To Your Health: 10 Essential Nutrients for a Healthy Pregnancy


By Steven Pratt, MD, Scripps Health

When you’re pregnant, anything that you feed yourself also feeds your fetus. A growing body of evidence shows that nourishment during pregnancy will significantly affect the short and long-term health of the baby. In addition to the right types and amounts of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (natural chemicals found in a variety of plant foods) are important to healthy development.

The following ten nutrients are essential for a healthy pregnancy and recommended for every mom-to-be:

  1. Vitamin A is essential for renal, pulmonary and cardiovascular health, as well as vision, immunity and production of red blood cells. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for pregnant women age 19 and older is 770 micrograms; good sources include eggs, milk, cheddar cheese, dark leafy greens, pumpkin, sweet potato, and carrots.
  2. Vitamin B12 is very important to the production and metabolism of amino acids, which are organic compounds that combine to form proteins and are key to growth, tissue repair and a number of other body functions. In addition, this B vitamin helps with energy production from fats and proteins, hemoglobin synthesis, pancreatic function and the prevention of neural tube defects. The RDA for pregnant women is 2.6 micrograms; good sources include clams, mussels, crab, sardines, salmon, grass-fed beef and nonfat yogurt.
  3. Vitamin C is the “master” antioxidant vitamin. Along with protecting against environmental toxins and supporting other antioxidants, vitamin C is required for optimum brain development and immune function. The RDA for pregnant women age 19 and older is 85 milligrams; good sources include bell peppers (especially red and yellow), guava, orange juice, papaya, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, broccoli, and cantaloupe.
  4. Vitamin D is important for both mother and baby; low levels during pregnancy has been linked to gestational diabetes, while babies who lack enough vitamin D may have a greater risk of developing rickets, a disease that causes soft, weak bones The RDA for pregnant women is 600 international units (IU); good sources include cod liver oil, wild Alaskan salmon, albacore tuna, shrimp, and vitamin D-fortified milk, soy milk and orange juice.
  5. Vitamin K is needed for normal blood clotting and cell growth, as well as prevention of osteoporosis and heart disease. The RDA for pregnant women is 90 micrograms; good sources include raw kale, Swiss chard, parsley and spinach (cooking can destroy vitamin K), as well as soybean and canola oil.
  6. Calcium is a major building block for bones and teeth and supports the proper function of blood vessels, muscles, nerves, hormones and more. It also supports many of the body’s proteins and enzymes. The RDA for pregnant women age 19 and older is 1,000 milligrams; good sources include cheddar cheese, milk, yogurt, tofu, white beans, bok choy, kale and broccoli.
  7. Folate helps to regulate amino acids, support the formation of DNA and RNA, prevent neural tube defects and support the pancreas, renal and brain cells. The RDA for pregnant women is 600 micrograms; good sources include lentils, beans (pinto, garbanzo, navy, black and kidney), spinach, collard greens and orange juice.
  8. Iron is essential for oxygen transport, cellular energy production, immunity and more. Pregnant women transfer the most iron to the fetus during the third trimester, so iron is especially important toward the final months of pregnancy. The RDA for pregnant women is 27 milligrams; good sources include tofu, bran cereal with raisins, soybeans, quinoa, grass-fed lean beef tenderloin, lentils, spinach and kidney beans.
  9. Magnesium plays a role in many functions, including energy production from carbohydrates and fats, the structural integrity of bones, cell membranes and chromosomes, muscle contractions, nerve impulses, heart rhythm and control of blood pressure and blood sugar. The RDA for pregnant women age 19 to 30 is 310 milligrams; for women age 31 and older, it is 320 milligrams. Good sources include pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, soybeans, green beans, wild Chinook salmon, sunflower seeds and oat bran.
  10. Zinc, like magnesium, is key to multiple functions including renal, cardiovascular, pancreas, neurological and immunity. The RDA for pregnant women is 60 micrograms daily. Recommended sources include Pacific oysters, Brazil nuts, crab, salmon, shrimp, turkey breast, sunflower seeds, brown rice and eggs.
Of course, every woman’s individual needs are different. Discuss your specific nutritional needs with your physician and obstetrician, and consider consulting a nutritionist to help you develop the ideal dietary plan for your pregnancy.

Steven Pratt, MD, is a physician with Scripps Health and author of Super Foods Rx and Super Foods Rx for Pregnancy. “To Your Health” is brought to you by the physician and staff of Scripps. For more information or a physician referral, please call 1-800-SCRIPPS.