Now that you're expecting, your body's nutritional needs are changing, and so will your grocery list. Take along our handy aisle-by-aisle guide to find the best sources of the nutrients you need to ensure a healthy pregnancy—and a healthy baby.
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
Swimming in Omega-3s Although you should limit or avoid eating certain types of fish during pregnancy, there are still plenty of healthful options in the seafood department. There you can find lean sources of protein and healthful omega-3 fatty acids. "Studies have shown that [omega-3 fatty acids] are an important nutrient for the development and health of the fetal nervous system, heart and eyes," says Jennifer Wider, M.D., medical advisor to the Society for Women's Health Research in Washington, D.C. You need about 1.4 g a day.
There is also some evidence that omega-3s may lower the risk of preterm birth and postpartum depression. However, pregnant women need to restrict or eliminate certain fish from their diet because of mercury contamination. Visit gotmercury.org to find the healthiest seafood choices.
Smart Picks for Omega-3s -Wild Pacific salmon (3 ounces): 1.4 g -Trout (3 ounces): 8 g -Oysters (3 ounces, steamed): 3 g -More sources of omega-3s: Walnuts (1 ounce): 2.6 g; canola oil (1 tablespoon): 1.3 g; flaxseed (1 tablespoon): 1.6 g; cooked sardines (3 ounces): 1.2 g
RELATED: The Scoop on Fish and Mercury
Your Calcium Connection If you don't get 1,000 mg of this mineral daily, your growing baby is going to leach calcium from your bones, increasing your risk for fractures of the hip, spine and wrist as you age. Make sure your picks in this section are vitamin D-fortified as well as calcium-rich. "Vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium," explains Blazier. Dairy products also are an excellent source of protein, and many low-fat options exist.
If you don't eat dairy products, focus on the nondairy sources listed below in "More Sources of Calcium."
Smart Picks for Dairy -Low-fat yogurt, any flavor (1 cup): 419 mg calcium, 12 g protein -2% milk (1 cup): 314 mg calcium, 9 g protein -Calcium-fortified soymilk (1 cup): 368 mg calcium, 5 g protein -More sources of calcium: Almonds (1 ounce): 70 mg; canned salmon with bones (3 ounces): 188 mg; calcium- and vitamin D-fortified orange juice (1 cup): 351 mg; Total Raisin Bran (1 cup):1,000 mg
CEREALS, BREADS & PASTA
Fiber-Filled Your increased iron intake (as well as pregnancy itself) can lead to constipation. Fiber-rich foods and lots of water are the antidote.
"Fiber is the indigestible part of food," explains Blazier. "It can help lower cholesterol, promote gastrointestinal health and increase [food's] 'transit time' for pregnant women who are experiencing constipation." The whole grains in certain kinds of bread, pasta, rice and cereal will help you reach your dietary fiber goal of 28 g daily.
Smart Picks for Fiber -Whole-grain bread or crackers: Whole-wheat English muffins (1 muffin): 4 g; whole-wheat pita (1 large): 5 g; Rye Krisp (1 cracker): 4 g -Whole grains: Whole-wheat spaghetti (1 cup): 6 g; bulgar (1 cup): 8 g; brown rice (1 cup): 4 g -Breakfast cereals: Cheerios (1 cup): 3 g; Total Raisin Bran (1 cup): 5 g; Wheatena (1 cup): 7 g -More sources of fiber: Raspberries (1 cup): 8 g; pear (1 small): 4 g; summer squash (1 cup mashed): 5 g; white beans (1 cup cooked): 19 g
The Lowdown on Deli Meat
Deli meats and hot dogs can transmit listeriosis, a bacterial infection whose symptoms include headache, muscle ache, fever, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck and convulsions. Listeria bacteria are especially hazardous for pregnant women because infection can result in miscarriage, premature delivery or illness in your newborn. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women are 20 times more likely to become infected with listeria than non-pregnant adults; it is most common during the third trimester, when the mother's immune system is most suppressed.
If you do eat hot dogs or luncheon or deli meats, make sure they have been reheated to steaming (160° F) to kill the bacteria. At sandwich shops, order non-luncheon meat fare such as meatballs, steak and cheese or roasted chicken.
Daily 10: Nutrients For A Healthy Pregnancy
Calcium: Daily dose 1,000 mg Best sources dairy foods such as cheese, low-fat yogurt and milk Carbohydrates: Daily dose 175 g Best sources vegetables and whole grains Fiber: Daily dose 28 g Best sources fruit; legumes; seeds; whole grains Fluids: Daily dose 91 ounces Best sources water; fruit and 100 percent fruit juice; vegetables Folate: Daily dose 400-600 mcg Best sources fruit; fortified cereal; leafy greens; calcium- and vitamin D-fortified orange juice Iron: Daily dose 27 mg Best sources beans; beef; beef liver; clams Omega-3s: Daily dose 1.4 g Best sources fatty fish, such as wild Pacific salmon, mackerel and anchovies; omega-3-fortified eggs; vegetable oils such as soybean, canola and flaxseed oils Protein: Daily dose 71 g Best sources cheese; eggs; fish; meat; milk; poultry; yogurt Vitamin C: Daily dose 85 mg Best sources fruit and 100 percent fruit juice; vegetables Vitamin D: Daily dose 5 mcg Best sources enriched milk, soymilk and cereals; sunshine