The 7 Super Foods For Pregnancy

By McKenzie L. Joyner, BS

March is National Nutrition Month and as childbirth educators and professionals who work with families during the childbearing year, we share information and stress the importance of eating healthy as the pregnancy progresses and breastfeeding starts.  Today, nutritionist and doula McKenzie L. Joyner, BS shares the "7 Super Foods for Pregnancy" that you can discuss during the time you spend with families.  How do you discuss nutrition in pregnancy and postpartum? Let us know in the comments below.  Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

Nutrition During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is an exciting time for a family.  They are growing a new human being! This stage of life can be full of emotions; excitement about the pregnancy,  anxiety counting down the months till the little one arrives, a large “to-do” list that seems to get bigger rather than smaller and many physical changes as the baby grows and their bodies change.

One of the biggest emotions may be around how to have good diet that supports a healthy pregnancy and baby. There might be confusion on what to eat, what shouldn’t be eaten, what a pregnant person might want to eat, but can’t tolerate and in the last days and weeks, a desire for more space in the stomach to eat at all.

Prenatal nutrition is vital for both the pregnant person and the growing baby, but making the decision of what to incorporate into their diet can be full of uncertainty.  Fueling the body with real, whole, nutrient dense foods will help provide the baby with the best start possible. Real food is food that is naturally grown, raised, prepared and harvested in season; this process preserves maximum nutrient density.

Here are the 7 Super Foods that pregnant people can eat knowing they provide valuable elements for their body and baby. These seven foods are broken down over the pregnancy to reflect when they each play an essential role in the growth of the baby.

Foods for the First Trimester of Pregnancy

Water-soluble vitamin B9, or in its natural form, Folate, which is bioavailable and found in a variety of plant and animal foods. Folate helps protect the baby from neural tube defects, maintains normal fetal development and red blood cell creation. The body better utilizes Folate than the synthetic form Folic Acid that is included in most prenatal vitamins and supplements. During this early stage of pregnancy, the body is being taxed to create a new person, make room for the baby’s growth and starting to transfer nutrients to the embryo. Vitamin C is playing a huge role to keep the body healthy, the pregnant person’s immune system up and baby settling into the uterus. So pairing these Folate foods with vitamin C rich foods is a great idea for the rest of the gestational period.

Folate rich foods

  • Citrus fruits - papaya, orange, grapefruit, strawberries, and raspberries
  • Dark leafy greens – spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens,
  • Seeds & nuts – sunflower seeds, peanuts, flax seeds, and almonds
  • Avocado, asparagus, okra, broccoli, beans, peas, and lentils

A few meal ideas to offer to the families you work with to help them to incorporate Folate into their diet; 

  • Adding a cup of mixed citrus fruit with ground flaxseed to your breakfast or midday snack.
  • Making a spinach salad with sliced strawberries, avocados, and sprinkling sunflower seeds to add that extra crunch on top.
  • Roasting a pan of asparagus & drizzling citrus juice on and sprinkling crushed almonds on top.

Foods for the Second Trimester of Pregnancy

Iron is the key nutrient moving into the second trimester. The baby is growing and the parent's blood volume will be increasing 40-50%, which ups the amount of hemoglobin needed. Iron is used to transport oxygen from the lungs to all areas of the body and to the baby. The growth of the baby and placenta can be taxing on the body without a sufficient supply of iron.  Iron is imperative during pregnancy to help prevent a condition of too few red blood cells called Iron Deficiency Anemia. Iron Deficiency Anemia is associated with feeling lethargic or tired, preterm delivery, low birth weight, and infant mortality.

There are two different forms of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme is found only in animal sources and is easier for the body to absorb. Non-heme is found in plants, iron-fortified foods, and supplements. Again, vitamin C plays a role in helping the body absorb the available iron during the increase in blood volume.

Sources of iron

  • Heme- chicken, lamb, beef, salmon, clams, oysters (both clams and oysters are very high in iron but must be cooked completely).
  • Non-Heme- legumes, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, and pumpkin seeds

Sources of vitamin C

  • Citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli/cauliflower), kale, and bell pepper

Meal ideas to offer that incorporate iron & vitamin C into the diet

  • Baked chicken with roasted broccoli on a bed of quinoa with pumpkin seeds
  • Roasted salmon with citrus fruit marinade and sautéed bell peppers with onion
  • Kale salad with sliced BBQ beef with citrus vinaigrette and pumpkin seeds

Foods for the Third Trimester of Pregnancy

The third trimester means the pregnant person has made it to the home stretch! This final trimester of pregnancy is the time for baby to be rapidly growing, developing, and utilizing all the available space in the uterus. During this time it is crucial to continue to include iron, vitamin C, and adequate protein in the diet to support the increased blood flow to the baby and the placenta. The pregnant person may start to experience more movement, with harder jabs and kicks coming from the baby. During this final trimester, the bones are growing and becoming denser, which calls for an increase in calcium. If the individual is not increasing their calcium, the body is very intuitive and will seek out calcium stores from their own bones and transfer this to the baby. This can leave the pregnant person depleted of calcium. There are two other vital nutrients that are needed to support this bone growth and development. D3 and K2 play a vital role in bone health. Vitamin D has always been utilized during pregnancy but new research is showing that a pregnant person who takes higher doses of vitamin D during pregnancy has a greatly reduced risk of gestational diabetes, preterm birth, and infection. K2 is not a highly talked about nutrient and we consume a lot less K2 than other more traditional cultures. These cultures have a diet that includes more organ meats and naturally fermented foods.

The real powerhouse of the third trimester is Omega 3 fatty acids! These healthy fats play the biggest role in the development of the baby’s brain development, which is made up of 60% fat (DHA). These fats add protective fat to the baby and also to the parent as they prepare for delivery and breastfeeding. Higher fat stores have also been shown to help with postpartum depression and recovery from labor and delivery.

Sources of calcium

Milk, kefir, organic yogurt, beet greens (tops), spinach, turnips greens, broccoli, almonds, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, salmon, and sardines

Sources of D3

Safe sun exposure (this can be healing & healthy to be out in the fresh air/nature).

Pasture raised egg yolks, herring, salmon, and sardines.

Sources of K2

Grass fed butter, chicken, beef, pasture raised egg yolk, natto, and fermented sauerkraut 

mckenzie joyner 2017 food.jpgSources of Omega 3s

Marine algae (one that contains both DHA & EPA)

Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel

Meal ideas that incorporate calcium, D3, K2 and Omega 3s into a diet:

  • Saute greens in grass fed butter, this is so delicious and I believe brings out the flavor of the greens. I like to add sliced onion to really up the flavor.
  • Having a cup of organic yogurt topped with sesame seeds and Brazil nuts, maybe a drizzle of honey to sweeten it up or a couple berries.
  • Grilling some fish and adding it to a bed of steamed greens, brown rice and side of sauerkraut
  • Try something simple and easy such as making a kefir smoothie with berries to enjoy while basking in the sun for a couple minutes.

 Remember - make it fun!

Eating the 7 Super Foods Helps Grow a Healthy Baby

As we look over the foods for these seven powerful superfoods, you will see an overlap in some of the foods in many of the categories. This should help give parents peace of mind that if they eat a well rounded, wholesome diet rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts & organic meats they should be well on their way to growing a healthy baby. You can remind them of this. As a Holistic nutritionist, I try and lead my clients to a life and diet of progress, not perfection. Making it fun to start implementing more of these nutrient dense foods will increase the likelihood of not only eating them but also finding the energy to prepare them. Pregnancy is a wonderful, unique time in life for an individual to be growing life inside of them. A time to take great care to educate, empower & allow for positive transformations.

McKenzie's Resources and book recommendations for pregnancy and postpartum nutrition

Lamaze International Nutrition Resources


About McKenzie L. Joyner, BS

mcKenzie Joyner head shot 2017.jpg“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” -V. Woolf

My greatest passion in life is bringing healing, clarity, and peace to people who have had a negative experience with food. I help my clients, who include children, adults, and families, to find healthy perceptions of food and strengthen their relationship so they can experience themselves as peaceful, complete, whole and safe.

I know that no single approach is right for every individual, and so I have been trained in a range of modalities. I personalize my nutrition plans based on each intricately designed, unique individual. I design yoga classes to help tap into the body and start the healing from within. I create recipes and cook meals to nourish the depleted areas of the mind, body, and soul. I facilitate endless self-love to my doula clients to help them learn and be able to pass this on to their babies.

My educational background includes a BS in Health Promotion and Nutrition from the University of Utah, an Associate in Culinary Arts from Apicius in Florence, Italy, Holistic Health and Nutrition certification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Positive Psychology certification from University of Utah, Optimal Health and Wellness certification from University of Utah, 200hr yoga teacher certification and 85 hr prenatal yoga teacher certification from Yoga Alliance, Birth Doula certification from DONA, Certified Professional Life Coach from Life Coaching Institute of America.

1 Comment

7 Super Foods for Pregnancy

March 26, 2017 03:32 AM by Kaiya Mears

This is great information to relay to moms at Childbirth Education Classes. Having worked with prenatal clients for many years nutrition is a key component to help with a healthy pregnancy. I will definitely use this information to educate my clients. 

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