming the fiber naturally found in whole foods.” What’s more, too much inulin (an indigestible starch used to bump up fiber levels in certain foods) can lead to gas and bloating.
Many women enter pregnancy with low iron levels, which is then exacerbated by pregnancy. By not getting the 27 milligrams you need each day, your risk for anemia, miscarriage and preterm delivery increases. Adequate iron also helps deliver oxygen to your baby for proper development, says Somer. It can be found added to cereal and refined grains, such as white bread and white pasta.
Should you bite? No. The body does not absorb the heme-free form of iron found in fortified foods as easily as the heme-iron found in meats, says Somer. “You can boost the absorption of nonheme iron from sources such as beans and fortified foods by eating them with sources of vitamin C or heme-iron,” she says. But it’s nearly impossible to get your daily dose from diet alone, says Somer, who recommends a daily iron supplement. We like Rainbow Light Complete Iron ($16, rainbowlight.com).
Probiotics may help alleviate such pregnancy-related digestive complaints as constipation and nausea. To reap the benefits, try natural sources, such as plain yogurt, kefir, tempeh and sauerkraut, rather than fortified foods. “The type of strains added to fortified foods have no proven health benefits or could be added in quantities not high enough to produce a desirable effect,” says Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D.