Where Folate Flourishes
Start your shopping trip in the fresh-produce department, where finding nutrient-dense foods is a no-brainer. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of folate, a B vitamin that helps manufacture and maintain new cells and is especially vital for the rapid cell division that takes place during pregnancy. Deficiencies can contribute to serious birth defects of the spine and brain (aka neural tube defects such as spina bifida).
"Before you get pregnant and during the first trimester are when getting folate counts the most," says Heather Blazier, R.D., L.D., a clinical dietitian who specializes in pregnancy, labor and delivery at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. "The neural tube develops very early in pregnancy, starting in the fourth week."
Folate occurs naturally in food, while folic acid is the synthetic form found in fortified foods and supplements. "Food is always a more absorbable source of vitamins and minerals," Blazier adds. The recommended daily intake for pregnant women is 400 to 600 micrograms.
The produce department also is a goldmine when it comes to vitamin C and fiber. Vitamin C helps strengthen your body's membranes, including the amniotic membranes (rupture can lead to preterm delivery). For more on fiber's role during pregnancy, see "Cereal, Bread & Pasta" (below).
Stock up on your favorites and try some new foods, too, to get a variety of beneficial pregnancy nutrients.
Smart Picks for Folate
-Green vegetables (1 cup each): Spinach: 263 mcg; mustard greens: 105 mcg; asparagus: 268 mcg; broccoli: 57 mcg
-Fruit Guava (1 medium, about 6 ounces): 81 mcg; papaya (1 cup cubes): 53 mcg; strawberries (1 cup): 37 mcg; navel orange (1 cup sections): 48 mcg
-More sources of folate: Fortified cereals such as Kellogg's All-Bran (393 mcg per 1/2 cup) or Wheat Chex (390 mcg per 1 cup); cooked beans such as lentils (358 mcg per 1 cup); calcium- and vitamin D-fortified orange juice (45 mcg per 1 cup); cooked beets (136 mcg per 1 cup)
Iron & Protein Aplenty
The meat department is home to almost unlimited sources of iron and protein, two pregnancy must-haves. Protein is the major structural component of all the cells in the body, and it's essential for the fetus's organ and muscle development. During pregnancy, your daily protein intake increases to 71 grams. To support the rise in your own blood volume and prevent anemia (a decrease in red blood cells), you also need to increase your iron intake to 27 mg daily.
Smart Picks for Iron & Protein: Beef, round, top round, London broil (3 ounces) 3 milligrams iron, 31 g protein
-Duck (1 cup, chopped): 4 mg iron, 33 g protein
-Beef liver (2.8 ounces): 5 mg iron, 21 g protein
-Pork tenderloin (3 ounces): 1.2 mg iron, 24 g protein
-Skinless chicken breast (3 ounces): 0.6 mg iron, 18 g protein
-More sources of iron and protein: Kidney beans (1 cup cooked): 5 mg iron, 16 g protein; quinoa (2 ounces): 6 mg iron, 8 g protein; sunflower seed kernels (1 cup): 3 mg iron, 10 g protein