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What foods are important during pregnancy?


A nutritious diet before and during pregnancy is important for optimal growth and development of baby and for the mother's overall good health.

A diet that includes a variety of foods, from each of the four food groups in Canada's Food Guide provides essential nutrients and energy. Foods high in folic acid, iron, and calcium are also important.

Folic acid has been found to help reduce the risk neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida) in babies when adequate amounts are consumed before and during the early weeks of pregnancy. A daily supplement containing 400 ug (0.4 mg) of folic acid along with high folate foods is recommended by Health Canada. Foods high in folate include cooked beans, chickpeas and lentils, cooked spinach and asparagus, romaine lettuce, orange juice, canned pineapple juice, breakfast cereals and sunflower seeds.

Iron is also important during pregnancy when a woman's iron requirement almost doubles. Non-pregnant women 19-50 years of age need 18 mg per day compared to pregnant women who need 27 mg of iron per day. Iron is used to build new red blood cells and carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body including the fetus. Iron stores can be increased by eating iron-enriched breakfast cereals, cooked beans, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, clams, oysters, tofu, meat, poultry and fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Eating iron-containing plant foods such as breads and cereals with iron-rich meats or vitamin C- rich foods or beverages (e.g. kiwi, strawberries, oranges, juices containing vitamin C, etc.) helps increase iron absorption.

Calcium helps build and maintain strong bones and teeth in the mother and baby and helps with other important body functions. The requirement for women 19-50 years of age is 1000 mg of calcium per day. Including at least 2 servings of milk products daily is the most efficient way to meet calcium requirements during pregnancy. If milk products are not consumed it is important to include other calcium-containing foods such as calcium fortified soy beverages and tofu; sesame seeds, sardines and salmon with bones; cooked or canned beans; cooked kale or bok choy; broccoli; oranges; cooked scallops and oysters, and almonds.


For more information about eating well during pregnancy contact your local public health unit and the following books:

Eating Well When You're Pregnant by Ellen Lakusiak, RD
Macmillan, 1996 $22.95 CDN

L'alimentation durant la grossesse by Hélène Laurendeau, P.Dt and Brigitte Coutu, P.Dt
Available in French only
Les éditions de L'Homme, 1999 $24.95 CDN

The information provided in this FAQ is not meant to replace medical advice or treatment. Individuals seeking individual nutrition advice should contact a Registered Dietitian. To find a dietitian in your community click on nutrition advice.