1. Folate and Folic Acid
Why you need it: Folate and folic acid should be a priority in a healthy diet for women, especially since your intake years before pregnancy may affect your fertility. During early pregnancy, adequate intake of this nutrient reduces the risk of neural tube defects — serious birth defects of the spinal cord and the brain that often occur before a mother even knows she's pregnant.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare recommends that pregnant women take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid.
Where to find it: Legumes, bananas, beets, beans and dark leafy greens like spinach. Folic acid is also found in vitamins and fortified foods such as rice, wheat, bread and pasta.
Why you need it: Iron plays a crucial role in helping your red blood cells transport oxygen to the tissues in your body. During a woman's childbearing years, she may need to consume more iron to make up for what's lost during menstruation. And during a pregnancy, the amount of blood in a woman's body can increase by about 50 percent, boosting iron needs significantly.
It's key for women in this age group — especially those who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant — to add more iron to their diet to avoid blood-related health concerns such as anaemia. The Ministry of Health and Welfare recommends that pregnant women get at least 30 micrograms of iron every day — or 60 mg if there's a risk of anaemia.
Where to find it: Lentils, brown rice, meat, nuts, white beans, dark leafy greens and tofu.
Why you need it: Iodine helps to regulate thyroid hormones and supports a baby's brain development during pregnancy. But pregnant women are frequently advised to avoid iodine-rich foods such as fish and seafood.
"In that case, it's easy for a deficiency to occur," said Carolyn Alish, PhD, RD, a registered dietitian with Abbott. To get a healthy dose of iodine, Alish recommends using iodized table salt when cooking and avoiding processed foods.
Where to find it: Ocean-caught fish and shellfish; eggs; iodized salt and dairy products such as milk, cheese and curd.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Why you need it: Omega-3 fatty acids promote brain health at every stage of life and are a key part of a healthy diet for women. For pregnant and breastfeeding moms, it's critical to a child's cognitive development, too.
"For pregnant women, the third trimester is a time of important brain development where the need for omega-3s is the greatest," said Christina Sherry, PhD, RD, a research scientist in prenatal nutrition with Abbott.
Where to find it: Fatty fish, fortified milk, eggs, flaxseed, walnuts and soybeans.