To Take or Not to Take Prenatal Vitamins

Why Take Prenatal Vitamins?

Almost all of the nutrients pregnant women need can be obtained from food if they follow a proper diet. However, vitamin supplements are sometimes recommended to fill in the gap if women's diets are lacking sufficient quantities of important vitamins or minerals. Although supplements do not replace a healthy diet, prenatal vitamins may be prescribed on an individual basis according to each woman's nutritional needs.

Research indicates that the diets of expecting mothers often lack sufficient amounts of the following vitamins and minerals: Folic Acid, Vitamin B-6, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, and Zinc. If women don't get the recommended daily allowances (RDA) of any of these nutrients from diet alone, vitamin and mineral supplements might be in order.

More on Prenatal Vitamins and Minerals

The following is a brief summary of the role each of the nutrients listed above along with a list of foods that contain them.

Folic Acid (Folate): Important for DNA synthesis and the development of the nervous system; reduces neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Since neural tube defects develop early on in a pregnancy - within the first month - women who are trying to conceive (and in fact all women of childbearing age) are advised to increase their intake of folic acid, either via diet or a nutritional supplement.

The following foods are good sources of folic acid: citrus fruits and juices (oranges, orange juice, strawberries); green leafy vegetables, spinach, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, whole grains, legumes (beans and lentils); sunflower seeds.

Vitamin B-6: Important for the production of antibodies and red blood cells; helps reduce morning sickness.

The following foods are good sources of Vitamin B-6: poultry, meat, fish, eggs, sunflower seeds, peanuts, walnuts, wheat germ, whole grains, bananas, cantaloupe, leafy green vegetables, spinach, broccoli.

Vitamin D: Important for absorption of calcium and phosphorous; promotes strong fetal bone and teeth.

The following foods are good sources of Vitamin D: Butter, eggs, dairy products, alfalfa.

Vitamin E: Helps with red blood cell formation and enhanced immune function (antibodies).

The following foods are good sources of Vitamin E: nuts, vegetable oils, whole grains, wheat germ, broccoli, Brussels sprouts.

Calcium: Essential for strong teeth and bones in both mother and baby; helps prevent blood clots; enhances muscle and nerve function. Note: The average protein-rich Western diet can actually deplete calcium stores, therefore pregnant women might consider a low-protein vegetarian diet.

The following foods are good sources of calcium: daily products (milk, yogurt, cheese), soy milk, tofu, tahini, mackerel, beans and lentils, salmon, dark green leafy vegetables

Iron: High recommended daily intake essential for the production of hemoglobin (which carries oxygen to mother and fetus); prevents anemia, preterm birth, and low birth weight.

The following foods are good sources of iron: organic meats, clams and oysters, whole grains, dried fruits, beans, dark leafy greens, egg yolks, seed and nuts (almonds), blackstrap molasses

Zinc: Important role in the production of insulin and in the development of reproductive organs; enhances enzyme function; boosts immune system

The following foods are good sources of zinc: oysters, gingerroot, pumpkin seeds, poultry, red meat, nuts, beans, whole grains

Prenatal Vitamin Alert

An excess of certain vitamins and minerals can actually damage the fetus (i.e. cause birth defects), hence supplements must be taken only upon the approval of a health practitioner.

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