When it comes to vitamins there are two camps: those that shovel them down by the handful and those who are a little more skeptical. I work for a gummy vitamin company so I take them regularly. They sit on my desk and taste like candy. How could I not? But I do believe we should try and get our nutrients from food first. It’s these whole-food forms that are most easily recognized and used by the body.
That said, we know that fruits and vegetables contain much lower levels of nutrients than they did just 60 years ago. On top of that, what nutrients that are present start to degrade within days of being harvested. So by the time that broccoli gets to a grocery store near you, who knows how much of the good stuff is still left.
Whether you want to take your chances with just food is up to you, but pregnancy is one time you don’t really want to risk it. If there’s one thing medical doctors and holistic practitioners seem to agree on is the need for a high-quality prenatal vitamin.
There are a few nutrients that top almost every list in terms of prenatal nutrients, but these come in different forms, and some are better absorbed than others. This can all be complicated and confusing so instead of spending hours on the Google, here is exactly what you need to look for in your prenatal vitamin.
Doctors and experts agree that folate is one of the most important nutrients for pregnant women. “We need folate to create new cells, and babies are all new cells,” says Dr. Deborah Gordon. But you’ve most likely heard more people talk about folic acid - what’s the difference? Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate. But in order to use folic acid, our bodies must convert it to methylfolate and research estimates that many people can’t make this conversion efficiently. Just to be on the safe side, many doctors now recommend women supplement with the L-methylfolate form of folate rather than folic acid. This form does not need to be converted and taking a supplement with L-methylfolate ensures both mother and baby get 100% of the folate they need every day.
Next we have calcium topping the list of prenatal recommendations. “Calcium is essential for maintaining and developing healthy bones and teeth” says Dr. Angela Jones. “Maintenance for mom is crucial here, as she has to be strong enough to carry the pregnancy and support the developing baby.” Dr. Jones notes that calcium must also be balanced with vitamin D. In terms of what form is best, Dr. Jones says most prenatal vitamins contain a combination of calcium citrate and carbonate, but citrate is the form most easily absorbed by the body.
In order to absorb calcium, we need vitamin D. According to Dr. Mary Jane Minkin most people don’t get enough vitamin D, which can be obtained through sun exposure and foods like fatty fish, beef liver and egg yolks. In my opinion, I think the best way to get vitamin D is by getting your bronze on. Note: this does NOT mean charring your skin to the point where you’re mistaken for one of the Real Housewives. This is more like 30 minutes of direct sun exposure (or until your skin starts to turn pink) on your arms, chest, torso, and legs – no sunscreen. Going totally naked is actually the best if you have that luxury. For those Pittsburgians, Seattleites, or anyone else who doesn’t have access to regular sunshine you should probably be supplementing – and not just during your pregnancy, but all year round. Vitamin D is crucial for the immune system, as well as your mental health – it’s actually been called the “happiness vitamin”. But all vitamin Ds are not equal, Dr. Minkin says to look for a prenatal vitamin that contains the D3 form of vitamin D. This is the form we get from the sun and the form that’s most easily used by our bodies. Because vitamin D supplementation is one of those tricky ones that’s works really well (sometimes too well) for some and not so well for others, I recommend you have your levels checked regularly. This test is easy, covered by insurance, and any doctor can do it.
Possibly the most important nutrient you’ve never heard of, we need vitamin K just as much as vitamin D and calcium for bone building. Vitamin K regulates calcium by taking it out of our blood and putting it into our bones where it belongs – instead of soft tissue like arteries. Vitamin K also comes in a few different forms. The one you want to look for in your prenatal supplement is menaquinone-7 (MK-7) form of vitamin K2. This is the form that has clinically-proven bone-building properties and lasts the longest in the bloodstream . It’s also the most rare in the western diet. You can pretty much only get in large amounts by eating the fermented soy product natto and goose liver – two foods that are difficult to stomach when you’re not suffering with morning sickness and food aversions – so supplementing is probably the way to go.
EPA & DHA
EPA and DHA are two types of omega-3 fatty acids, or “essential fatty acids”, that come from fatty cold-water fish and some kinds of sea algae. DHA is , while EPA, is anti-inflammatory. Both omega-3s help regulate the hormonal process , which can be quite handy during pregnancy. The point of supplementing with fish oil during pregnancy is because a baby can take as much as 5g of DHA per day from the mother. If you’re not supplementing it can be extremely hard to recover these nutrient stores after you give birth. If your prenatal doesn’t include a high-quality omega-3 fish oil, I definitely recommend supplementing. My favorite brands are Green Pasture Blue Ice Royal or Original Nutritionals. I also recommend all pregnant women eat at least one serving of cooked, wild-caught fish like salmon or sardines per week.
WHAT ABOUT IRON?
Iron is one of the most widely recommended nutrients for pregnant women. But new research indicates pregnant women may not actually need to supplement with extra iron. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) there is not enough evidence to support iron supplementation in non-anemic pregnant women. That said, iron is still a very important nutrient as it helps carry oxygen to the muscles, the brain and the baby. The RDA for pregnant women is 27mg per day, and the richest food sources of heme iron – the kind of iron that’s most easily absorbed by the body – is animal protein and seafood. If you are a vegan, vegetarian you may need to supplement with iron, but I’d talk with your primary care provider to figure out the right dosage for you.
MY FAVORITE PRENATAL BRANDS
SmartyPants – these gummies contain everything on this list except calcium and iron. If you eat dairy and meat then you may not need to add these extra supplements, but I’d check with your doctor just to be safe. The best thing about these is that they taste like candy. You will have NO trouble remembering to take them and they’re great if you struggle with morning sickness or food aversions. I’m absolutely addicted to them and I’m not even trying to get pregnant!
Thorne Prenatal - This is a super high-quality supplement line. These prenatals contain L-methylfolate (which I think is the most important nutrient for pregnant women), calcium and iron, but no K2 or omega-3 fish oil.
Thorne D/K2 – this is a great supplement for almost everyone. There’s 600 servings in one bottle, so you can buy it and take it during times when you’re not getting much sun.
For more on nutrition and fitness based in tradition and backed by science, check out my blog at www.primalblondenutrition.com. My Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/theprimalblonde and Instagram : https://instagram.com/theprimalblonde/.