It is best to get these nutrients in their food forms. Of course, sometimes – despite your best efforts – you can’t get in all of your necessary nutrients. That’s why we recommend a daily prenatal vitamin as a safety net to complement your dietary efforts.

Nutrients to Emphasize:

B Vitamins

B vitamins (emphasizing folic acid, B12, choline, and biotin) work together (and require each other to work optimally) to help support optimal cell growth during pregnancy.

Most of them are found in greatest concentration in whole grains, and legumes. Processing can reduce them significantly, and while law requires that most grain products be fortified with folic acid, it is still likely that you would be getting a lesser amount of the other B vitamins when consuming processed grains.

• B12 is found in animal meat and products, so vegetarians may benefit from supplementing this nutrient.

• The best source of choline is egg yolk or lecithin. I often have women add lecithin to their smoothies if they do not want to eat egg yolks. Ironically, processed foods are a great source of lecithin since it is often used as a binder. Despite this fact, you should still avoid processed foods since the negatives of the other ingredients would likely outweigh the positives of the lecithin.

DHA

This is an omega-3 fatty acid that is important for your baby’s cognitive development. Good sources include fish, and the egg yolk from DHA-fortified eggs. Due to concerns about mercury and other toxins in fish, my recommendation would be to avoid fish and take a DHA supplement. (Many prenatal vitamins contain this nutrient today.)

Zinc

Nuts, seeds, beans, and dairy are all sources of this valuable nutrient. Processed food diets tend to be lower in zinc, as do those diets that include too much iron or calcium, since these nutrients can compete with zinc for absorption.

Calcium

We know it for its role in bone health, but calcium also affects muscle development, skin, hormones, breast milk, etc. Calcium should be consumed as part of a prenatal vitamin as well as in food sources. You can find calcium in the following foods:

• Dairy products

• Non-dairy sources, including

o Teff (a grain)

o Buckwheat

o Tofu

o Carob

o Fortified non-dairy "milks"

o Beans

o Molasses

o Dried figs

o Seeds

o Cooked greens

o Seaweed

Note: Some dietary modifications for optimal health during pregnancy will naturally improve calcium retention (i.e., caffeine increases calcium loss, alcohol inhibits calcium absorption, high sodium diets increase calcium loss).

Magnesium

This nutrient is Mother Nature’s muscle relaxant, so it helps to balance the constriction that calcium and iron can cause (in other words, it helps to prevent/alleviate constipation, headaches, and cramps). Magnesium should also be consumed as part of a prenatal vitamin as well as in food sources. You can find magnesium in the following foods:

• Whole grains

• Nuts

• Seeds Note: Processing can reduce magnesium content of a grain by as much as eighty percent, again reinforcing the value of eating whole grains and whole grain flours (as opposed to processed grain products).

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another nutrient that should be consumed as part of a prenatal vitamin as well as in food sources. You can find vitamin D in fortified dairy and fish, but (as mentioned above) the concerns about mercury and other toxins in fish should have you limiting or eliminating your fish intake. (Talk to your doctor about his/her opinion on fish consumption.) Sunlight activates the vitamin D into a usable form by the body and it doesn’t take much (about 20 minutes daily exposure). However, with many of us utilizing sunscreens routinely (as advisable) as well as to compensate for the winter months decreased sun exposure, supplemental vitamin D is typically recommended by health care practitioners.

Note: Supplements should contain the absorbable form (vitamin D3) only.

Iron

Your iron requirements increase during pregnancy as your blood volume increases. Anemia is very common for pregnant women, so doctors often suggest supplementation and consuming iron-rich foods. Since supplementation of iron can trigger constipation, you might want to increase your iron intake by way of iron-rich foods and those that help the absorption of iron (vitamin C can help). Additionally, ask your physician about less constipating iron supplements that may prove helpful to combat potential anemia while minimizing side effects.

There are two types of iron in food: heme and non-heme.

Heme is animal-based, and better absorbed. Some of the best sources of this type of iron are beef and liver. However, you should steer clear of liver during pregnancy since it has a higher content of vitamin A - which is a vitamin to avoid during pregnancy.

Non-heme sources include:

• Blackstrap molasses

• Seeds

• Beans

• Spirulina

• Rice

• Wheat brans

The best way to maximize iron’s absorption is to:

• Consume foods rich in vitamin C while consuming iron-rich foods

• Avoid other minerals or mineral-rich foods (especially as supplements) while consuming iron-rich foods

Vitamin C

Eat your Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale; enjoy carrots, sweet potato, tomato, etc. Color Color Color… the deeper the color the richer the nutrient content. Vitamin C provides tremendous health benefits to you and your baby by enhancing absorption of other nutrients and helping to combat oxidation.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is another valued nutrient that helps combat oxidation and maintains the blood’s clotting ability. You can find it in brightly colored vegetables. Another reason to add those veggies to meals and snacks!

Water

Our cells need water to perform their metabolic functions optimally. This becomes even more critical during pregnancy. Since your baby cannot communicate thirst - and we often mistake thirst for hunger - take care to consume water, water-based beverages, and water-based whole fruits and vegetables. (Whole fruits are better than drinking juice or dried fruit, which reduces the water content).

AUTHOR BIO:Ashley Koff is a registered dietitian in private practice and on staff at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. A graduate of Duke University and New York University, Ashley is always on top of current trends in medicine, health and wellness. Integrative medicine gurus like Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Soram Singh Khalsa, and the doctors at the world-renown Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica, all utilize her services with their patients. Koff has shared her nutritional expertise on programs including CNN and Entertainment Tonight, as well as in magazines such as In Style, Shape, and Weight Watchers. She was ranked by City Search as the Best of LA's nutritionists/dietitians for both 2005 and 2006.