By now, you should know that a balanced eating routine is an important component in your overall health and wellness, especially when it comes to those of childbearing age. Women should enjoy a variety of healthful foods from all of the food groups, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, low-fat or fat-free dairy, and lean protein. Women also have special nutrient needs before, during, and after pregnancy.  

Whether you are trying to conceive or not, you can still take steps today towards a healthy lifestyle by including whole foods into your daily eating routine. This will ensure you are being filled with vital nutrients to keep your body thriving while helping you reach better health outcomes in your women’s health journey and for your future children if that is apart of your plan.

Here are 6 nutrients you should consider in your eating routine.

Please note, use of dietary supplements and fortified foods may be necessary for pregnant women to ensure adequate supply of nutrients for both mother and baby. Please see your healthcare provider for your individual care plan.

1. Calcium

Your body uses calcium to build strong bones, send nerve signals, and contract muscles. During pregnancy, calcium is needed for the healthy development of a baby’s teeth, bones, heart, nerves, and muscles. When a pregnant woman does not consume enough calcium, it is taken from her bones for the baby. Women are at higher risk for bone disorders so it is important to consume adequate amounts of calcium daily before, during, and after pregnancy.

  • food sources: almonds, chia seeds, tofu, kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, collard greens, okra, butternut squash, arugula, white beans, figs, yogurt, cheese.

2. Vitamin D 

Vitamin D is a powerful nutrient! It’s involved in many processes from calcium absorption to immune function, and it even works hard to protect your bone, muscle, and heart. It occurs naturally in food and can also be produced by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. It also helps your body absorb calcium. If you are pregnant, your baby needs vitamin D to help their bones and teeth grow.

  • food sources: fatty fish, fortified: cereals, milk, orange juice, cheese, mushroom, egg yolk.

3. Folate (folic acid)

This is a type of B vitamin that helps make and repair DNA and produces red blood cells. A folate deficiency can even cause anemia. When women reach childbearing age, folate (or folic acid) plays an important role in decreasing the risk of birth defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. 

  • food sources: asparagus, citrus fruits, beans, fortified cereals, broccoli, whole grains, legumes
    leafy green vegetables.

4. Iron

Your body needs iron to carry oxygen to all parts of your body. You may be at risk for an iron deficiency if you have heavy periods, are a vegan or vegetarian, or pregnant or breastfeeding. Maternal iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, your body needs this iron to make more blood so it can carry oxygen to your baby. Your baby needs iron to make their own blood.

  • food sources: asparagus, citrus fruits, beans, fortified cereals, broccoli, whole grains, legumes
    leafy green vegetables.

5. Magnesium

Magnesium has many functions in the body including muscle and nerve function, blood pressure regulation as well as immune support. In pregnant women, magnesium may reduce fetal growth restriction and preeclampsia as well as increase birth weight.

  • food sources: avocado, beans, brown rice, dark chocolate, nuts, legumes, seeds, tofu, salmon, banana, dark leafy greens.

6. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits from brain health to heart health. Seafood is the only food rich in a healthy oil called omega-3 DHA and EPA. In pregnant women, it is needed for the baby’s brain and eye development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children and pregnant and breastfeeding women eat 1-2 servings of fish per week. Omega 3’s ALA’s found in plant sources, do have benefits that support brain and eye health BUT other than being used for energy, ALA is not biologically active in your body. It needs to be turned into EPA and/or DHA to become active, but the conversion rate is very low. Best sources can be found in fatty fish. Do still include plant sources of omega 3’s in your eating routine as it has many other beneficial nutrients for optimal health.

  • food sources: fatty fish like sardines, salmon and mackerel are good sources of omega 3’s EPA & DHA. Here’s a chart from the Seafood Nutrition Partnership for more seafood sources of omega-3’s. Omega 3’s ALA can be found in plant sources such as nuts, and seeds and foods like milk, eggs and orange juice that are fortified.