In general, pregnant and lactating women in the U.S. are getting in enough grains and protein. Vegetables, however…now that’s another story. The areas that are weakest include red veggies (e.g., tomato, bell pepper), starchy veggies (e.g., potatoes, squash, corn), and beans/peas/lentils. When it comes to seafood, we’re once again woefully shy of the recommendations. This is not a surprise to me at all, since we’ve scared too many women into avoiding seafood while pregnant. Plus, if you’ve got food aversions, seafood might be at the top of that list.
But then we get into the good stuff: salt and all that addicting sugar. We’re eating it all. Helloooooo pregnancy cravings and all the “eff it” mentality. We need to enjoy our food, but we also need to focus on the nutrient-dense options. Saturated fat falls into this “getting too much” category. However, many sources of saturated fat are great sources of other key nutrients (e.g. stewed meats, dark meat poultry, full-fat dairy, etc). But if you’re getting all your saturated fat from baked goods or French fries…I can only help your argument so much.
But how about those nutrients we need to strive to include in our diets?
Folate. This is the one everyone has heard of. But did you know that the most important time to get the nutrient is BEFORE you get pregnant? So don’t wait until you pee on a stick for this one. The Guidelines say to supplement a month before getting pregnant, but how many of us know when that will be?!
A better recommendations is for all women capable of getting pregnant to supplement, either individually or as part of a prenatal vitamin. You want to look for 600-800 mcg of methylated folic acid.
Iron. Your needs increase during pregnancy and a little during lactation. However, if you haven’t gotten your cycle back yet postpartum, you could be OVER-supplementing if you keep taking your prenatal. It’s super important to discuss your situation with your healthcare team to keep your levels appropriate.
Choline. Most women are not meeting their daily choline needs AND most prenatal vitamins don’t have enough (if any) choline. Double whammy. So unless you’re eating 2-3 eggs each day, you probably need a supplement.
Iodine. It may be considered one of those “lesser known” nutrients, since iodine is not often included in prenatal vitamins. When you use salt in cooking or at the table, be sure to make it iodized salt. Your fancy salts are pretty, but don’t have the levels of iodine that you need. Rather get it through other foods? Try seaweed. As a crunchy snack, on top of popcorn or eggs, or even in veggie sushi.
Omega-3, specifically DHA. You may have heard about the importance of omega-3s, and one kind of omega-3 that is important to brain development is DHA. The best way to meet recommendations is to choose 8-12 oz of a variety of seafood each week, with an emphasis on cold water fatty fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring). Not going to happen? Look for a supplement that contains AT LEAST 300 mg DHA.
Mercury. Mercury is the only thing on this list that you should actually avoid. This is where the “fish concern” during pregnancy comes in. Yes, mercury poisoning can be a very significant issue – if it happens. But, seafood is also rich in another mineral, selenium. Selenium and mercury compete for absorption in the body, which means that you will absorb way less mercury from fish than you think. That said, there are 3 big ones to avoid during pregnancy due to the extreme levels of mercury: shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. Canned tuna can also be a concern, especially since it is the cheapest and most convenient fish for Americans. In general, 6 oz per week of chunk light tuna is fine. But make sure to look for brands that sell low-mercury tuna.
Now I know those cravings are intense. While we want to make sure you have a balanced diet, it’s ok to splurge from time to time. Give yourself some grace! After all, what aby wants, baby gets…right? Oh yeah…and do yourself a favor and prep some healthy oven-ready meals for that fourth trimester. Or you can just hire Babycakes Birth Services as your postpartum doula to take meal prep off of your plate!
Nutrition info provided by The Pregnancy Dietician.