Most of us know that the whole “eating for two” idea is not an appropriate guideline for pregnancy (it’s more like eating for 1.1)! However, it is a good idea to try to get “nutrition for two.” In other words, even though you only need an extra 300-450 calories per day in your second and third trimesters (and really no additional calories in your first), it’s a good idea to amp up the nutritional value of everything you consume.
This is, of course, true when you are postpartum as well, as proper nutrition is critical to restoring your body, and giving you the energy and stamina to meet the physical demands of motherhood. Christine Beal Dunst and Stephanie Rapp — holistic health coaches and founders of EMBODY Wellness Company— share their top 10 list of the most nutrient-dense foods (AKA foods that pack in the most vitamins, antioxidants, phytonutrients, essential fats and proteins). Hint, they are real, whole foods.
1. Eggs (with their yolks!)
Organic eggs (with their yolks!) contain high-quality protein and healthy fats. They are considered the “gold standard” for protein quality because their amino acids are in the most digestible form to humans. They are high in Lutein and Zeaxanthin, antioxidants that can protect the eyes and reduce your risk of eye diseases. Eggs are also loaded with choline (B-complex vitamin), a brain nutrient that about 90% of people don’t get enough of. There is evidence that, when consumed by pregnant women, dietary choline helps with fetal brain development. Eggs are also high in sulfur, an essential nutrient that helps with everything from vitamin B absorption to liver function, and collagen and keratin production (which help create and maintain shiny hair, strong nails, and glowing skin).
2. Dark, Leafy Greens
Green veggies, such as spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard, mustard greens, and broccoli have so many health benefits ranging from: detoxifying your liver, to boosting your immune system, and increasing your energy. They are packed with vitamins A, C, E, and K as well as B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Greens may also help prevent cancer, purify your blood, lower cholesterol levels, improve circulation and help your digestion. Leafy greens are filled with antioxidants that keep your cells (and therefore your whole self) young and protected. They are high in fiber (keeps you fuller longer), iron (energy), potassium (blood pressure), magnesium and calcium (strong bones and teeth!) and in water content (helping you stay hydrated and keep your skin glowing and smooth).
Blueberries are nature’s candy, so enjoy them by the handful! They have the highest antioxidant density of all fresh fruit. They contain a plethora of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, B complex, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Copper, Selenium, Zinc, and Iron. They are loaded with fiber to aid in digestion and keep you fuller longer. Blueberries are also great for brain and central nervous system health. Some studies even suggest they can help improve memory and Alzheimer’s symptoms and can help prevent certain cancers.
Avocados are a nutrient powerhouse. They contain the healthy fats that your body needs to metabolize your food, and they are packed with antioxidants, which keep your skin glowing, boost your immune system, and slow the aging process. Avocados are the best fruit source of Vitamin E, which protects against many diseases, as well as Vitamin B6 and folic acid, which are critical during pregnancy. Taking folic acid before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. After you have a baby, the healthy fats and nutrients in avocados are amazing for your breast milk and overall health. Kids love to eat them too!
5. Wild Salmon
Wild salmon is not only high in protein, but it is also a mega-source of Omega-3s, which have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease, dementia, depression and more. Omegas are also great for your hair and skin and joints! Wild salmon is also high in Vitamin A, D, and E, as well as B-Vitamins, Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium, Zinc, and Selenium. Plus, salmon is low in mercury so is a great fish choice when you are pregnant. Try to choose wild vs. farm-raised salmon because wild salmon is more nutrient dense, has half the fat, ⅓ the saturated fat, fewer calories per serving and a better Omega-6: Omega-3 ratio.
6. Greek Yogurt
Plain Greek yogurt is a protein and probiotic powerhouse. One serving boasts an impressive amount of protein (20 grams in a 7oz serving of “Fage”). It is also low in sugar with just around 8g per serving. Top with real fruit for natural sweetness and added nutrients. When real fruit is not an option though, fruit flavored Greek yogurt is a good alternative with just around 15g of sugar per serving. The live bacteria probiotics in Greek yogurt are so good for your belly, helping to ease bloating, boost your immunity and improve digestion. Greek yogurt is also a rich source of calcium and potassium, helping to build strong bones and boost immunity. Beyond enjoying it for breakfast, try using it place of sour cream, or in dips, dressings, and marinades.
7. Seaweed and Blue and Green Algae
Seaweed is an amazing source of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. It is also packed with iodine, which is critical for healthy thyroid function (so important during pregnancy). Try adding a piece of kombu to your grains and beans while they cook, ordering a seaweed salad at Japanese restaurants, using Nori as a wrap in place of a tortilla, or sprinkling dried arame onto our salads for some extra superfood punch!
Spirulina and Chlorella are blue and green algae. Spirulina is one of the richest sources of beta-carotene (10 times the amount in carrots!), and contains more protein per ounce than a serving of steak!. It is also rich in vitamins, minerals potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, and essential fatty acids. It has been shown to increase energy, boost immunity, protect against cancer, and aid in weight loss. Chlorella has similar benefits as Spirulina, plus has been shown to support healthy hormonal function, good cardiovascular health and the removal of harmful toxins in our body. You can use both of these in their powdered form in smoothies or water, or take them via an oral supplement. You can also make dressings with them!
8. Seeds and Nuts
Seeds and Nuts are a great on-the-go snack, providing slowly digested protein, healthy fats, fiber and vitamins, and minerals. When possible, try to buy organic and sprouted nuts, as the soaking and sprouting process actually allows you to absorb more of the nutrients from the nuts. Add nuts and seeds to trail mix, granola or your morning oatmeal. Add crunch to salads or pasta dishes. Crust your chicken or fish or try garnishing with turmeric roasted nuts! We also love nut butters for dipping and spreading and homemade nut milks in our smoothies and soups.
9. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes are a GREAT carb to load up on! These jewel-toned spuds top the charts for their nutrient density, especially when you eat the skins too! Sweet Potatoes (aka Yams) are rich in Vitamin A, B, C, potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. Plus, as a bonus, they taste deliciously sweet, decadent, and filling!
Last but certainly NOT least! This gluten-free, vegan, complete protein source contains all of the essential amino acids. Quinoa is also a great source of antioxidants and heart-healthy fats, making this seed a fabulous anti-inflammatory agent! Not to mention it is quick and easy to cook in about 15 minutes. Add in some veggies, beans or any lean protein, dried fruits and nuts, and a homemade dressing for a super simple salad!
EMBODY Wellness Company offers customizable, holistic wellness and nutrition programs targeted to accomplish your specific goals, within the realities of your lifestyle. They focus on important milestones like marriage, children, and career — working with you to EMBODY Wellness and EMBODY Your Best Self in a lasting and sustainable way! From meal planning to at home cooking lessons, restaurant ordering guides to grocery shopping tours, personal trainers to acupuncturists, EMBODY Wellness Company is your full-service health and wellness concierge.