Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy has benefits for both you and your growing baby. Your first big job as a mom is making good nutrition decisions. Some nutrients are absolutely critical for the healthy growth and development of your baby. Follow Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide each day to make sure you and your baby eat smart, paying particular attention to the following key nutrients:
Pregnancy superfoods for a super-pregnancy
Folic acid and pregnancy
Role/Benefits: Folic acid during pregnancy is essential for normal early development of your baby's spinal cord and brain.
In addition to the folic acid you get in a varied diet, health care professionals recommend that all women who could become pregnant, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, take a multivitamin containing 0.4 mg of folic acid every day.
Pregnancy superfood sources include: Green vegetables, dried peas, beans and lentils, orange juice, nuts and seeds, and folic acid fortified bread, cereals, or pasta.
Protein and pregnancy
Role/Benefits: Protein intake during pregnancy is important. Protein is the building block of your baby’s each and every cell and also of your placenta. During the 2nd trimester, your protein needs increase by
40–50% (about 71 g) daily. Pump up your salad with meat or alternatives and swap jam for nut butters to meet your body’s protein needs.
Pregnancy superfood sources include: Meat, fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils, chick peas, etc.), nuts, peanut butter, tofu, and milk products.
Iron and pregnancy
Role/Benefits: Iron intake during pregnancy is critical. Your body produces more red blood cells to supply oxygen and nutrients to your developing baby and to support your baby’s normal brain development. In the 3rd trimester, your baby will be stocking up his iron stores to make sure he has enough for the first 6 months of his life.
Iron is one of the most critical nutrients in the prevention of complications for mom and baby. If you are not getting enough iron, you may feel very tired and may also be more prone to getting sick. Iron deficiency can cause maternal anemia, premature delivery, and even low birth weight.
A daily supplement containing 16 to 20 mg of iron is recommended during pregnancy. Ask your health care professional about the dosage that is right for you.
Pregnancy superfood sources include: Meats, seafood, poultry, fish, iron-fortified cereals, iron-fortified pasta, nuts and seeds, dried fruits, prune juice, eggs, dried beans, and dark green leafy vegetables.
When choosing non-meat sources of iron, serve them alongside vitamin C-rich foods to enhance iron absorption.
Calcium and pregnancy
Role/Benefits: Calcium intake during pregnancy is essential for your developing baby to build strong bones and teeth, and helps protect your own bone mass.
Eating calcium-rich foods helps ensure that your baby continues to grow stronger every day. If your calcium intake is low, your body will take calcium from your bones and teeth to give it to your little one. So, if you want your teeth and bones to stay strong, make sure you’re getting enough calcium for the both of you.
Here are some tips, from the Dietitians of Canada, to help you meet your requirements of 1,000 mg of calcium per day:
- Drink low-fat milk (skim, 1%, 2%) with meals and snacks each day.
- Choose low-fat yogurt (0%, 1%, 2%) for breakfast, dessert, or snacks.
- Make a smoothie with low-fat yogurt and fruits. Add some skim milk powder for extra calcium.
- Use low-fat yogurt as a dip, garnish, spread, or dressing.
- Add low-fat cheese (less than 20% milk fat) to omelettes and scrambled eggs. Top casseroles with low-fat cheese.
- Make soups with low-fat milk instead of water.
- Choose calcium-fortified beverages, such as soy and rice beverages, if you don’t drink milk, and calcium-fortified orange juice.
- Add canned salmon or sardines, including the bones, to sandwiches, salads, and casseroles.
- Use dark greens such as spinach, collard leaves, or turnip greens in salads or add to stir-fries.
- Add firm or extra-firm tofu made with calcium sulphate to stir-fries and soups.
- Have an almond butter sandwich.
If you have special dietary requirements or needs, talk to your doctor about appropriate options.
Pregnancy superfood sources include: Milk, cheese, yogurt, sardines or salmon with bones, and calcium-fortified beverages (fortified orange juice, fortified soy or rice milk).
Vitamin D and pregnancy
Role/Benefits: Vitamin D during pregnancy is important for maintaining and building strong bones for both you and your baby. It also enhances absorption of calcium.
The need for vitamin D does not change during pregnancy. Be sure to include 2 servings of milk or fortified soy-based beverage (or other fortified beverages) to meet your vitamin D needs. (See Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide for serving sizes.) If you live in Northern Canada, where you don’t have as much exposure to sunlight or do not drink milk or fortified soy beverages, you should talk to your doctor to see if you need a vitamin D supplement.
Pregnancy superfood sources include: Vitamin D-fortified milk, yogurt and margarine, fatty fish (e.g., salmon, sardines, mackerel, etc.), and fish oils.
Omega-3 fats, like DHA, and pregnancy
Role/Benefits: During pregnancy, omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA, are transferred across the placenta and have an important role in the physical development of your baby’s brain and eyes. While Health Canada has not yet established dietary recommendations for DHA, it recommends that pregnant women include rich sources of DHA, such as fish, in their diet. Eating at least 150 g (5 oz) of a variety of cooked fish in your diet will provide you and your baby with omega-3 fats and other important nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. Follow advice from Health Canada to limit your exposure to environmental contaminants such as mercury.
Pregnancy superfood sources include: Salmon, trout, sole, Atlantic mackerel, herring (these fish have low levels of contaminants), and omega-3-enriched foods such as milk and eggs.
Other superfoods during pregnancy
Reach for fruits and vegetables to get your vitamin C. Red and yellow peppers, guava, papaya, and, of course, oranges pack a vitamin C punch! Vitamin C promotes healthy gums and also helps your body absorb iron.
Choline is essential for your baby’s brain development. Eggs, lean meats, and peanuts are some foods that provide it.
Public Health Agency of Canada. The Healthy Pregnancy Guide – Folic Acid. 2012.
Health Canada. Prenatal Nutrition Guidelines for Health Professionals - Iron Contributes to a Healthy Pregnancy. 2009.
Health Canada. Prenatal Nutrition Guidelines for Health Professionals - Background on Canada's Food Guide. 2010.
Dietitians of Canada. Increasing your Calcium Intake. March 2017.
Canadian Paediatric Society Position Statement. Vitamin D supplementation: Recommendations for Canadian mothers and infants. Reaffirmed January 2017.
Health Canada. Prenatal Nutrition Guidelines for Health Professionals - Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. 2009.
Government of Canada. Omega-3 fatty acids and fish during pregnancy. 2014.
Health Canada. Mercury in Fish - Consumption Advice: Making Informed Choices about Fish. 2017.
Hammond B. Functional Food Reviews, 2012;4(3):130-7.