Even if you’re already packing an alphabet’s worth of vitamins and minerals into your daily meals, you might still worry that you’re not taking in enough of the nutritional right stuff — especially if your appetite hasn’t quite gotten up to speed just yet. Enter these “nutritional superstars” — pregnancy power foods that pack plenty of nutrients into just a few bites, making them especially effective when efficiency is a priority (as when you’re too sick to eat much, when you’re gaining weight too fast, or when you’re not gaining quickly enough): Here’s some advice from nutrition experts on their top pregnancy foods. You don’t need to like or eat them all, but pick and choose your favorites to give your pregnancy a nutritional boost.
In addition to more than 12 vitamins and minerals, eggs contain lots of quality protein, which is essential for pregnancy. “Your baby’s cells are growing at an exponential rate, and every cell is made of protein,” Ward explains. “Plus, as a pregnant woman, you have your own protein needs.”
Eggs are also rich in choline, which promotes your baby’s overall growth and brain health, while helping prevent neural tube defects. Some eggs even contain omega-3 fats, important for both brain and vision development. (Brands that have omega-3s will probably state it on the label. Look for DHA-enriched eggs because those contain the most beneficial form of omega-3s.)
As for the egg’s bad rap about cholesterol? Not warranted, says Ward. It turns out that eating saturated fat does much more damage to your cholesterol level than eating the cholesterol naturally found in food. And while eggs are high in cholesterol, they’re also relatively low in saturated fat, with only about 1 1/2 grams per egg.
“Healthy women with normal blood cholesterol can consume one to two eggs a day as part of a balanced diet low in saturated fat,” Ward says. But if cholesterol is a concern for you, substitute egg whites for whole eggs. Need more convincing? Eggs are cheap, easy, quick, and versatile. When you’re too exhausted to cook a full meal, a couple of hard-boiled or scrambled eggs are just the ticket.
Not only is salmon rich in high-quality protein, says Ward, but it’s also an exceptionally good source of omega-3 fats, which are good for your baby’s development – and may help boost your mood. And unlike swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and shark, salmon has low amounts of methylmercury, a compound that can be harmful to your baby’s developing nervous system.
The Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency encourage pregnant women to eat 8 to 12 ounces (two to three servings) of fish every week. Opt for wild salmon, sardines, herring and farmed oysters, which are all high in omega 3s and safe for pregnancy. Cook or serve it up with acidic ingredients like sour cream, fruit salsa or lemon juice.
Not a fan of fish? Try these other omega-3-rich foods, including tofu, enriched eggs and walnuts.
Tip: Avoid large ocean predators including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, fresh tuna, sea bass, tilefish, mahi mahi, grouper and amberjack, which can be potentially high in toxins like mercury and dioxin.
Navy beans, lentils, black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas … there are so many to choose from. “Beans contain the most fiber and protein of all the vegetables,” says Ward. You already know that it’s important to get enough protein during pregnancy, but you may not yet realize that fiber could become your new best friend. When you’re pregnant, your gastrointestinal tract slows down, putting you at risk for constipation and hemorrhoids. Fiber can help prevent and relieve these problems. In addition, says Ward, food that contains fiber tends to be rich in nutrients. This is certainly true of beans, which are good sources of iron, folate, calcium, and zinc.
Loaded with folate, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B6 (which helps baby’s tissue and brain growth as well as eases morning sickness), avocados are a delicious way to get your vitamins. Spread some ripe avocado on your whole grain roll as a healthy substitute for mayo.
Tip: Keep in mind that avocados are high in fat (though the very good kind) and calories, which makes them filling — but be careful not to overdo it unless you’re having trouble gaining weight.
Your baby needs calcium for his growing bones, and you need it to keep yours strong and to help your muscles and nerves function. Aim for about 1,200 mg (that’s four servings) every day. One of your best bets? Yogurt: cup for cup, it contains as much calcium as milk — plus it’s packed with protein and folate. The active cultures (i.e., good bacteria) in yogurt can also help prevent stomach upset as well as yeast infections (which are more common in pregnancy). Blend yogurt with fruit into smoothies, layer with granola in a breakfast parfait, substitute for sour cream or mayo in sandwich fillings, dips and salad dressings, or simply spoon it out of the carton.
Is your diet dairy-free? Try these ideas for downing more calcium.
Tip: To get the most calcium out of each serving, look for products that are also fortified with vitamin D, which boosts absorption.
Oats are full of fiber, B vitamins, iron and a host of other minerals. Along with other complex carbs, they’re also packed with fiber (helpful if you’re dealing with constipation). Fill your breakfast bowl with them, but don’t stop there — add oats to pancakes, muffins, cakes, cookies, even meatloaf. Aim to eat plenty along with a variety of other whole grains (whole corn, rice, quinoa, wheat and barley) to up your dose of a slew of baby-building vitamins and minerals.
Tip: Another whole grain that’s an easy way to up your intake: Air-popped popcorn. Its starchiness can help quell nausea, too!
Nuts are chock-full of important minerals (copper, manganese, magnesium, selenium, zinc, potassium, and even calcium) and vitamin E, plus they’re easily portable, making them a filling on-the-go snack. Even though they’re high in fat, it’s mainly the good-for-you kind. So in a nutshell, go nuts with nuts (a little if you’re gaining quickly, liberally if you’re gaining slowly).
Tip: Nuts are a versatile super-food — toss them into just about any dish: salads, pasta, meat dishes, baked goods and more.