Boost Your Nutrients During Pregnancy With These 6 SUPERFOODS!

As you may be aware by now, nutrition during pregnancy is not just a matter of calories and it’s much more than “eating for two.” Pregnancy is the perfect state to start being healthier, make better food choices and start providing your future child with a vast variety of vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients that will benefit you both.

But, how do you know what to do if every time you go to the supermarket you only see lots of packages, bottles and food products claiming hundreds of health benefits? Well, maybe the only thing you need to remember is that the best foods come in nature's own packaging!

So what are superfoods?

Although there is not a worldwide consensus about what a superfood is, they can be considered as foods that promote health and reduce disease risk, due to their antioxidants, vitamins, omega-3 levels or other compounds found in the food. In pregnancy, they could help to reduce the risk of birth defects, ensure healthy development of the baby, or prevent pregnancy and labour complications.

Now, let me share with you my personal list of superfoods that you should definitely try during pregnancy:

Berries

Compared to common fruits like bananas, or apples, the berry-group is considered one of the richest sources of natural antioxidants. Blackberries, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, and strawberries are just the most popular in this amazing group. They provide our bodies with an amazing array of extraordinary nutrients which will improve our immune function, decrease the recurrence of urinary tract infections and reduce oxidative damage and inflammation.

Among all the berry-group, goji berries are perhaps the most nutritionally rich berry-fruit on the planet. They not only taste delicious, but they are a complete source of protein, providing more than 20 minerals - the main ones being zinc, iron, copper, calcium - as well as vitamins B1, B2, B6 and vitamin E; all of them important nutrients during pregnancy.

Needleless to say, goji berries can sometimes be over expensive; however, a fresh cup of strawberries or frozen blueberries are cheaper and can do the job too as they belong to the same family!

Salmon

DHA or docosahexaenoic acid, is a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid member of the omega-3 fatty acid family, it’s an essential nutrient required for normal health, growth and development. It is especially important during pregnancy for the health of both the mother and her growing child. Consumption of DHA food sources along with supplementation can improve pregnancy outcomes, such as your baby’s brain development, achieving a healthy gestation duration and, increase your baby’s growth and weight when he’s born.

It’s also very well known that women, who include DHA sources in her regular diet, also provide more DHA to their babies not only during pregnancy, but also when they’re being breastfed - this will help your child to have better vision and brain development during those important 2-3 years that their brain is rapidly growing.

DHA is found in animal foods with the richest sources being fish, like salmon, but if you’re not a fan of salmon or if it’s hard to find for you, mackerel, trout and sardines will be a good replacement.

Raisins & Garlic

Garlic? Raisins? I bet you didn’t see this one coming… but, yes! A study published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that the consumption of even small amounts of garlic or dried fruits like raisins, can lower the risk of spontaneous PTD (Pre-term Delivery) and PPROM (Pre-term Pre-labor Rupture of Membranes). Apparently, the antimicrobial components and high prebiotic content in these types of foods may have the potential to modulate and reduce conditions associated with and contributing to spontaneous PTD. Besides garlic and raisins, cooked onions and apricots have shown a modest benefit too.

Other alternatives such as Kefir and yogurt, are packed rich with calcium, probiotics and are usually fortified with prebiotics too.

Kale

Kale is a leafy green vegetable packed with lots of nutrients with many of them essential for pregnant mothers. The most important of them being folic acid, which will help in developing the spine of your baby, preventing neural tube defects and other birth defects. It’s a great non-animal source of calcium which is perfect for the development and integrity of the bones and to keep your blood pressure right. Kale will also supply iron and potassium. And even more amazingly, they have protein too! However, your best source of protein should still come from legumes, lentils, nuts, dairy and fish/meat etc.

If kale is not available or within your budget, spinach is a “low-cost” superfood that could be easier to find than kale.  Like the other “leafy greens,” spinach is an excellent source of folate, calcium, potassium and fibre.

Whether you pick kale or spinach, these vegetables taste great in a green smoothie too!

Quinoa

Quinoa, also known as the "mother of all grains", is a super food that has its origins in South America. During pregnancy, you are in need of high quality nutrient dense foods with high protein content. This enables your body to support the growth of the baby and your own tissues, and this grain is notable as a first-class source of quality protein, dietary fibre, polyunsaturated fats and minerals.

Quinoa can be consumed and prepared in many different ways, such as whole grain, flakes, or instant powder - or it can be combined with legumes such as beans and lentils, or even added to soups and salads.

Chia seeds

Despite their size, chia shouldn’t be underestimated, as they can be as nutritious as all the foods mentioned above and they are among the most wholesome foods on the planet. They are loaded with protein, omega-3 fatty acids and various micronutrients. It is also a great source of dietary fibre which is beneficial for the digestive system and controlling blood sugar in those cases of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). It has been established that it can act as an anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and immune improver.

Flax seeds or Linseeds are another great example among this group, and are considered one of the richest plant-based sources of n-3 fatty acids. They are also rich in iron, zinc, calcium, protein and folate. They are a little controversial during pregnancy due to some animal studies which have evaluated the safety of flaxseed during pregnancy, while there are pregnant mothers who have reported consuming a small amount of flax throughout their pregnancy without any ill effects to themselves or their babies. So, my recommendation is that if you want to try flax seeds, go ahead, but everything should be in moderation and VARIETY is the key word here.

My final word is, make what you eat every day count! Despite all the nutritional power of these superfoods, it is important to eat them or some of the alternatives described above, as part of a balanced meal with many other food types, to obtain good overall nutrition.

References:

·       Wolfe, D. (2010). Superfoods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

·       Peter Pribis, Barbara Shukitt-Hale; Cognition: the new frontier for nuts and berries, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 100, Issue suppl_1, 1 July 2014, Pages 347S–352S,https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.113.071506

·       Myhre, R., Brantsæter, A. L., Myking, S., Eggesbø, M., Meltzer, H. M., Haugen, M., & Jacobsson, B. (2013). Intakes of Garlic and Dried Fruits Are Associated with Lower Risk of Spontaneous Preterm Delivery. The Journal of Nutrition, 143(7), 1100–1108. http://doi.org/10.3945/jn.112.173229

·       Carlson, S. E., Colombo, J., Gajewski, B. J., Gustafson, K. M., Mundy, D., Yeast, J., … Shaddy, D. J. (2013). DHA supplementation and pregnancy outcomes. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(4), 808–815. http://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.050021

·       Juber, B. A., Jackson, K. H., Johnson, K. B., Harris, W. S., & Baack, M. L. (2016). Breast milk DHA levels may increase after informing women: a community-based cohort study from South Dakota USA. International Breastfeeding Journal, 12, 7. http://doi.org/10.1186/s13006-016-0099-0

·       Ullah, R., Nadeem, M., Khalique, A., Imran, M., Mehmood, S., Javid, A., & Hussain, J. (2016). Nutritional and therapeutic perspectives of Chia (Salvia hispanica L.): a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 53(4), 1750–1758. http://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-015-1967-0

·       Uses of quinoa- International Year of Quinoa 2013. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/quinoa-2013/what-is-quinoa/use/en/