There’s no question that the exciting news of a pregnancy can quickly become overwhelming with knowing where to start with your diet. What nutrients do you focus on in your first trimester? Are there any in particular that you should look out for?
First-trimester diet can become tricky. The overwhelming carb cravings always seem to get the better of you, and everyone around you is telling you the same thing…eat healthy!
Is any of this sounding familiar?
Let me help you out here! I’m going to give you the nutrients to look out for in the first trimester, along with some of the foods that you’ll find them in. But, before we get stuck into food, I want you to know that prenatal supplements play a big part throughout pregnancy, in particular for these first few weeks. These should be quality vitamins and minerals that are a perfect back-up to your diet. Remember, food first, BUT you’ll want a prenatal supplement to fill in any gaps in the essential nutrients we’re going to talk about next.
Nutrients for the first trimester
Folate – Most supplements and fortified foods contain the synthetic form of vitamin B9, folic acid. I recommend choosing a prenatal supplement with the active form methyltetrahydrofolate, as it’s preferred by the body and is absorbed more effectively. This may be represented in a quality prenatal as L-Methylfolate, MTHF, 5-MTHF, L-5-MTHF, or 6S-5-MTHF. This nutrient plays a key role in the prevention of neural tube defects (such as spina bifida) in babies, and it’s also needed to help reduce the risk of cleft palate, cleft lip, tongue tie, lip tie, pre-eclampsia, placental abruption and preterm delivery. The suggested dose is 600-800 micrograms a day, and a good prenatal supplement such as Needed ensures this. Some foods that contain folate include oranges, strawberries, vegetables (green leafy ones), kidney beans, nuts and cauliflower. Folate is an important nutrient throughout pregnancy, but particularly in the first trimester.
Vitamin A – A fat soluble vitamin which is important for your baby’s development of the heart, kidneys, lungs, eyes and bones, along with the circulatory, respiratory, and central nervous systems. There’s some confusion about taking vitamin A in pregnancy as high doses have been shown to cause birth defects. However, this is pertaining to the active form found in many supplements and acne treatment. There are two types of this nutrient – preformed vitamin A (retinol) and provitamin A (carotenoids). Preformed vitamin A is used directly by the body and can be found in animal products including liver, milk and eggs. During pregnancy, it’s important not to get too much preformed vitamin A (recommended daily intake being 770 mcg RAE) and caution should be taken with supplements whose vitamin A comes entirely from retinol. Foods you’ll find preformed vitamin A in include liver, grass-fed butter, eggs, dairy. Carotenoids (like beta-carotene) are found in plant foods such as fruits and vegetables (particularly orange and yellow ones) like sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots and also leafy greens including spinach and kale. This has to be converted into retinol by the body and is found in many prenatal supplements. Vitamin A is important throughout pregnancy.
Vitamin B12 – Helps keep the body’s nerve impulses and blood cells healthy, along with being involved in the synthesis of DNA and red blood cells. This is particularly important if you’re following a plant-based diet as the foods you’ll find this nutrient in are mainly (but not exclusively) animal sources, including organ meats, chicken, beef, dairy products and eggs. In supplements look for the active forms – methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin for better absorption by your body, and try to avoid prenatal supplements containing the form cyanocobalamin as this is poorly absorbed. Check out Seeking Health prenatal. One important thing to note here is that antacids are known to block absorption of B12. Another important nutrient throughout pregnancy.
Vitamin C– Supports your immune system which is particularly important when this is tested out in the first trimester. It also helps to promote bone and tissue development in your growing baby with an added bonus of helping your body to absorb iron throughout pregnancy. Vitamin C is readily available through many foods in the diet, not just citrus fruits, and you’ll also see it added to a lot of prenatal supplements. Include foods like bell peppers (all colours), broccoli, strawberries and kale into your diet.
Choline – This is one nutrient that slipped under the nutritional radar for many years, but in 1998 it was recognised as an essential nutrient in pregnancy and postpartum. Choline has definitely earned its reputation as an important nutrient during pregnancy, but according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 90% of women are not meeting their needs for choline. It’s a relative of the B vitamins, and its role is pretty similar to folate. It’s essential throughout pregnancy, and during breastfeeding. In the first trimester, it helps to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, and is essential for your baby’s brain development. A lot of prenatal supplements still don’t include choline routinely, so be sure to check yours for this nutrient. Full Circle prenatal is one that contains choline, along with other active nutrient forms. Foods you’ll find this little beauty in are liver, eggs, salmon, brussel sprouts and broccoli.
Iodine – Is essential for thyroid health throughout pregnancy. Baby relies on your thyroid until about 16 weeks when they actually start producing their own thyroid hormones. Nutritional needs for iodine increase during pregnancy, with daily requirements being 250 mcg day (up from 150 mcg for non-pregnant women). Eating fish, seafoods and dairy regularly will provide iodine in your diet, and I suggest checking your prenatal for this too.
Magnesium – This nutrient increases during pregnancy by about 30% to support mother’s health, and is important throughout. It can help with pregnancy sickness, leg cramps, constipation and foods you’ll find magnesium in are pumpkin seeds, oats, spinach and black-eyed peas. This comes in different forms in prenatal supplements with magnesium glycinate being the best absorbed by the body, without side effects like diarrhoea.
Zinc – A nutrient that’s talked a lot about during our 2020 pandemic. This one’s important for normal immune function, particularly in the first trimester, but it’s needed throughout pregnancy. Did you know that zinc is important for your health as well as your baby’s, and is one to know about for both pregnancy and while you’re breastfeeding? It’s found in many foods and plays an essential role in the construction of your baby’s cells and DNA during pregnancy, along with providing you with some extra immune support as I’ve mentioned. Although you’ll find zinc in oats, nuts, whole grains, pumpkin seeds and legumes, it’s actually best absorbed from meat and seafood. To help your absorption of zinc through plant-based foods, pre-soak nuts, beans, seeds. I suggest checking your prenatal supplement for this nutrient too.
With pregnancy sickness, constipation, food aversions and fatigue, eating the right foods in the first trimester can be quite the challenge, I know! Your body is going to be experiencing a surge in hormones right now, leading to a few, or all of the above symptoms of early pregnancy, which can often make eating healthily a little more challenging.
In particular, the hormone progesterone may trigger a few digestive issues, which can include constipation, heartburn and reflux, leaving you with no desire to eat some of the healthier foods you really used to love. I want you to know that this is going to be short-lived, and your appetite will come back after these first few weeks. Right now … just focus on doing what you can to nourish you and your baby, and cut back on pressuring yourself to eat perfectly all of the time.
If you’re truly not feeling it, and physically can’t stomach a full plate for every meal, that’s OKAY! Start improvising to figure out what’s going to work for you until your symptoms start to subside, and remember that this is going to be different with every pregnancy. It can be down to trial and error some of the time, rather than science.
Remember to choose a quality prenatal supplement that’s going to work for your nutritional intake, rather than buying one that your friend recommended. It’s going to be the back-up to your diet and it needs to cover the essential nutrients that you’re not getting enough of through food.
If you need help choosing a prenatal for your pregnancy, or want to talk through the challenges you’re facing in the first trimester, you can book a call with me HERE