Pregnancy is an exciting time for expectant parents, but it can also be a time of confusion and questions. Babies need a lot of different nutrients in order to make sure that they’re developing well, but there are a few key foods that expectant parents can incorporate into their diets to get the targeted nutrients.
Whole grains are a great source of nutrients and vitamins, such as iron, essential B vitamins, and fiber for digestion. For instance, cheerios, popcorn or oatmeal are good sources for whole grains. And when you have the option, it’s a good idea to look for whole wheat breads and pastas and whole grain rice.
Dairy contains protein and calcium, which help your baby grow strong bones and teeth, and iodine, which helps with brain and nervous system development.
Dairy products include yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, and cheese.
When you have the option, try to find lower fat and lower sugar options. For example, try to find a skim or 1% milk, rather than whole milk, and when choosing a yogurt, try to pick those with as little added sugar as possible.
And if Vitamin D milk is available, it has added benefits for your baby’s bone and teeth growth.
Lean meats—like chicken, turkey, or low-fat content ground beef—have both protein and iron, which promote your baby’s growth and help prevent iron deficiency. Iron allows the body to carry blood and oxygen around the body, including to your baby. Iron deficiency, meanwhile, can cause fatigue and increase the risk of premature birth. But it is recommended that you should avoid eating lunch meat and undercooked meat during pregnancy.
Eggs have Vitamin D, protein, and iron—all key nutrients when you’re pregnant. If you don’t eat meat, eggs are also a great way to get the protein you need in your diet.
Nuts & Nut Butters
Almost all convenience stores and bodegas have some nuts for sale, making them a highly accessible and convenient source of protein. Peanut butter is also very easy to find, and most varieties can be purchased with Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) dollars.
When possible, choose a “natural” style peanut butter, as many varieties of peanut butter have added ingredients like sugar that counteract some of their nutritional value. In the case of nut butter, fewer ingredients means a healthier choice.
Oranges contain folic acid and vitamin C, essential for neural development and strengthening your baby’s muscles and blood vessels. Bananas, meanwhile, are an important source of potassium, while apples contain a good of fiber to promote digestion during pregnancy. And dried fruits, including dates, prunes, and apricots, are another great option.
One note about frozen fruit and juices: they can provide the same nutrients, but may have added sugar, which should be avoided if possible.
Similar to fruits, vegetables are a great source for the key nutrients that your baby needs, whether that’s vitamin C for baby’s immune system development or folate to prevent certain birth defects.
Vitamin C can be found in broccoli, tomatoes, and red, yellow, and green peppers. Folate is also in broccoli, as well as dark leafy greens and brussel sprouts.
Fiber is another essential for your healthy digestion during pregnancy and can be found in beans, sweet potatoes, peas, and lentils. Beans are rich in protein, fiber, and iron, and they can be purchased dry for a low price.
A daily prenatal vitamin during pregnancy can make sure the baby doesn’t miss key nutrients.
Pregnant people can talk to their OB/GYN or primary care doctor for recommendations of an over-the-counter prenatal vitamin or for a prescription vitamin.
Expectant mothers who qualify should consider enrolling in WIC, which is a program specifically designed to ensure that low-income women and children have access to a balanced and nutritious diet. WIC-authorized foods include infant cereal, baby foods, iron-fortified adult cereal, fruits and vegetables, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, soy-based beverages, tofu, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, canned fish, whole wheat bread and other whole-grain options.
Many Cook County residents live in food deserts, where healthy, affordable food is not readily available from a grocery store. In these instances, some programs have begun to fill the gaps for those residents. For example, farmers markets across the County have begun to accept LINK and WIC dollars, and in some cases will subsidize the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables. Additionally, while small grocers and bodegas generally may not supply all of the nutrients necessary for a healthy pregnancy, they do offer healthy choices.