You’re growing a baby and you’re starving! Fill up on these nutrient-packed overachievers to boost your mini-me’s development and to feel your best throughout pregnancy.
Everyone wants to eat healthy, but in our recent survey of 2,300 moms-to-be, we found that 63 percent of them don’t meet the recommended five to nine servings of produce a day, and 36 percent give in to unhealthy cravings most days. We know! It’s not easy to order a bowl of greens when you’d rather chow down on pizza. Out of all the superfoods, we found the ones that deliver the most bang for a bump. That means they do at least one of the following: help reduce the risk of birth defects, encourage healthy fetal development, or help prevent pregnancy complications. Bon appétit, Mama!
Just a quarter cup of these hearthealthy nuts (or 2 tablespoons of almond butter) delivers more than a third of your daily dose of vitamin E, which plays a role in your infant’s brain development. And since almonds are protein-rich, a handful may stave off hunger pangs better than noshing on salty, empty-calorie snacks, such as crackers or pretzels.
The world’s most portable snack also contains about 10 percent of your daily needs for potassium, a mineral that can help you avoid pregnancy-related hypertension. That’s a healthy goal for now and later: A study from George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., found that keeping your blood pressure under control during pregnancy can also reduce your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes five to ten years down the road.
3. Egg Yolks
Yolks are baby-making gold, so don’t eschew them for the whites. They contain important fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin D, which can reduce your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and low birthweight, reports research in the British Medical Journal. Egg whites may have more protein, but the yolk contains almost all of an egg’s choline—a mineral that plays a role in your baby’s brain health and which partners with folic acid to reduce the risk of neural-tube defects, says Stephanie Clarke, R.D., coauthor of the Healthy, Happy Pregnancy Cookbook. “Eating an egg a day is a great way to get closer to meeting your needs for all of these important nutrients.”
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4. Fortified Cereal
Your favorite bowl of flakes may contain more iron than a serving of spinach. And since up to a quarter of expecting women have trouble getting the recommended 27 milligrams of iron daily, that’s welcome news. The mineral could lower your baby-to-be’s risk of autism, according to research from the University of California, Davis, and it’s also important for ensuring a healthy birthweight and for keeping your energy levels up. “The best iron-fortified cereals have 50 percent of your daily iron requirement and contain at least 6 grams of fiber and fewer than 10 grams of sugar per serving,” says Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, R.D., founder of the consulting firm City Kids Nutrition, in New York City.
Besides providing your day’s share of vitamins A and C, this leafy green boasts two vital pregnancy nutrients: folic acid, for helping to prevent birth defects, and calcium, for building Baby’s bones. Kale also contains potassium, which can help reduce water retention, a perk you’ll appreciate as you get closer to full term. Aim to eat a cup of kale or other dark leafy green vegetables three times a week, suggests Clarke. Sauté it with olive oil, garlic, and raisins as a side dish, or add a handful to soup or tomato sauce.
6. Lean Beef
With just one 3-ounce serving, you’re scoring nearly half of your daily requirement for zinc, a mineral that, if obtained in adequate amounts, can help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, preterm delivery, and neonatal infection, the British Journal of Nutrition reports. In addition, you’re taking care of 8 percent of your iron needs and 30 percent of your daily protein needs. Select cuts with fewer than 10 grams of total fat per serving. Flank steak or sirloin are easy to prep in a slow cooker. Go ahead and order a burger if you’re craving it—but only a single patty, to keep saturated fat in check.
Half a cup of this mighty legume contains almost 25 percent of your daily dose of folic acid, says Willow Jarosh, R.D., coauthor of the Healthy, Happy Pregnancy Cookbook. Although you can get folic acid in fortified foods like cereals, pasta, rice, or in other grain products, the nutrient occurs naturally in lentils. Aim to eat them twice a week: Order lentil soup, add them to salads, or serve them as a side dish with chicken or fish.
Just one cup of this breakfast favorite (either traditional or instant) delivers more than 30 percent of your daily dose of magnesium, which your body needs to build Baby’s bones and teeth. Getting your 350 to 360 milligrams of magnesium can also reduce your risk of preterm labor, as well as regulate your blood-sugar level and blood pressure.
Get your veggie protein here! Quinoa is a complete source of protein for a meatless Monday or any day you’re trying to cut back on animal products. “It’s also high in fiber, something chicken or beef can’t claim, and it cooks up faster than whole grains,” says Jarosh. Moms-to-be need 71 grams of protein a day, and a cup of quinoa delivers 8 grams. Make a quinoa bowl with black beans and chopped veggies.
10. Red Bell Peppers
One red bell pepper delivers nearly three times as much vitamin C as an orange! The nutrient is famous for keeping the immune system in fighting form, a benefit that’s particularly helpful in pregnancy, which can cause kinks in a woman’s immune system. Vitamin C’s antioxidant powers may also promote fetal brain development and help your body absorb much-needed iron. So power up a stir-fry or salad with bell peppers, stat.
This is the only food on our list that contains DHA, the powerful omega-3 fatty acid. Getting the recommended 300 milligrams a day may help protect you from preterm labor, preeclampsia, and postpartum depression, and it helps develop Baby’s brain, central nervous system, and eyes,” says Kathryn Sweeney, a registered dietitian at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “A 3-ounce serving of the pink stuff packs 500 milligrams of omega-3s,” Sweeney adds, so have it once a week. On other days, pick seafood like anchovies, herring, sardines, and chunk light canned tuna (which you can safely eat 6 ounces of each week), or shop your grocery store for DHA-fortified foods, including milk, yogurt, bread, and even chocolate.
12. Sweet Potatoes
Baked, roasted, or mashed—just one of these tubers delivers more than 400 percent of your day’s vitamin A! “This nutrient is especially important during the first trimester, when cell division occurs rapidly and your baby’s body is figuring out which cells will become part of which organ or body part,” says Sweeney. Plus, sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber (even more so with the skin on!) and energizing complex carbs that fill you up for few calories.
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Just one cup of plain yogurt earns you 30 percent of your daily calcium requirement. “If your baby doesn’t get enough calcium from the food you eat, he’ll take it from your bones instead,” says Jarosh. Yogurt is often fortified with probiotics, good gut bacteria that may reduce your baby’s risk for developing eczema or other allergies later in life. Go for the plain varieties and sweeten with some fruit and cinnamon or ginger.