The 7 Nutrients You Need While Pregnant (and Which Foods to Avoid)
Pregnancy is an incredibly sacred time. Your body is changing and accommodating to grow a precious, beautiful life. So it’s important to know which nutrients you need while pregnant that are essential for your baby’s development and health.
First, let’s clear something up. The idea of “eating for two” is not really true. Some researchers believe that gaining excessive weight while pregnant can actually contribute to a more difficult birth and other health complications.
Doubling your calorie intake could mean that you’re eating more processed foods containing sugars, GMOs, and other less than ideal ingredients that will end up in your baby.
However, it is recommended that you increase your caloric intake by about 340 calories per day during your 2nd trimester and by 450 during your 3rd trimester. So choose your foods wisely!
Let’s take a closer look at the nutrients you will need while pregnant, which foods contain them, and which foods to avoid.
Consume More of These 7 Nutrients While Pregnant:
There’s really not much that you need to consume when you’re pregnant that you didn’t need when you weren’t pregnant. You’ll need to increase your intake of certain nutrients, though, because they’re especially helpful for preventing birth defects and reducing the likelihood of complications.
Pregnancy Nutrient # 1 – Folate & Folic Acid
Folate (found naturally in foods) and folic acid (the supplement) are especially important the first 28 days after conception.
Since you may not know you’re pregnant right away, consider increasing your intake if you’re trying to get pregnant and continue throughout the pregnancy.
The CDC actually recommends folic acid supplements, but you can also increase your folate consumption to meet the RDA prior to pregnancy with foods like leafy greens, fruits, fruit juices (skip the store-bought juices, though, and juice your own!), nuts, beans, peas, and grains.
Sources of Folate:
1 cup of raw spinach has 58 mcg and a cup of cooked, drained, unsalted spinach contains a whopping 263 mcg
1/2 cup of raw, sliced avocado has 59 mcg
1 cup of shredded romaine lettuce has 64 mcg
4 spears of boiled asparagus have 89 mcg (or 134 per cup); 70 mcg per cup of raw asparagus
1/2 cup of cubed papaya has 27 mcg
1 cup of cooked Brussels sprouts contains 47 mcg, and one cup raw gives you 54 mcg
1 cup of cooked quinoa has 78 mcg
Parsley has 91 mcg in one cup
⅔ cup of bok choy contains 46 mcg
The recommended daily amount to decrease the likelihood of neural tube defects like spinal bifida and anencephaly is 400 mcg.
During pregnancy, the consumption of seafood should be severely limited (no more than 12 oz. per week, or roughly two meals). However, omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for healthy neurological and eye development in the baby, so pregnant women should seek out other sources.
Sources of Omega 3s:
Seeds (flax, help and chia)
Algae (including seaweed)
Pregnant women need 300 mg of omega-3s per day. If you’re still concerned, algae-based DHA supplements are available. DHA may not be present in your prenatal vitamins.
Pregnancy Nutrient # 3 – Calcium with Magnesium
When you’re pregnant, your baby needs calcium to develop. If there’s not enough calcium for both of you, the baby will still take what it needs, leaving you, mom, with potentially weakened bones.
The recommended amount of calcium for pregnant women is 1,400 mg each day. Don’t head straight for the dairy products, though! Since dairy is acidic, your body will leach the calcium from your bones help to neutralize the acidity. Instead, seek out calcium-rich foods.
Sources of Calcium:
Collard greens, turnip greens, spinach & kale
Sesame seeds & tahini
You’ll also need magnesium in order to absorb all of this calcium. Magnesium also helps keep our bowels regular, so if you’re experiencing constipation during pregnancy, increasing your magnesium intake could help.
Sources of Magnesium:
Hemp seeds & pumpkin seeds
While you shouldn’t depend on your prenatal vitamins to cover all your calcium needs, there is usually some need (from 75 to 300 mg) to supplement an already nutritious diet.
Pregnancy Nutrient # 4 – Iron
When you’re pregnant, your risk of developing iron deficiency (anemia) increases. Your body needs about 15 to 18 mg when you’re not pregnant, and then 27 mg or more when you are. Iron deficiency is already a common problem all over the world. Add pregnancy to that, and you need to be especially careful, especially if you’re a vegetarian.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that an iron deficiency could mean a decrease in birth weight, complications during labor and delivery, and even impaired maternal functioning could result.
Sources of Iron:
Pumpkin seeds (1 oz = 4.2 mg),
Spirulina & spinach (1 cup, raw = .81 mg and, when raw, includes vitamin C for best absorption)
Lentils (1/2 cup, cooked = 3.3 mg)
Chickpeas (1/2 cup, cooked = 2.4 mg)
Navy beans, black beans, and kidney beans
It’s recommended to eat legumes with foods rich in vitamin C, like bell peppers, hot peppers, thyme, parsley, and leafy greens to maximize iron absorption.
Pregnancy Nutrient # 5 – Vitamin D
Vitamin D is necessary for absorbing the calcium in your diet (and making your baby’s bones strong). With sun exposure, your body creates vitamin D, so you may not be deficient or in need of a supplement if you get plenty of sun. However most of us, pregnant or not, do need a vitamin D supplement.
Pregnant women need at least 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Some prenatal multi-vitamins have all of that (and in some cases, more, like New Chapter’s Perfect Prenatal), so you won’t necessarily need an extra supplement. In 2007, the Canadian Pediatric Society stated that pregnant women needed 2,000 IU per day.
A deficiency in vitamin D could lead to recurrent wheezing episodes later in life. If you’re not vegan, one tablespoon of cod liver oil can offer 1,360 IU of vitamin D.
Pregnancy Nutrient # 6 – B12
A B12 supplement may be recommended while you’re pregnant, especially if you’re a vegetarian or vegan mommy-to-be.
B12 is important for the baby’s developing brain. It’s also important for the mom, before, during, and after pregnancy, and while breastfeeding.
While you’re body will be more efficient at creating B vitamins in your gut with the right balance of healthy flora, it is a general recommendation across the board, as I mention in the Beauty Detox books, to take a B12 supplement if you are vegetarian or vegan.
The B12 in the body will go to the fetus first (so be sure to get enough for the baby and yourself so you don’t become deficient!), and the baby will generally have enough stored up for the first four months of life as protection in case the mother is deficient at first.
You’ll need to continue with a B12supplement while breastfeeding to ensure that your baby is getting enough.
Moms who don’t eat animal products will need the vitamin for their babies and themselves. Deficiency shows up as lethargy, irritability, and developmental delays. The RDA for B12 in pregnant women is 2.6 mcg and 2.8 mcg for breastfeeding women.
Pregnancy Nutrient # 7 – Protein
Though it depends on your size of course, a general recommendation by the Mayo Clinic is 71 grams of protein per day for pregnant women. You can hit this requirement whether you eat animal protein or not. Some of the best sources of plant-based protein include:
1 cup cooked quinoa, 8.14 grams
1 Power Protein Shake, around 26 grams
1 16 ounce serving of Glowing Green Smoothie, around 6 grams
1 cup tempeh, 31 grams
1 cup boiled garbanzo beans, 14.53 grams
1 cup lentils, boiled and unsalted, 17.86 grams
1 cup sliced avocado, 2.92 grams
1 cup chopped kale, 2.87 grams
1 cup chopped walnuts, 17.82 grams
1 cup amaranth, cooked, 9.35 grams
1 tablespoon spirulina, 4.02 grams
What to Avoid Eating While Pregnant
Just as there are foods you should try to get more of in your diet while you’re pregnant, it’s super important to avoid certain foods due the potential toxins that are present, like mercury or dangerous bacteria, despite any potential benefits (like the omega-3s in fish). You’ll want to discuss the limitations with your healthcare provider, of course, but the Mayo Clinic lists:
Fish that is likely to be high in mercury, like swordfish, shark, tuna, king mackerel, and tilefish
Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood
Refrigerated smoked seafood, like lox
Unpasteurized meat or soft cheeses
Deli meat or hotdogs, unless cooked until steaming (there are so many other reasons NOT to eat these foods while pregnant or otherwise, which we won’t get into here!)
Remember that one of the biggest sources of environmental toxins entering your body is through animal foods, which are concentrate toxins in their flesh as contaminants move up the food supply.
How to Follow the Beauty Detox Principles While Pregnant
You can absolutely follow the Beauty Detox principles and thrive on a plant-based lifestyle while you’re pregnant. Continue to cut out refined foods, dairy, gluten, and fried foods and stick to eating Light to Heavy throughout the day.
In fact, it’s a sure way to get plenty of the nutrients you and your growing baby need while you’re pregnant. Increase the intake of the foods and nutrients as discussed above, and add an excellent prenatal vitamin and others that your doctor recommends.
Regardless of the Beauty Stage you’re in when you get pregnant, whether you still eat some animal products or you no longer eat them at all, you can meet all of the nutritional goals for a healthy pregnancy.
What I don’t recommend is attempting to move through the phases too quickly while pregnant. It is not a time to unleash a lot of toxins in your system. Use it as a guide for incorporating more Beauty Foods with the important Beauty Fats, Beauty Minerals, Beauty Proteins, and Beauty Vitamins into your diet.
Continue to make nutritious choices over the ones that won’t do you or your baby any good, and learn more about getting adequate plant-based pregnancy nutrition.
Enjoy this sacred time for nourishing yourself and baby!