Heather Bray, RD
I've rounded up my top 5 foods for pregnancy that I am constantly recommending clients to eat more of.
Pregnancy is complex and there are many physical changes that occur and with these come increased nutrient needs. Pregnant women also require more sleep/rest and water. But to simplify things, let's look at my top 5.
Eggs are rich in choline. A nutrient that is vital for fetal brain development. Women need 450mg choline per day during pregnancy and even more postpartum (550mg per day). However, there is some evidence to suggest that needs for choline in pregnancy are much higher than originally thought[i]. It has also been argued that choline is just as vital for fetal development as folate.
Not only are eggs one of the foods richest in choline, they are high in protein, cheap, versatile and easy to prepare.
I recommend to every woman I work with in my Prenatal Program to aim to consume 2 eggs per day to help them meet their choline. In addition, if you can find a prenatal vitamin that contains choline, even better. Here are some ways to include those eggs into your day:
Make a frittata or omelettes for dinner
Have 2 boiled eggs and a piece of fruit as a snack or with whole grain toast and peanut butter for breakfast
Egg salad sandwiches or wraps
Throw two boiled eggs onto a salad
Make fried rice with vegetables and two whole eggs
Make egg cups for easy grab-and-go breakfasts
Good ol' avocado toast with scrambled eggs OR fried eggs.
Food Safety Warning: Because eggs can carry potentially harmful bacteria, it is always best to make sure your eggs are cooked all the way through. Unfortunately you will have to skip out on the "dippy" sunny side up or soft boiled eggs for now.
I'm mainly referring to dark leafy greens here but green vegetables such as peas and broccoli also fall in this category. Most green vegetables are high in folate (you may be familiar with folate's synthetic form, folic acid, found in prenatal vitamins). Folate is a key nutrient in pregnancy because it helps to prevent against neural tube defects. This is why a lot of our food in Canada is fortified with folic acid. This B vitamin plays many vital roles in the human body, one of which is aiding in the cell division process. This is also why folate plays a big role in keeping the immune system strong.
Greens also provide us with lots of fibre, calcium, non-heme iron and vitamin K.
Pro tip: cook your leafy greens to increase the bioavailability (amount you absorb) of calcium and iron. Calcium and iron are very important in pregnancy.
One common complaint I hear from pregnant women is "since I have become pregnant, I no longer want salads or raw vegetables". Know that this is very common and often occurs during the first trimester. To this I offer several recommendations:
Try putting leafy greens into smoothies
Switch to cooked vegetables instead (stir fry, oven roasted, sautéed, air fried steamed etc.)
Add spinach to omelettes or pasta dishes
Add kale or collard greens to soups/stews
Add bok choy to stir fry
3. Oily Fish
There's often a lot of confusion about what constitutes an oily fish so let's get that out of the way first. Here are the oily fish:
Oily fish are so important during pregnancy for many reasons. First of all, omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are essential for humans and often very under-consumed in Western societies. DHA specifically (which has been popping up more and more lately as part of the prenatal supplement regime for many women) has been found to be a crucial nutrient for fetal brain development and some new research suggests that it can help prevent postpartum depression[ii].
The recommendations is to consume oily fish at least once per week to help meet your Omega-3 needs. No need to worry about mercury toxicity here (regardless of if you are buying farmed, fresh, canned etc.) because all of these fish are low in mercury.
What if I don't eat fish or I'm allergic?
For those who do not eat fish and do not have a fish allergy, I recommend a fish oil supplement (such as NutraSea HP, Quell or Nordic Naturals) to be taken daily.
For those who are allergic to fish or for vegans, I recommend taking a vegan Omega-3 (NuraVege is a great option here) that is made from algae instead of fish to be taken daily.
4. Whole Grains
As mentioned before, a lot of food products, especially grain products in Canada are fortified with folic acid which is a great bonus, but this isn't why whole grains made my top 5. Whole grains are in my top 5 because of a) fibre b) magnesium c) satiety and satisfaction.
Whole grains include: 100% whole grain bread, oats, qunioa, brown rice, farro, freekeh, amaranth, bran cereals, barley, just to name a few.
For many pregnant women constipation is a common symptom, especially in late pregnancy. Whole grains provide such a significant amount of fibre that if women are not consuming them at least once per day, they probably aren't getting enough fibre (not-so-fun-fact: most north Americans DONT get enough fibre[iii]).
Consuming whole grains is a must. What fibre also does is that it slows down the rate at which we digest food which means that high fibre meals keep us feeling fuller longer. The slower rate of digestion also reduces the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed and thus lowering blood sugar spikes which is imperative during pregnancy to help prevent gestational diabetes.
Every dietitian's bff, legumes. This one will always make my top 5 list for many reasons. Firstly, legumes are very high and fibre and folate, similar to the whole grains mentioned above.
Not only do they deliver high amounts of fibre but they are also great sources of plant based protein. For many women in pregnancy, animal proteins may all of a sudden sound less appetizing which is where beans and lentils can come in really handy to help meet protein needs. Protein needs increase during pregnancy so including legumes often is a great way to increase your protein intake.
Legumes are also great sources of non-heme iron, plant-based calcium, magnesium and antioxidants. They are also very affordable and if you buy them canned, easy and convenient
to cook with or add to meals. Stay tuned for more bean-based recipes this fall!
If you have more questions or are looking for help from a dietitian, please contact me! I'd be happy to help!
Book a FREE 15-minute call with me now!