When it comes to having a bun in the oven, women have plenty to worry about besides what they should or shouldn’t be eating.
When it comes to protecting mom and baby, the main goal should be avoiding the common culprits of foodborne illness. Potential problem foods can include raw eggs, certain fish, deli meat and unpasteurized foods like some cheeses or juices.
But rather than focusing on what not to eat, let’s dive into all the delicious pregnancy power foods that’ll keep both mom and her growing baby satisfied, glowing and as healthy as can be!
1. Beans and Legumes
Women have higher protein needs during pregnancy, and beans boast quite an impressive nutrient profile. Not only are they high in fiber, disease-fighting antioxidants and plant-based protein, but they’re also a good source of iron. Bonus points if you can increase your intake of lentils, navy beans or black-eyed peas, which are particularly high in folate, a crucial B vitamin that prevents neural tube defects. (Of note, folic acid, which is the best-known nutrient for reducing birth defects, can be found in all prenatal vitamins.)
2. Sweet Potatoes
Loaded with vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium, these naturally sweet tubers could be considered pregnancy perfection. Vitamin A is important for embryonic growth, while vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron, which helps the mother’s heart in nourishing the fetus. As an added bonus, foods rich in fiber and potassium may reduce risk of preeclampsia and hypertension.
Dietitian’s Tips: Bake a few sweet potatoes over the weekend, and use them throughout the week. For a quick breakfast, blend 1/2 cup of the cooked flesh into smoothies with 1 frozen banana, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, a splash of pure maple syrup and 1 cup of almond milk (or more, if preferred). Eat leftover sweet potatoes with a drizzle of almond butter and sea salt for a nutrient-dense snack.
With 76 mg of calcium, 1 mg of iron and 3.5 grams of fiber in each ounce, almonds are a tasty, filling and nutritious pregnancy snack. Calcium may also help reduce the risk of hypertension and preeclampsia for mom while building strong bones for baby. The nut’s healthy fats play a key role in baby’s brain development and keep mom fuller for longer, which promotes healthy weight gain as the baby grows.
Dietitian’s Tips: Add a handful of almonds to trail mix for a grab-and-go snack. Top salads, oatmeal and yogurt with slivered almonds for added crunch.
4. Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards and turnip greens are a mom-to-be’s best friends. They’re packed with folate, iron and calcium, not to mention plenty of beautifying antioxidants. In both raw and cooked forms, greens are a great addition to not just salads but smoothies, too.
Dietitian’s Tips: Swap iceberg lettuce for spinach at the salad bar. Add a handful of kale to your next smoothie. Serve veggie burgers on a bed of greens instead of sandwiching them in wheat buns.
While many pregnant women look to chicken or other lean meats to meet their increased protein requirements, tofu makes a tasty and nutritious stand-in that’s especially helpful for vegetarians. As a bonus, most tofu varieties are good sources of calcium and all varieties are loaded with isoflavones, a potent group of antioxidants.
Dietitian’s Tips: Add extra firm cubed tofu to stir-fry or curry dishes. Add silken tofu to smoothies for a creamy protein boost.
Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD is the whole foods enthusiast and registered dietitian behind the plant-based food blog Hummusapien. She is also the co-founder of Alchemy, an innovative café located in Columbus, Ohio that intersects health care and food. Connect with her via Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.