Extra Vitamins and Minerals
Eating healthy means paying attention to how much you eat and how well you eat. As a woman, there are some vitamins and minerals that are important for your health and for a healthy pregnancy.
Health Canada recommends that all women of childbearing age take a multi‑vitamin with 0.4 milligrams (400 micrograms) of folic acid every day and to eat a diet rich in folate. “Folate” is one of the B vitamins found in foods. Food sources for folate include dark green vegetables, beans, lentils, orange juice and some grain products. Folic acid is the form of folate found in vitamin supplements.
A folic acid supplement, together with the amount of folate obtained by following Canada's Food Guide, are important for the healthy growth of an unborn baby's spine, brain and skull, especially during the first four weeks of pregnancy. Women who take a folic acid supplement and eat a diet rich in folate before becoming pregnant and during the first few weeks of pregnancy have a smaller chance of having a baby born with an open Neural Tube Defect (NTD). During pregnancy, some women may need more than 0.4 milligrams of folic acid ‑ ask your health care provider what the right amount is for you. Do not take a multivitamin or folic acid supplement with more than 1000 micrograms or 1 milligram of folic acid unless advised by your doctor or midwife.
For more information about folic acid, see the HealthLink BC file Folic Acid Test Overview.
Fish and Omega‑3 Fatty Acids
All women, including women who may be pregnant and especially pregnant women, should eat at least 150 grams (five ounces) of cooked fish each week. Fish contains Omega‑3 fats and other important nutrients. Aim to meet your body’s need for omega‑3 fats through food sources rather than fish oil supplements. Pregnant women should avoid taking cod liver oil due to potentially very high levels of vitamin A.
Some types of fish contain environmental contaminants like methyl mercury. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies and children in particular need to limit eating certain types of fish that are known to have higher levels of mercury. Mercury can damage a growing brain. It is important to know that the mercury levels vary amongst the different types of fish available in BC. Mercury cannot be removed or reduced by cleaning, preparing, or cooking fish.
For more information about eating for pregnancy, click here.
Fish and Mercury
Choose fish low in mercury, such as salmon, rainbow trout, Atlantic mackerel, sole or Dover sole. Do not have more than two servings per month of Bigeye (Ahi) tuna, shark, marlin or swordfish.
For more information, see the HealthLink BC file Healthy Eating: Choose Fish Low in Mercury.
Your body needs more iron at times of growth, at times when there are low levels of iron in the body (such as after bleeding), during pregnancy, and when a woman is breast‑feeding. Not enough iron can cause fatigue, reduced work capacity, stress on your heart, and lower ability to fight infections.
The source of all the body's iron is food, such as liver and other meat, eggs, fish, and leafy green vegetables. To help your body absorb iron from food better, include a source of vitamin C at your meals, like a glass of orange juice, cooked or raw broccoli or strawberries for dessert. Wait one to two hours after a meal to drink your coffee or tea. If you take a calcium supplement or calcium containing antacids, take those one to two hours after a meal.
Calcium and Vitamin D
You need calcium and vitamin D to maintain healthy bones and teeth, and to help better fight chronic diseases. Good food sources of calcium include dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese), fortified soy and rice beverages, fortified juices, and fish canned with the bones. Good food sources of vitamin D include milk, fortified soy and rice beverages, fortified juices, and fatty fish.
You may need more calcium and vitamin D than what you are eating. Your health care provider may recommend a calcium supplement along with foods that are extra high in calcium. New research shows that 600 IU of Vitamin D daily is recommended for women during pregnancy. Talk to your health care provider about your Vitamin D intake. If you do not eat these foods every day, discuss the use of a daily supplement with your health care provider or call 8‑1‑1 to speak to a registered dietitian.
For more information on calcium and vitamin D sources, see the HealthLink BC file Food Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D.
If properly planned, vegetarian diets can provide all the nutrients you need. You can use Canada’s Food Guide to help you eat healthy using the following substitutions:
- In the meat and meat alternatives group, substitute 75 g (2.5 oz) of meat with the following choices:
- ¾ cup (175 mL) cup cooked dried beans, peas, or lentils
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup (60 mL) nuts or seeds
- ¾ cup tofu (175 mL)
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) peanut or nut butter
- If you do not use milk, use soy beverage fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. One cup (250 mL) soy beverage equals one Food Guide serving. You can also use fortified soy cheese or soy yogurt. For more information about eating soy products during pregnancy, click here.
For more information about vegetarian eating, call 8‑1‑1 to speak to a registered dietitian, or see the Health Link BC file Vegetarian Diets: Are Vegetarian Diets Healthy?