Superfoods are incredibly nutrient-dense and can help to meet increased nutritional requirements during pregnancy and when breastfeeding.
But which superfoods are safe to use during pregnancy and which should you avoid?
8 minute read
The Importance of Nutrition During Pregnancy
Adequate intake of essential nutrients during pregnancy is important to ensure optimal birth outcomes, maternal health and normal development in early childhood. Meeting requirements for essential nutrients during pregnancy has been shown to correlate with:
- Normal fetal growth
- Increased birth weight
- Lower risk of premature labour
- Lower risk of miscarriage
- Reduced risk of infant morbidity & mortality
- Better health outcomes during infancy
Which Nutrients are Important During Pregnancy?
We all know that nutrition is essential for overall health and wellbeing, but there are some nutrients in particular which are needed in higher amounts for specific functions during foetal growth and pregnancy.
They don't just benefit mother & baby before birth, but can also have a lasting healthful impact in the child's infancy and even throughout childhood.
Let's take a look at 6 of the most important nutrients to be mindful of when trying for or expecting a baby.
1. Getting Enough Energy for Pregnancy
Research has shown that adequate energy intake from food is an important determinant of maternal and fetal health. Meeting energy requirements during pregnancy can help to reduce the risk of slow fetal development and also low birth weight.
Pregnant women are discouraged from dieting for this reason. It's far more important to focus on nutrient-dense foods and getting enough calories for mother and baby.
In fact, as energy requirements increase during pregnancy, expectant mothers should aim to eat more than they would usually. A diet which provides enough energy for mother and baby is also more likely to provide other nutrients in optimal amounts.
2. Protein for Pregnancy
Dietary protein is a major structural component in the body and is essential for normal growth and development. Protein is needed to create new fetal tissues and organs as well as maintain them throughout the rapid growth experienced during pregnancy.
Most women in the UK get enough protein from their normal diet. However, vegetarians and vegans may struggle to get a complete source of protein (which contains all 9 essential amino acids) everyday.
So, it is recommended to combine 2 sources of plant-based protein to help meet amino acid requirements. If you struggle to do this with every meal, you could also ask your healthcare professional about starting to take a protein powder supplement to boost your intake.
Our Cacao and Green Plant Protein blends provide a complete source of vegan protein which is easily added to food and drinks. If you don't eat enough protein or follow a plant-based diet, introducing a protein powder supplement could be an easy way to support increased protein requirements when pregnant or breastfeeding.
3. Vitamin D & Calcium for Pregnancy
Vitamin D deficiency is common in pregnant women and is associated with increased risk of Pre-Eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy and after labour) as well as Gestational Diabetes (high blood sugar levels during pregnancy). It has also been linked to negative birth outcomes such as low birth weight and poor skeletal development.
As Vitamin D is synthesised by exposing the skin to UVB rays from the sun (something we don't have a reliable source of in the UK!) it is recommended that all adults take a daily Vitamin D supplement year-round to help meet requirements and mitigate the effect of time spent indoors, as well as a lack of sunshine.
Getting enough Vitamin D is also important to promote normal skeletal development in the baby, as it is essential to absorb calcium from the diet. Calcium deficiency is rare but pregnant women should aim to eat at least 3 portions of calcium daily.
Almond milk is a particularly good source of calcium and is usually fortified with Vitamin D too - using this to make your superfood smoothies is a great way to boost your intake of these essential nutrients during pregnancy.
Here's a couple of our favourite smoothie recipes, simply switch out the coconut water for almond milk for a delicious and nutritious superfood smoothie!
4. Folate (Folic Acid) for Pregnancy
Folate (Vitamin B9) is one of the most important nutrients to support the development of a healthy foetus and perhaps the one which most people associate with a healthy pregnancy.
Getting enough folate can help to prevent harm to the baby in the early stages of pregnancy, such as Neural Tube Defects (NTD) - birth defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord. These usually occur within the first month of pregnancy, which is often before somebody learns they are expecting.
So, it is recommended to take a folic acid supplement (the synthetic form of folate) as soon as you find out you are pregnant - or three months before pregnancy if planning for a family.
UK guidelines recommend that folic acid supplementation is continued until you are 12 weeks pregnant. Of course, always discuss any changes to your diet or supplements with your doctor or midwife.
5. Iron for Pregnancy
Iron is essential to carry oxygen to the foetus, so expectant mothers need twice as much as they would normally. Pregnant women are at increased risk of iron deficiency and the World Health Organisation estimates that 18% of women are iron deficient during pregnancy.
This is a concern as iron deficiency is already an issue for women in the UK, where around 60% of women fall short of their recommended daily intake for iron and around 5% suffer from iron deficiency anaemia.
It is generally recommended to take an iron supplement during pregnancy to help meet increased requirements. This especially true for vegetarians and vegans, as they don't consume haem form of iron found in meat and fish which is the most bioavailable. As always, consult your GP about this.
Tea, coffee and milk can also inhibit the absorption of iron and so it is advised that these shouldn’t be consumed at the same time as iron-rich foods. On the other hand, Vitamin C has been shown to increase the uptake of non-haem iron and so citrus fruits and their juices can be consumed to boost absorption of iron.
Try our Clean Greens Immunity Smoothie which is a great source of Vitamin C courtesy of our Clean Greens blend - and is made with extra spinach for a good dose of iron too.
6. Omega-3 - DHA for Pregnancy
One of the essential fatty acids in the Omega-3 group of healthy fats is called "Docosahexaenoic Acid" (DHA to you and me!) DHA is an essential fatty acid and one of the most important nutrients during pregnancy, as it is essential for normal development of the brain and eyes.
DHA plays a major role in neurological development during infancy, when it is supplied in high amounts in breastmilk. In fact, one study found that this is most beneficial with habitual and not current intake - so those who consume more Omega-3 routinely would pass on the highest benefit to their baby.
DHA is hard to come by in food sources, especially for those following a plant-based diet. So, it is usually advisable to take a daily Omega-3 supplement.
Many people take fish oil supplements to boost their intake of Omega-3 but this is not recommended during pregnancy as they contain high levels of Vitamin A, as well as toxins such as mercury and other heavy metals, which could be harmful to the baby.
Instead, you can get your Omega-3 from a plant-based algae supplement which is vegan friendly and does not contain Vitamin A. You can also find vegan Omega-3 in chia seeds, walnuts and spirulina.
The Best Foods & Superfoods to Support a Healthy Pregnancy
Many foods and superfoods provide these healthful nutrients in plentiful amounts. Including them in your diet can help to keep you optimally nourished and so support a healthy pregnancy. Let's take a look at the best foods to enjoy during your pregnancy.
Fresh Fruit 🥝
Eating fresh fruit throughout your pregnancy will help to top up your intake of essential nutrients like Vitamins C, E and K as well as fibre and antioxidants. Try to include a variety of different coloured fruits to get an array of nutrients.
Berries are a particularly potent source of vitamins and antioxidants, and are lower in sugar compared with other fruits - add them to breakfast cereals, yoghurts, smoothies and juices, or enjoy a handful of berries as a snack.
In 2018 a survey found that only 28% of adults in the UK were eating their daily recommended amount of fruit. So, if you struggle to eat plenty of fresh fruit it may be a good idea to supplement your diet with a blend of fruit extracts such as our Berry Beauty blend.
Each scoop provides a source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants - and is particularly rich in Zinc, Copper and Vitamin C (1 teaspoon = your recommended daily intake of Vitamin C) to support a healthy pregnancy.
Fresh Vegetables (especially leafy greens) 🥬
Vegetables are a must-eat food during pregnancy (and always!) as they are incredibly nutrient-dense and provide a spectrum of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre.
Leafy green vegetables such as rocket, spinach, kale, cabbage, lettuce and even herbs are one of the most important food groups to include during pregnancy and should be eaten daily. They’re packed with vitamins and minerals including Iron, Calcium, Vitamin K, B-Vitamins and Folate, which we mentioned was so important for a healthy pregnancy.
Our Clean Greens blend provides the goodness of 5 nutrient-dense greens in every scoop and is a convenient way to get your daily intake if you struggle to eat enough fresh leafy greens. Clean Greens is a great source of Iron, Calcium, Vitamin C and B-Vitamins (including folate) and is easily added to juices, smoothies or simply mixed with plain filtered water.
Plant-Based Protein 💪
Eating a source of protein with every meal is important to get all you need for yourself and your baby. Protein is also a great source of energy, providing 4 calories per gram.
If you follow a plant-based diet you should try to include 2 different protein sources with every meal to get the full range of amino acids which make up a ‘complete’ protein source.
Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils are great sources of plant-based protein and can easily be combined with each other to get a mix of amino acids. Plant-based alternatives to meat, cheese and dairy are also good sources of protein - lots are fortified with vitamins and minerals too.
You’ll find plant-based protein in tofu, quinoa, chickpeas, mycoprotein (Quorn), nuts and seeds. Nutritional yeast is also one of the few complete plant-based proteins, it’s easily sprinkled over meals and added to smoothies - with one serving providing 9g protein.
Nuts & Seeds 🥜
Nuts and seeds are a great source of plant-based protein and healthy fats, like Omega-3. Whilst they vary depending on which variety you choose, most contain pregnancy-friendly nutrients such as folate, Vitamin E, antioxidants, magnesium, selenium, copper and phosphorus.
Both nuts and seeds are easily added to meals or can be enjoyed as a snack - and because they’re so nutrient-dense, a little goes a long way.
Walnuts are a particularly good choice for expectant mothers as they contain a high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as melatonin and magnesium which help to promote sleep.
However, the Omega-3 fats found in walnuts (and most plant-based foods) comes in the form of ALA, a precursor to the DHA fatty acids which are vital for a healthy pregnancy. As this conversion is not very efficient, it’s always a good idea to take a daily Omega-3 DHA supplement too.
We’ve all heard of the phrase eating for two and, whilst that second person you’re eating for is a lot smaller than you, it is true that your energy requirements increase during pregnancy.
Wholegrains such as quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, ancient grains and gluten-free oats are a great source of energy which is released sustainably throughout the day. They’re also a source of fibre which helps to maintain gut health and digestive function throughout pregnancy. This could help to reduce the severity of nausea and morning sickness.
Cereals and breads made with wholegrains are often fortified with Iron and Folic Acid, as well as being naturally rich in B-Vitamins and Minerals. Try adding an extra splash of plant-based milk, a handful of berries and a sprinkling of chopped nuts to your breakfast cereal - for a great start to the day for you and your baby.
Can I Take Caffeine During Pregnancy?
There is mixed evidence when it comes to caffeine consumption during pregnancy. Studies have shown that caffeine is metabolised more slowly by pregnant women and stays in the bloodstream for longer. It is also able to cross the placenta and so reach the foetus, but the impact of this on birth outcomes is inconclusive.
Some research has found a correlation between high caffeine intake and poor outcomes such as low birth weight and miscarriage. Although the evidence is mixed, many expectant mothers choose to reduce their caffeine intake or avoid caffeine altogether to stay on the safe side. So, it’s important to remember that caffeine is found naturally in some plants as well as coffee - such as matcha and guarana.
Our Shroom Coffee, Ground Shroom Coffee and Magic Matcha blends are made using Arabica coffee and Japanese Matcha, so they do contain caffeine. There is also a small amount of caffeine in raw Cacao which is within our Coco Dream blend.
Although this is a very small amount compared with that you’d find in regular coffee, if you’re wanting to be extra cautious you may wish to avoid these four products - utilising them once the baby has arrived for a sound sleep and a natural energy hit!
Rheal Superfood Blends for a Healthy Pregnancy 🌱
Our superfood blends are all 100% natural, plant-based, Organic and made using real food ingredients. They provide many different nutrients in a potent and bioavailable format, helping to support a healthy pregnancy.
The products that we have that are safe during pregnancy are Clean Greens, Berry Beauty, Green Plant Protein and Cacao Plant Protein. We would recommend avoiding Balance Tonic, Magic Matcha and Coco Dream as there is very little research on the safety of adaptogens during pregnancy.
Shroom Coffee is also safe but best avoided if you are looking to reduce your caffeine intake during pregnancy.
As always, we would recommend speaking with your GP before you make any lifestyle changes such as introducing new foods or supplements to your diet, especially if you are planning a family, pregnant or breastfeeding.
Once you get tho go ahead, adding superfoods to your daily routine is a convenient and reliable way to boost the intake of essential nutrients for you and your baby.
👉 Shop Rheal Superfood Blends Today
- Nutritional Intake is a Determinant of Maternal & Foetal Health - https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-3016.2012.01308.x
- Increased Energy Requirements During Pregnancy - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235247/
- Protein Requirements During Pregnancy - https://academic.oup.com/epirev/article/32/1/5/492553
- Vitamin D Deficiency in Pregnant Women - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4171878/
- Vitamin D Supplementation Reduces the Risk of Pre-Eclampsia in Pregnant Women - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261561419330274
- Vitamin D and Gestational Diabetes - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3895371/
- Current Vitamin D Supplement Recommendations - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/
- Folic Acid & Neural Tube Defects - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3799525/
- Folic Acid Supplementation - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4738404/
- Iron Deficiency Prevalence During Pregnancy - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10799402/
- Prevalence of Iron Deficiency in Women - https://academic.oup.com/epirev/article/32/1/5/492553
- Vitamin C & Iron Uptake - http://www.icppharm.com/News-Resources/Articles/Effects-of-Vitamin-C-on-Iron-Absorption.aspx
- Dietary Omega-3 and Neuronal Development in Infancy - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5084016/
- Problems with Fish Oil Supplementation During Pregnancy - https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/pregnancy/can-i-take-cod-liver-oil-supplements-when-i-am-pregnant/
- Health Survey UK - http://healthsurvey.hscic.gov.uk/data-visualisation/data-visualisation/explore-the-trends/fruit-vegetables.aspx
- 13 Nearly Complete Sources of Plant-Based Proteins - https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/complete-protein-for-vegans
- Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507998/
- Maternal Caffeine Consumption & Pregnancy Outcomes - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507998/