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Key Nutrients For A Healthy Pregnancy: Folic Acid, Vitamins And More

Great food choices during pregnancy help in the growth and development of the baby and also help prevent complications which may arise due to nutritional deficiencies. Adding certain foods to daily diet also keep away pregnancy problems such as fatigue, nausea, weakness and weird food cravings.

Experts suggest that pregnant women must include essential micronutrients in their diet through dietary sources, rather than in the form of supplements (until prescribed by experts) as they may cause certain side effects to the foetus.

Take a look at some of the vital nutrients which must be consumed by pregnant women. They help satisfy food cravings as well as provide nourishment to the growing baby and the mother.

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1. Folic Acid

According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), pregnant women should include around 600 µg of folic acid in her daily diet throughout pregnancy, with 500 µg during lactation.

Folic acid is an essential pregnancy nutrient that helps in DNA replications, amino acid synthesis and vitamin metabolism. It prevents complications in both the mother (anaemia and peripheral neuropathy) and in the foetus (neural tube defect). [1]

Dietary sources: Dark leafy vegetables, avocado, orange and legumes.

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2. Iron

Iron is abundantly required during pregnancy for fetoplacental development and maternal health. A study shows that around 360 mg of iron is required for the placenta and foetus development while an additional 450 mg for the build-up of red blood cells in the mother. So, around 1 g of iron is a must for pregnancy to support both the mother and the baby.

Iron deficiency may increase the risk of premature birth, neurodevelopmental impairment and low birth weight. [2]

Dietary sources: Green peas, tomato juice, broccoli, raspberries and chicken.

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3. Calcium

Deficiency or low consumption of calcium than the recommended amount (less than 900 mg/day) can increase the risk of preeclampsia and eclampsia in women, serious complications during pregnancy.

Calcium preserves maternal homeostasis along with helping in fetal growth and development. It is essential for diverse mechanisms such as bone formation and hormone functioning. [3]

Dietary sources: Milk, yoghurt, cheese and dark leafy vegetables.

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4. Choline

Pregnant women require around 450 mg per day of choline which may increase as per a woman's need. Choline intake during pregnancy helps in enhancing memory, attentional functions and spatial cognition in offspring. In short, the choline effect on the baby's growth and development lasts longer till adulthood.

It also serves as an effective and safe prenatal strategy for improving neural functioning and cognitive functions in prenatally diagnosed children. [4]

Dietary sources: Wheat germ, chicken breast, salmon and dairy products.

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5. Protein

Protein requirement during pregnancy should be 1.2 g/kg of body weight per day during early pregnancy and increase to 1.52 g/kg of body weight during late gestation. Deficiency of this essential nutrient can cause intrauterine growth restrictions, embryonic losses and reduced postnatal growth. [5]

Dietary sources: Soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, spinach and wheat germ.

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6. Vitamin B12

Maternal vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to pregnancy complications such as low birth weight, neural tube defects, SGA and spontaneous abortion.

Cobalamin or vitamin B12 mainly comes from animal sources and less consumption of this vitamin during gestation can cause problems in baby's brain development and cognitive performance. [6]

Dietary sources: Salmon, soy products, cheese and fortified cereals.

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7. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are building blocks of foetal retina and brain. It is a vital compound in determining the gestational length and reducing the risk of perinatal depression. Deprivation of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy can cause visual and behavioural problems in children. [7]

Dietary sources: Low-mercury fish, walnuts, tofu, canola oils and leafy greens.

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8. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is suggested during pregnancy to prevent the risk of infant mortality and morbidity. The supplements of vitamin A is mainly recommended in a population where the risk of night blindness in pregnant women and children (less than a year) is more.

Also, the nutrient is suggested in an adequate amount for the minimum of 12 weeks during gestation until delivery. [8] Foods rich in beta carotene is also suggested they're also rich in beta carotene as it gets converted into vitamin A in your body.

Dietary sources: Sweet potato, walnuts, butternut squash and raw carrots.

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9. Vitamin E

Vitamin E or tocopherol has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing properties. This essential vitamin can decrease the risk of pregnancy complications such as spontaneous preterm delivery, low birth weight and preeclampsia.

Vitamin E is needed much during pregnancy for embryonic development and prevention of birth defects in infants. [9]

Dietary sources: Mango, peanuts, avocado, sunflower seeds and green leafy vegetables.

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10. Iodine

Iodine during pregnancy is required for normal neurodevelopment of the foetus. Its deficiency is linked to psychological issues in mother and neurological problems in infants. Iodine deficiency can lead to maternal goitre due to stimulation of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). [10]

Dietary sources: Low-fat yoghurt, salt, eggs and shrimp.