If you're trying to conceive and don't yet know if you're pregnant, following nutritionist Leslie Beck's pre-pregnancy diet can serve as a nutritional insurance policy.
Beck, author of Leslie Beck's Nutrition Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, joined Balance Television host Dr. Marla Shapiro to talk about what foods are most important to include in your diet and which foods to avoid.
If you are trying to conceive, planning ahead and getting the nutrients you need is a great idea.
"So important for a baby's development of its brain, skull and spinal cord," Beck said. "And that occurs within the first four weeks of pregnancy."
Because so many pregnancies are unplanned, Beck recommends that women get 400 micrograms of folic acid per day before they become pregnant. She urges all women to take multivitamins, where folic acid is included.
Folic acid (in multivitamins) is the synthetic form of the B vitamin and folate naturally occurs in these foods:
• Fortified pasta and bread
• Orange juice
Beck noted that folate in foods is only about 50 per cent available to the body, while the vitamin form is 100 per cent available. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Non-vegetarian women who are not pregnant need 18 mg of iron a day. Vegetarians need even more, close to 30 mg per day.
"That can be really tough to get in a diet," Beck said. "And we know iron deficiency is the number one nutrient deficiency among women. So I get women to concentrate on it now."
So be sure to include iron-rich foods in your diet:
• Cooked spinach
• Fortified breakfast cereals
• Red meat
• Instant oatmeal
• Dried apricots
• Prune juice
• Blackstrap molasses
Beck said the iron in plant foods isn't well absorbed, so she encourages women to add a source of vitamin C such as orange segments in a spinach salad or red peppers in a brown rice stir-fry.
Calcium requirements don't change, Beck said. Pregnant or not, women need 1,000 mg per day. But, like iron, many women fall short on this nutrient.
So now is the time for women to make sure they're getting the equivalent of three servings of dairy or a calcium-fortified beverage (soy, rice, calcium-enriched orange juice) each day. If they're not, take supplement, Beck said, because getting enough calcium is an important strategy later on in reducing the risk of pregnancy-related high blood pressure.
Other good sources of calcium:
• Bok choy
Omega 3 fats
Add sources of omega 3 fats to your diet, they're very important for brain development in the third trimester and early infancy when women are breastfeeding their babies.
Fish sources have the best omega 3 fatty acids (that are converted to DHA in the body):
• Canned salmon
• Cooked salmon
Other omega 3 sources (a little is converted to DHA in the body):
• Omega 3 eggs
Just as important, avoid the following high mercury-containing fish.
• Tuna steaks
• King mackerel
Health Canada recommends all women of child-bearing age to only eat these fish no more than once a month. In the U.S., it is advised that women completely avoid these fish.
Caffeine and Alcohol
Beck recommends that women attempting to conceive have no more than 300 mg of caffeine per day (approximately two small cups of coffee.
Absolutely avoid alcohol if you're actively trying because women usually don't know they're pregnant for a few weeks. Caffeine and alcohol can also decrease the ability of a woman to conceive.
Fruits and Vegetables
The danger here is pesticide residue. Make certain to wash and rinse your fruits and veggies or buy organic. But definitely eat these two staples, they're great sources of fibre.