In pregnancy, food not only provides fuel or energy for the mother, but the nutrients are the building blocks for the fetus’ developing body. Beyond learning what to eat during pregnancy, the following ten foods provide a variety of preconception and prenatal nutrients necessary for supporting the body through a healthy pregnancy. The nutrients range from iodine, folate, calcium and magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamin D, antioxidants, healthy fats, and many more. These foods might surprise you; I know they surprised me!
Must-Have Foods for Pregnancy
I’ve always thought of celery as a “diet” food – something to eat to fill you up that’s low in calories. These slender tall green crunchy stalks are more than just a low-calorie snack… much more!
Celery is a fiber rich, carbohydrate-packed vegetable that has many benefits for pregnancy. It acts as a diuretic (think edema/swelling) and helps to flush toxins from the body. Celery aids digestion, helps to purify and nourish the blood, calm the nerves, and potentially clear up acne and skin problems. Celery is an alkalinizing food as well, which may help to prevent or manage heartburn, a common pregnancy symptom.
Celery is a great source of vitamins A and C, sodium, silicon, calcium, magnesium, and iron. It also contains a variety of phytonutrients, but one really stands out – coumarin. Coumarin enhances the activity of certain white blood cells and protects the health of the circulatory system, which is important in pregnancy because a woman’s blood volume increases by around 50%.
Include celery in your fresh juices, soups, stews, salads, or smear nut butter on a few stalks for a quick, balanced afternoon snack.
2. Dried Plums (Prunes)
Did you immediately think “laxative”? That’s what I think of when I think of prunes. Dried plums, however, have the highest iron content of all fruit – 1 cup can have 4-6 mg of iron and 1 cup of prune juice has roughly 10 mg of iron. Iron is important in pregnancy; it is a nutrient instrumental in helping the body create red blood cells and prevent anemia. They are also high in vitamin A, niacin, potassium, phosphorous, and contain some calcium, magnesium, and copper.
Yes, it is true, dried plums are also an easy way to remedy constipation, a very common pregnancy symptom. Tip: soak dried plums to rehydrate them… this makes their laxative effect a bit faster acting.
3. Green Beans
Green beans contain omega 3s, specifically alpha-linolenic acid. Who knew? Alpha-linolenic acid from plants is similar to DHA and EPA from fish oils. The body can even turn alpha-linolenic acid into DHA and EPA, all of which are important for brain development and heart health, and are anti-inflammatory. Green beans are also rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients like vitamins A and C, protein, iron, calcium, manganese, and beta-carotene. Plus, they are high in fiber, a critical food component for removing toxins and excess hormones from the body through elimination.
Green beans are a tasty roasted alternative to French fries, delicious raw dipped in hummus, or add them to soups and stir fries. This hearty vegetable can even be grilled.
4. Radish Greens
Yes, the leafy tops of a radish. Radish greens are edible! They can be added to your list of dark-green leafy vegetables. They are nutrient and mineral-rich and actually contain higher concentrations of calcium, vitamin C and protein than the radish root. Eat them raw in salads and on sandwiches or wilt them into soups or stews.
5. Eat the Radish too!
A spicy, crunchy, low calorie root made mostly of water. Radishes are high in vitamin C, folate and trace minerals like iron, zinc, silicon and selenium, plus a variety of phytonutrients including beta-carotene (vitamin A). Fun Tip: Radishes are known as an excellent food to eat to alleviate sinus congestion (common in pregnancy), colds, and sore throats. Radishes also contain digestive enzymes that prompt the body to secrete digestive juices, so they are good to eat with grains, pasta and potatoes.
6. Sesame Seeds
While mostly seen incorporated into breads and baked goods in the US, sesame seeds are a component of hummus (in the form of a paste called tahini) which continues to grow in popularity. In the Middle East they are called the “seed of immortality.” Sesame seeds contain omega 6 essential fatty acids necessary for healthy nervous and immune system function and cellular health. Healthy fats are necessary for the proper development of the placenta and the mother’s milk glands.
Sesame seeds are an excellent source of protein, vitamins A, E and B6, copper, thiamin, phosphorus, copper and manganese, beta-carotene, zinc, and iron. Sesame seeds are also considered an adequate non-animal source of calcium.
7. Wild Rice
Although called “rice”, wild rice is actually unrelated to rice, but it is the grain of a type of reed that grows in water in Northern North America – Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin – and California and Canada. It has almost two times the amount of protein than brown rice. Wild rice contains iron, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, and potassium. Wild rice is a whole grain carbohydrate source that is also rich in the amino acid lysine and dietary fiber.
These small, red round berries grow in bogs and are well-known for their ability to reduce mild urinary tract infections. However, when fresh, this antioxidant-rich fruit is actually a great source of iodine – important for thyroid health and is necessary for fetal brain development. Roughly 4 ounces of cranberries contain approximately 400 mcg of iodine. Cranberries also contain vitamins A, E and K, manganese, copper, and pantothenic acid, and are a quality source of fiber. Try them chopped in salads or a couple in your daily smoothie, yum!
Artichokes are the edible flower bud of the Cynara scolymus thistle plant. They are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. While the upper parts of the outer leaves are fibrous and inedible, the base of these leaves, the tiny inner leaves and the heart at the bottom of the “choke” are edible and rather nutritious.
Fresh artichokes are low in calories and high in the carbohydrate inulin, which is known to improve the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. They are high in dietary fiber to help regulate the digestive system, magnesium and chromium, vitamin C, folate – necessary for fetal brain and neural tube development and health, and several trace minerals. Artichokes are also an adequate plant source of protein and are cholesterol-free.
PSS. The artichoke is a member of the Asteracea plant family, related to daisies, yarrow, chamomile, dandelion and calendula, and should be avoided if one has an allergy to any of these plants.
So, maybe Leeks should be #1 on this list as I have read, “Leeks are the vegetable equivalent of a super multivitamin-mineral tablet.” Whoa!
Leeks are high in fiber and contain carbohydrates, but also contain potassium, silicon, sulphur, phosphorus, vitamin c, a variety of phytonutrients, and 55 mg of calcium per cup. In addition, just one cup of fresh leeks contains approximately:
- 60 mg of folate for fetal neural tube development
- 0.2 mcg vitamin B6 instrumental for energy metabolism
- 0.2 mcg of iron for blood formation
- 40 mcg of vitamin K for healthy blood clotting
- 0.4 mcg manganese which supports fetal skeletal development
Leeks are often steamed or sautéed with other vegetables and added to soups. I love them in frittatas or quiche.
Fresh, whole foods should be your go-to for a variety of nutrients. So many women focus on taking their daily nutritional supplements in pregnancy, while forgetting the importance of eating a nutrient-dense fresh food diet. My hope is that in learning about these 10 nutrient-dense prenatal power foods for pregnancy health, you are now wanting recipes and anxious to try to incorporate them into your pregnancy diet. It can get boring eating the same thing over and over so why not try something new?! Enjoy! Radish greens are edible… who knew? 😉
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- William, A. (n.d.) Top 10 Super Healing Foods. Retrieved from: http://www.medicalmedium.net/
- Williams, A. (n.d.) Green Beans. Retrieved from: http://www.medicalmedium.com/blog/green-beans