There is no question that the most important thing you can do when you are pregnant is to eat well. If you are growing a new human being inside of you – chances are pretty good you want to make it out of the best materials.
In the last several decades the medical community has learned a lot about the different nutrients that are necessary for pregnant women. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a multi-million dollar prenatal vitamin industry. These vitamins may have been designed with good intentions… but they honestly just miss the mark. The vitamins included in prenatal supplements are not usually the correct ones you truly need; when correct, they’re often in the wrong chemical forms; and to top it all off the body has a hard time absorbing nutrients in pill form anyway.
When it comes down to it, pills cannot beat whole, natural foods in terms of their ability to give you the nutrients you need. Not at all – it’s not even close. The natural form of food is what your body was built to digest and use…. powerhouse vitamin-rich foods are the fastest, most efficient, safest and healthiest way to build a healthy baby.
So today – I bring to you my personal favorite “supplements” for pregnant moms. Of course – if you cannot access nutrient-dense food for some reason or another, if your budget or travel abilities are lacking, or if you simply would like to assure that you are all good and stocked up in the relevant vitamins, then supplements may be a good idea. I have some I recommend at the bottom of the page. But by and large, I like to think – yes, these wondrous foods are so nutrient-packed they are supplements all their own.
In no particular order, they are:
Bone marrow is an unsung powerhouse of certain nutrients. Most importantly, it is high in glycine. Glycine is important for pregnant mothers because it helps construct skin and bones, and is also important in detox processes in the liver.
Bone marrow also has important microelements: calcium, iron, phosphorous, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and magnanese, all of which are excellent for healthy fetus development and for healthy immune systems in both the mother and the baby. Bone marrow also contains Vitamin A in its complete, natural form, another one of the critical nutrients for pregnancy.
You can get your hands on bone marrow simply by keeping the bones of cows and chickens after you make the meat and scooping out the marrow! (I just do this by nibbling on the ends of bones when I’m done eating… maybe TMI, but it’s effective!)
You can also specifically request marrow bones at a meat counter, which will give you the bones with the most marrow available in them, and can roast the bones all by themselves in the oven and scoop out the marrow!
Bone broths, skin
Now broth is a highly praised superfood… at least in the paleo community. If you choose not to dig the marrow out of your own bones or suck on the bones of a chicken carcass at the end of a meal, you can simmer bones for twelve hours in some water to pull the important minreals out of them.
Liver is an incredible food. It is particularly important for pregnant women because it is so rich in vitamin A — liver is unquestionably the richest source of vitamin A available. It is also rich in Vitamin K1 and K2, and rich in choline — liver is also the richest source of choline available.
Vitamin A is a crucial nutrient for pregnancy, and right off the bat! Vitamin A is necessary right when the heart begins to form in weeks 2 or 3, so if you’re looking to conceive, be sure you’re already getting adequate vitamin A!
Vitamin A signals to the fetus when all of the other organs need to be formed, too. Most especially these include the central nervous system, the circulatory, urogenital and respiratory systems, and the development of the skull, skeleton and limbs. If vitamin A is lacking at any time during the pregnancy, whichever organ or system is being developed at the time may falter. Vitamin A also makes a baby’s outer body symmetrical. A vitamin A deficiency in my mother’s womb is quite possibly why my nose is so crooked.
[Important note: Vitamin A is so important that its one of the few vitamins I recommend supplementing for even while you include vitamin A rich foods like liver in your diet. consider supplementing with fermented cod Oliver oil and even better with butter oil on a daily basis.]
Vitamin K is another unsung hero. It comes in two basic varieties – K1 and K2. A lot of people get a fair amount of K1. If you eat just one serving of kale a day, you get more than 1000 percent of your daily recommended dose! (which is great, no worries about exceeding it)
But K2 and K1 are quite different both in what they do and where you get them.
Liver — but grass-fed liver only — is one of the ONLY sources of vitamin K2 around. You can also find it in grassfed butter and ghee, as well as in, oddly enough, fermented soybeans. The primary function of K2 is to put calcium in the right places in your (and your baby’s) body. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but trust me.
Some people will tell you you shouldn’t get too much K in pregnancy because it’s associated with jaundice. To which I can only say: I respectfully disagree.
These people are probably wrong because the studies on vitamin K and pregnancy have been flawed. In the studies the women supplement with vitamin K, but nothing else. The problem here is that vitamins A, D, and K work synergistically. If you have way too much of one relative to the others, it’ll cause problems. That’s why supplements can be great, but the most awesome route is the natural one. With whole foods like liver, you get all three vitamins together for one powerful punch.
Choline is also a huge part of the reason to eat liver. Choline helps brain cells develop properly. Adequate choline during pregnancy has long-lasting effect on a baby’s ability to learn and remember – and may even provide some resistance to mental illness. It’s potent brain-boosting effects will help you keep a clear brain while pregnant, too, since the baby draws on your choline supply. Choline is also a critical component of preventing neural tube defects in the baby… more in which in a moment.
We also know that supplementing with choline Is not as effective as Whole Foods , and may in fact be detrimental. So liver (and egg yolks!) is definitely the way to go.
Eat at least 1/4 pound of beef liver once a week. Chicken, pork, or other liver (I’ve been eating rabbit lier recently!) is also great. It is definitely worth it to shell out for grass-fed if you can find it – it’s SO much more nutrient dense. Grass-fed liver contains vitamin K2 in it, whereas conventional liver does not.
If you can’t get your hands on high quality grass-fed liver, here is an excellent liver capsule.
Egg yolks are awesome. They contain all the building blocks chickens use to make new chickens… so they also have a lot of the important building blocks humans need to make more humans!
Eggs contain methionine, which contributes to the normal formation of the brain and spinal cord during pregnancy and prevents neural tube defects. They also contain abundant choline (they come in second next to liver), B vitamins, and some vitamin A.
I recommend at minimum two egg yolks every day.
If fish is a powerhouse food, and eggs are a powerhouse food – then why not the combination of the two?
Absolutely the combination of the two!
Fish eggs – whether caviar (here’s my inexpensive fave!) or roe or whichever variety you choose – are rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin D, B12, the omega 3 fats EPA and DHA, selenium, iron, magnesium, calcium.
Boom. They’re that good.
Unfortunatley it’s not easy to get your hands on roe in stores – though you can always find it in sushi restaurants. High end grocers sometimes carry roe, and fish markets will almost certainly have it. Amazon, as always.
A teaspoon a day goes a super long way – though a serving once or twice a week is a great enough boost on its own.
Vitamin D is so important for pregnancy even the whole body recommends supplementing with it. A huge percentage, somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 percent, of pregnant women are deficient in vitamin D, especially in winter. Vitamin D deficiency has been found to be associated with an increased risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes mellitus, preterm birth, growth retardation, skeletal defrormities, and other tissue-specific conditions. The immune-weakening effects of vitamin D deficiency in the womb can last a baby it’s lifetime.
The best way to get Vitamin D is to spend 20 minutes a day (at minimum!) to noon-time sun. If not possible, then a supplement (I prefer fermented cod Oliver oil though D capsules are more affordable and are also effective) can work well.
If your sun exposure is limited, shoot for 4000 IUs of vitamin D a day – as a combination of cod liver oil and vitamin D tablets. Once breastfeeding, bump that up an additional 1000 or 2000 IUs, as vitamin D is crucial for the baby to get from your milk at this time.
Leafy greens are great for a lot of reasons, but the most important one for pregnancy is folate! Folate and other B vitamins (including choline and betaine) is critical for preventing neural tub defects right at the start of pregnancy. This is a big deal.
Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. They happen in the first month of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows that she is pregnant… so if you’re looking to conceieve, eat your greens early! With neural tube defcts, the fetal spinal column doesn’t close completely, which can paralyze the legs. Sometimes most of the brain and skull do not develop, which results in babies bing stillborn.
Now – “folate” is a very general name for a complicated family of nutrients found in both plant and animal foods. To give you an idea of many different folate forms in food, consider the following list: methylfolates, dihydrofolates, monoglutamyl folates, and polyglutamyl folates.
This means that taking folic acid (just one form of folate) is not a great way to meet your folic needs. Instead, a diversity of greens including spinach, broccoli, lettuce, asparagus, kale, and also avocadoes and tropical fruits like mangoes will get you where you need to be. At very minimum, I recommend one big serving of greens every day for pregnant mommas.
Sauerkraut kimchi’s , kombucha, even coconut yogurt nowadays… these fermented foods are all excellent probiotic foods. A probiotic food is one that contains good bacteria for your gut in it… and few things could be more important for supporting both your and your baby’s health. This doesn’t apply only to your baby’s time in the womb, but to your baby’s immune system and metabolic health for the rest of it’s life.
Seriously. The rest of it’s life.
Beet skins and shrimp?
Betaine (a choline derivative) is important because of its role in forming methionine, which helps with detox and protects the fetus. It also assists in promoting healthy neural development. Betaine is highly concentrated, oddly enough, in the skins of beets, in spinach, and in shrimp.
Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil is an excellent source of vitamin A, D, and omega 3 fats. Omega 3s (also found in fish eggs) are hugely important for fetuses, and most especially because it helps their brains development. The studies are robust in this regard – a good omega 3 intake is associated with higher IQs in offspring. No joke. Omega 3s are important.
You can get omega 3 fats from fatty fish like salmon and sardines by eating them a few times a week. But because fermented cod liver oil is rich in vitamin A and D, and if you purchase the variety with butter oil added also vitamins K1 and K2, that is an excellent way to make sure you’re getting all these critical nutrients at once.
But c’mon.. are there real supplements?
Sure there are.
Pure Encapsulations has got a great pre-natal called Nutrient 950. This particular variety of nutrient 950 contains both vitamins K2 and D… which is super rare in a prenatal.
Simply One has an excellent prenatal that contains no synthetic fibers and is rich in vitamin A and D. If you do not take cod liver oil this is an excellent choice.
Emerald Labs has perhaps my favorite prenatal. It’s got the bioavailable forms of both B12 and folate in it, which is great for real nutrient absorption, as well as digestive enzymes and even probiotics!
So there you have it. You can probably get all you need from food – it’s amazing what eggs, roe, liver, bones, and cod liver oil can do. Of course it also doesn’t hurt to add a bit here and there where you think you may be lacking or where you really want to make sure you’re nourished — especially with probiotics and with vitamins A, D, and K!
“Supplement” with these amazing foods and you’ll provide an excellent set of tools to your fetus for healthy growth and development. You may even make yourself healthier and happier in the process!
What do you think? Do you have opinions? What are you doing or did you do for your own baby? Wish you’d done things differently? I’d love your input, for me and all of our other community members!!