MEET THE EXPERT
Louise Pyne is a registered nutritionist specialising in women’s and children’s health, louisepyne nutrition.com.
We bet you know all about the foods you shouldn’t be eating now, but what about the ones you should be piling up on your plate? What you eat now has a direct impact on your health and your growing baby’s wellbeing. These seven pregnancy superfoods offer some additional, extra-special benefits. They contain an amazing mix of vitamins, minerals and other goodies that will boost your baby’s brain, bones, vision and more.
Walnuts are the ultimate pregnancy nut, and nibbling on a handful will boost your baby’s brain health. Brain growth speeds up during the second half of pregnancy, and during the third trimester the brain triples in weight. To build all these cells, your body needs omega-3 fats, and walnuts are a superior source compared with other nuts. They contain protein and fibre too. Add two tablespoons of chopped walnuts to your cereal or porridge every morning. Choose natural rather than roasted or salted, which are high in unhealthy hydrogenated oils and sodium.
Munching on this starchy veg can support your growing baby’s eyesight, as it’s full of vitamin A. From week 19 of your pregnancy, your baby’s brain starts to build specialised centres responsible for his sensory organs, so make sure sweet potato is on your menu from this point.
The power nutrient in pumpkin seeds is zinc. Best known for its role in boosting male fertility, zinc is also essential for your growing baby. It supports cell growth and DNA synthesis, the process of cell division which determines traits passed down from parents, such as blood type and eye colour. Adequate levels are also linked to a healthy birth weight. Two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds provide more than two mcg of zinc, almost a third of the recommended daily amount, so snack on the seeds at least three times a week for an extra boost.
Dairy products such as natural yoghurt are full of calcium, necessary for building your baby’s bones, teeth and nerves. From week 12 of your pregnancy, cartilage begins to develop into bone, with joints forming in your baby’s arms, legs, fingers and toes. During months five and six he’ll start wiggling the limbs he’s been building. In the third trimester his needs are even greater as his bones are growing at a rapid rate. Nature senses this extra demand and you absorb more calcium from food during pregnancy. A 100g bowl of yoghurt will provide roughly 125mg calcium—almost a fifth of your recommended 700mg daily intake.
Vitamin C helps manufacture collagen, a protein component of skin, cartilage, tendons and bone. By week seven, your baby may only be the teeny size of a blueberry, but the cartilage in his limbs has already started developing. This means that stocking up on foods rich in vitamin C, such as kiwis, from this point onwards can significantly help support this growth.
Iron helps manufacture haemoglobin, the protein component in your baby’s red blood cells. Haemoglobin carries oxygen around your baby’s body to help ensure a healthy birth weight. And one of the easiest ways to get a hefty dose of iron is to eat spinach. Your blood volume increases by almost half during pregnancy, peaking at 34 weeks, and your baby absorbs the majority of his iron stores from you. At this point in your pregnancy, you’ll need 30mg of iron a day— double the recommended level prior to pregnancy. So spinach, along with a nutrient-dense diet and a pregnancy multivitamin, will help you get there. Always steam your spinach to keep its nutrients intact and pair it with a food rich in vitamin C, such as roasted carrots, to help your body absorb the maximum amount of iron from your portion.
Lentils are loaded with folate, the B vitamin that’s super important in early pregnancy. A 400mcg daily intake of this vitamin when you’re trying to conceive and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube abnormalities such as spina bifida. And topping up with lentils, in addition to your folic acid supplement, will help your levels. Just 100g cooked lentils provide an impressive 181mcg, which is almost half the recommended daily folate amount. If you buy dried lentils, soak them for a few hours in cold water before cooking to reduce any traces of phytic acid—a substance that inhibits the absorption of minerals such as zinc and iron— then cook in boiling water until soft. If you’re using tinned, rinse thoroughly first. MB