This is a guest post from Bridget Swinney MS, RD, award-winning author and well-regarded nutrition expert in the field of prenatal nutrition, child nutrition and family eating matters. Bridget has worked as a clinical dietitian, public health nutritionist, WIC Program Director, diabetes educator and weight loss group facilitator. Her book, Eating Expectantly, won the Child Magazine’s Top Ten Parenting Books of the Year, and Baby Bites was awarded a 2008 iparenting.com Media Award. The 4th edition of Eating Expectantly will arrive in May 2012. Bridget is also a spokesperson for Similac.
Pregnant women and new moms often ask me which nutrients will give their children the healthiest start possible. The good news is that adding just a few nutrient-rich foods can provide benefits for both mom and baby.
Below are seven nutrients that are important during and after pregnancy — for both mom and baby. Some of the nutrients, such as calcium, may seem commonplace, but others, like lutein, are rather new on the “nutrient radar screen.” All of these nutrients present multiple benefits to infants and young children, from strengthening their eyes to assisting in brain development.
Read on to learn more about the nutrients and easy ways to incorporate them into your diet!
1. Folic Acid: Benefits: Folic acid helps with the production of red blood cells and assists in cell division. It’s a critical nutrient during early pregnancy when errors in cell division can lead to birth defects.
Food Sources: The CDC and March of Dimes recommend that all women of childbearing age consume a multivitamin containing folic acid. Food sources include fortified grain products such as bread and cereal, as well as blackeyed peas, dried beans and peas, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, avocado and orange juice.
Meal idea: Black bean wrap with avocado and a glass of orange juice.
2. Lutein: Benefits: Lutein protects a baby’s eyes by absorbing potentially damaging light and helps defend against oxidative damage. In addition, a recent study found lutein in the infant brain in key regions for memory and learning. Lutein is important because much of what babies learn is based on what they see, so the more we can do for their eyes — and brain — the better.
Food Sources: Moms should seek leafy greens, eggs, and certain vegetables and fruits, such as kiwi and zucchini. Infants rely on breastmilk (note that lutein levels are dependent on maternal intake) and infant formula that contains lutein (such as Similac).
Meal idea: Creamy spinach soup.
3. Fat, Specifically DHA: Benefits: DHA is found in the cell membranes of the brain and eye and is important for brain function. Babies need a high percentage of fat in their diets to assist brain growth during the first year. The right balance of essential fatty acids is critical to infant development.
Food Sources: Moms should consume cold water fish (no more than 12 ounces per week, according to the Food and Drug Administration), fortified eggs, flaxseed, walnuts and walnut oil. They should also seek a prenatal vitamin with DHA. Breastmilk (depending on maternal intake of DHA during and after pregnancy) and infant formula with added DHA are ways in which infants get this key nutrient.
Meal idea: Salad with grilled salmon and toasted walnuts.
4. Choline: Benefits: Choline is an important nutrient that helps brain cells develop properly and supports baby’s memory and learning.
Food Sources: Most pregnant and breastfeeding women do not have enough choline in their diets. Not all prenatal vitamins contain choline, so dietary intake is important. Women can get choline primarily from eggs, beef, salmon and chicken. Infants rely on breastmilk (depending on maternal diet) and infant formula with added choline.
Meal idea: Microwave Scrambled Eggs
5. Iron: Benefits: Iron is part of the protein hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to different parts of the body including the brain. It’s especially important during times of growth. Iron deficiency anemia is common during pregnancy and during the first two years and can have devastating effects on pregnancy outcome and infant development.
Food Sources: Moms should incorporate lean beef, lamb, dark poultry meat, beans and iron-fortified cereals into their diets. Until baby starts eating solids, breastmilk and iron-fortified infant formula are the best ways to ensure baby gets iron.
Meal idea: Crock pot roast with zucchini and red peppers.
6. Calcium: Benefits: Calcium is the main structural component of bones and teeth. It’s also needed to support vascular, muscular and nerve function, and hormonal secretion.
Food Sources: Moms should consume dairy foods, salmon, spinach, turnip greens, kale or fortified juices. Dark, leafy greens can also be easily incorporated into baby food.
Snack idea: Greek yogurt-pumpkin parfait.
7. Vitamin D: Benefits: Vitamin D aids in calcium absorption, which helps build baby’s bones and teeth. Emerging research also shows a possible connection between vitamin D deficiency and diabetes as well as autism.
Food Sources: The best source of vitamin D is sunshine. However, sun exposure for infants should be limited. Unlike many of the nutrients mentioned in this post, breast milk is not an adequate source of vitamin D so the AAP recommends that all breastfed infants receive a daily supplement containing 400 IU (often provided via vitamin D drops). Fortified infant formula contains adequate vitamin D. Food sources of vitamin D include salmon, tuna, mackerel, milk, some mushrooms, and fortified foods and juices.
Meal idea: Salmon chowder with a glass of milk.
These nutrients are important for more than just pregnant and breastfeeding women. If there is even a possibility that you might become pregnant, incorporate these nutrient-rich foods into your diet. And remember to keep feeding these healthy foods to your child as they grow. Explore this blog and my books for fun, creative ways to serve up delicious and nutritious family meals.