Food With Iron For Pregnant

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Enjoy food with iron while you are pregnant and make sure that you get enough of it. In this blog post, we will discuss what iron is, what foods have it as well as some tips on how you can be sure to get enough of it into your diet.

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Food With Iron For Pregnant

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) stress that pregnant women eat a well-balanced diet and pay particular attention to the daily requirements for certain nutrients. Iron and folic acid are among the most important of these.

When you’re pregnant, your body needs twice the amount of iron as it normally does. That’s because iron is essential to the extra red blood cells your body will create for the baby. The red blood cells carry oxygen to your organs and tissues, as well as your fetus.

Iron is important throughout your pregnancy but even more crucial in the second and third trimesters. Since the body doesn’t actually produce iron, you need to get it from food and supplements.

 How to Get the Iron You Need to Prevent Anemia During Pregnancy

Iron Basics

Foods that are naturally high in iron can be very helpful in preventing anemia and therefore relieving the symptoms it can cause. Iron is found in food two forms— heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is the most efficiently used by your body and less likely to be affected by components that might otherwise reduce absorption.

Supplements range in terms of what form the iron is in. A benefit to getting as much of your daily iron needs from food as possible is that the food sources don’t typically come along with the potential for intestinal distress that some iron supplements can.

ACOG recommends that pregnant women have a daily intake of 27 milligrams (mg) of iron each day.

It can be difficult to get the recommended amount of iron via food alone. The University of California San Francisco Medical Center notes that cooking in cast iron can increase the iron in foods by 80%, and pairing non-heme iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can increase absorption.

In addition, some things can reduce iron intake, like a calcium supplement—so if you take a calcium supplement, take it separately from an iron-rich meal or snack.

Iron-Rich Foods

During pregnancy, you need 27 mg of iron each day. Incorporating the following foods into your diet is a good way to reach the daily goal.

  • Dark, leafy greens, such as spinach, collard greens, and kale: 3 mg per 1/2 cup cooked greens
  • Dried fruit, including apricots, prunes, raisins, and figs: 1 mg per 1/4 cup
  • Raspberries: 0.8 mg per cup
  • Sauerkraut: 2 mg per cup
  • Beets: 1 mg per cup
  • Brussels sprouts: 1 mg per cup
  • Chopped broccoli: 0.7 mg per cup
  • Diced potatoes: 1.2 mg per cup
  • Beans, peas, and lentils: 4 to 6 mg per cup
  • Eggs, especially the yolk: 1 mg per large egg
  • Blackstrap molasses: 3.6 mg per tablespoon
  • Meat, particularly red meat and liver, though pork, chicken, and lamb are good as well: 2 to 3 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Tuna: 1 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Oysters: 8 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Tofu: 3 mg per 1/2 cup
  • Fortified cereals, grains, and pasta: Check labels
  • Oatmeal: 2 mg per cup (cooked)
  • Whole wheat bread: 0.5 mg per slice

Tips

The easiest way to get more iron is to include at least one iron-rich food at each meal and snack. Do you eat a salad with iceberg lettuce? Consider switching to a base of baby spinach or mixed leafy greens and adding white beans on top. Need a pick-me-up snack in the afternoon? Think about beef jerky and a handful of raspberries.

Beans and lentils are an inexpensive way to add an iron boost to snacks and meals. Several brands are making crispy baked beans that can be snacked on like nuts, which can make it easier to include them in on-the-go snacks.

Adding a couple of prunes to your breakfast would be helpful as well. You could also sprinkle prunes or raisins on your oatmeal or add it to a trail mix. Eating bean burritos at least once a week is also a great idea—it’s cheap, easy, and good for you.

 Quick Tips for Healthy Eating During Pregnancy

Vegetarians

You can still have a healthy pregnancy without eating meat. Despite the fact that the body absorbs animal sources of iron better than plant sources, you do not have to eat meat to increase your iron intake. It is possible to follow a vegetarian diet and support a healthy pregnancy. It just takes some additional planning.

There are many vegetarian iron-rich foods. Be mindful of including one rich source of iron in each meal and snack. Foods containing wheat germ are also a good option and eating foods high in vitamin C (citrus, strawberries, bell peppers) will help increase the absorption of non-heme iron.

 You Can Still Have a Healthy Pregnancy Without Eating Meat

Meat

If you like to eat meat and want to add more of it to your diet, red meat will provide you with the most iron. You will need to ensure that it is cooked to a safe temperature. Eating undercooked animal products can increase your risk of dangerous foodborne pathogens that can lead to serious illness for both you and your baby.

Though meat is a great source of iron, variety is important, too, since different foods bring different nutrients to the table. For instance, lentils deliver fiber along with iron, while cooked spinach adds vitamins A and K.

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Iron-Rich Foods to Eat During Pregnancy

Kale salad
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If you have been diagnosed with low iron or iron deficiency anemia in your pregnancy, you are not alone. Due to the increased demands on a woman’s body and the increase in blood volume, iron deficiency anemia is a very common condition in pregnancy.

Learn what’s to come during your pregnancy with a personalized guide.

Wondering when to expect your baby’s first kick? Seeking shopping tips? Verywell Family is here to help. Get advice from experts and real parents on each step of your journey, spanning the weeks and months of your pregnancy.

Overview

Low iron may make you feel tired, have headaches, get dizzy, feel weak, or have shortness of breath. These are often things that a pregnant person may experience at some point in their pregnancy anyway, so all pregnant people have their iron levels tested regardless of symptoms.

Prenatal multivitamins provide a good boost of iron, but by eating iron-rich foods, you can help further prevent or combat anemia in pregnancy and postpartum.

Why You Need Iron

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) stress that pregnant women eat a well-balanced diet and pay particular attention to the daily requirements for certain nutrients. Iron and folic acid are among the most important of these.

When you’re pregnant, your body needs twice the amount of iron as it normally does. That’s because iron is essential to the extra red blood cells your body will create for the baby. The red blood cells carry oxygen to your organs and tissues, as well as your fetus.1 

Iron is important throughout your pregnancy but even more crucial in the second and third trimesters.1 Since the body doesn’t actually produce iron, you need to get it from food and supplements.

Iron Basics

Foods that are naturally high in iron can be very helpful in preventing anemia and therefore relieving the symptoms it can cause. Iron is found in food two forms— heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is the most efficiently used by your body and less likely to be affected by components that might otherwise reduce absorption.

Supplements range in terms of what form the iron is in. A benefit to getting as much of your daily iron needs from food as possible is that the food sources don’t typically come along with the potential for intestinal distress that some iron supplements can.1

ACOG recommends that pregnant women have a daily intake of 27 milligrams (mg) of iron each day.

It can be difficult to get the recommended amount of iron via food alone. The University of California San Francisco Medical Center notes that cooking in cast iron can increase the iron in foods by 80%, and pairing non-heme iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can increase absorption.

In addition, some things can reduce iron intake, like a calcium supplement—so if you take a calcium supplement, take it separately from an iron-rich meal or snack.

Iron-Rich Foods

During pregnancy, you need 27 mg of iron each day. Incorporating the following foods into your diet is a good way to reach the daily goal.2

  • Dark, leafy greens, such as spinach, collard greens, and kale: 3 mg per 1/2 cup cooked greens
  • Dried fruit, including apricots, prunes, raisins, and figs: 1 mg per 1/4 cup
  • Raspberries: 0.8 mg per cup
  • Sauerkraut: 2 mg per cup
  • Beets: 1 mg per cup
  • Brussels sprouts: 1 mg per cup
  • Chopped broccoli: 0.7 mg per cup
  • Diced potatoes: 1.2 mg per cup
  • Beans, peas, and lentils: 4 to 6 mg per cup
  • Eggs, especially the yolk: 1 mg per large egg
  • Blackstrap molasses: 3.6 mg per tablespoon
  • Meat, particularly red meat and liver, though pork, chicken, and lamb are good as well: 2 to 3 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Tuna: 1 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Oysters: 8 mg per 3-ounce serving
  • Tofu: 3 mg per 1/2 cup
  • Fortified cereals, grains, and pasta: Check labels
  • Oatmeal: 2 mg per cup (cooked)
  • Whole wheat bread: 0.5 mg per slice

Tips

The easiest way to get more iron is to include at least one iron-rich food at each meal and snack. Do you eat a salad with iceberg lettuce? Consider switching to a base of baby spinach or mixed leafy greens and adding white beans on top. Need a pick-me-up snack in the afternoon? Think about beef jerky and a handful of raspberries.

Beans and lentils are an inexpensive way to add an iron boost to snacks and meals. Several brands are making crispy baked beans that can be snacked on like nuts, which can make it easier to include them in on-the-go snacks.

Adding a couple of prunes to your breakfast would be helpful as well. You could also sprinkle prunes or raisins on your oatmeal or add it to a trail mix. Eating bean burritos at least once a week is also a great idea—it’s cheap, easy, and good for you.

Vegetarians

You can still have a healthy pregnancy without eating meat. Despite the fact that the body absorbs animal sources of iron better than plant sources, you do not have to eat meat to increase your iron intake. It is possible to follow a vegetarian diet and support a healthy pregnancy. It just takes some additional planning.

There are many vegetarian iron-rich foods. Be mindful of including one rich source of iron in each meal and snack. Foods containing wheat germ are also a good option and eating foods high in vitamin C (citrus, strawberries, bell peppers) will help increase the absorption of non-heme iron.

Meat

If you like to eat meat and want to add more of it to your diet, red meat will provide you with the most iron. You will need to ensure that it is cooked to a safe temperature. Eating undercooked animal products can increase your risk of dangerous foodborne pathogens that can lead to serious illness for both you and your baby.

Though meat is a great source of iron, variety is important, too, since different foods bring different nutrients to the table. For instance, lentils deliver fiber along with iron, while cooked spinach adds vitamins A and K.

Absorption 

You can also increase the amount of iron your body absorbs by eating iron-rich foods along with vitamin C. Think about snacking on fruits like oranges or adding tomatoes to your meals more often. However, you should avoid large amounts of calcium with high-iron foods or when taking iron supplements because it can decrease absorption.

Many foods you eat, like grains and cereals, may also be fortified with iron. Be sure to look for this on the nutrition labels when shopping.

Supplements

Your midwife or doctor will usually screen for anemia early in your pregnancy and again between 24 and 28 weeks. If you are anemic, you may be asked to take a supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamin. Or you may be asked to switch which type of prenatal vitamin you are taking.

Some supplements can make you feel constipated or your bowels feel sluggish. Not everyone responds the same way to supplements, either. This is certainly something to talk to your doctor or midwife about because you may need a different dosage or to change supplements. There is a variety of iron supplement forms, including some liquids, available.

Your practitioner can help you decide which supplement is best for you.

A Word From Verywell

As you progress through your pregnancy, think about ways to increase your iron intake that sound appealing and fit into meals and snacks you have often. You will feel better and can reduce your risk of anemia if you’re eating iron-rich foods regularly.

Upping your iron consumption will also help if you have already been diagnosed with anemia and need to increase your blood iron levels. If needed, ask your doctor or midwife for a referral to a registered dietitian. A simple one-on-one visit might be all that you need to get the tools to increase your iron intake via food.

Pregnancy: Nutrition

Congratulations! You are now eating for you and your baby. While there are 2 of you now, you only need to increase your calorie intake by 500 calories. This guide will help you choose a variety of healthy foods for you and your baby to get all the nutrients you need.

What foods should I eat?

You will need an additional 200 to 300 extra calories from nutrient-dense foods such as lean meats, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grain products. It will be important to carefully consider the foods you consume during your pregnancy. This is a time to eat more foods that are nutrient-dense, and fewer sweets and treats. Eat a variety of foods. Use the website www.choosemyplate.gov as a guide to choose the amounts of foods in each food group.

Daily guidelines for eating healthy during pregnancy

  • Calcium: Calcium is needed in the body to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium also allows the blood to clot normally, nerves to function properly, and the heart to beat normally. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day for pregnant and lactating (breastfeeding) women. Women 19 years or younger need 1,300 mg a day. Eat or drink 4 servings of dairy products or foods rich in calcium. Dairy products are the best source of calcium. Other sources of calcium are dark, leafy greens, fortified cereal, breads, fish, fortified orange juices, almonds and sesame seeds.
  • Folic acid: Folic acid is used to make the extra blood your body needs during pregnancy. ACOG and the March of Dimes recommend 400 micrograms (mcg) per day for pregnant women. This amount is included in your prenatal vitamins. The March of Dimes suggests that 70% of all neural tube defects can be avoided with appropriate folic acid intake. Some women are at an increased risk for having a baby with an open neural tube defect (including but not limited to women with a family history of spina bifida, women on anti-epileptic medication, etc.). ACOG recommends additional folic acid for women at an increased risk for neural tube defect. Your doctor can discuss this with you and in some instances, refer you for genetic counseling to discuss further. Foods rich in folic acid include lentils, kidney beans, green leafy vegetables (spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, and broccoli), citrus fruits, nuts and beans. Folic acid is also added as a supplement to certain foods such as fortified breads, cereal, pasta, rice, and flours.
  • Iron: Iron is an important part of red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the body. Iron will help you build resistance to stress and disease, as well as help you avoid tiredness, weakness, irritability, and depression. ACOG recommends you receive 27 total mg of iron a day between food and your prenatal vitamin. Good sources include whole grain products, lean beef and pork, dried fruit and beans, sardines and green leafy vegetables.
  • Vitamin A: ACOG recommends you receive 770 mcg of Vitamin A daily. Foods rich in Vitamin A are leafy green vegetables, deep yellow or orange vegetables (e.g., carrots or sweet potatoes), milk, and liver.
  • Daily recommendations: Include 2 to 3 servings of vegetables, 2 servings of fruits, at least 3 servings of whole grain bread, cereals, pasta, 2 to 3 servings of lean protein (e.g., meat, fish, and poultry).
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D works with calcium to help the baby’s bones and teeth develop. It also is essential for healthy skin and eyesight. All women, including those who are pregnant, need 600 international units of vitamin D a day. Good sources are milk fortified with vitamin D and fatty fish such as salmon. Exposure to sunlight also converts a chemical in the skin to vitamin D.
  • DHA: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), recommends pregnant and lactating women should aim for an average daily intake of at least 200 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) a day in addition to your prenatal vitamins. Prenatal vitamins, as well as DHA, can be purchased over-the-counter or with a prescription.
  • Protein: Protein is an important nutrient needed for growth and development. Protein is needed for energy and to build and repair different parts of your body, especially brain, muscle and blood. A pregnant woman needs additional protein for her baby’s growth. Each person needs different amounts of protein depending on their size. A woman weighing 150 pounds needs 75 grams of protein every day. (To estimate, use your pre-pregnant weight and divide by 2.) Choose a variety of protein-rich foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. Use labels on packaged food to determine how many grams of protein each food provides.
  • Avoid alcohol: Alcohol has been linked with premature delivery and low birth weight babies, as well as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
  • Caffeine: It is recommended to limit your caffeine intake. You may choose: two 5-ounce cups of coffee, three 5-ounce cups of tea, or two 12-ounce glasses of caffeinated soda.
  • Eat salty foods in moderation. Salt causes your body to retain water and could lead to an elevation in your blood pressure.
  • Do not diet! Even if you are overweight, your pregnancy is not an acceptable time to lose weight. You or your baby could be missing essential nutrients for good growth.

Are there foods that are harmful to eat during pregnancy?

There are specific foods that you will want to avoid during your pregnancy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can have a negative effect on your immune system and put you at greater risk for contracting a foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has found that contracting the foodborne illness Listeria during pregnancy can cause premature delivery, miscarriage, and even fetal death. Pregnant women are 20 times more likely to contract Listeria.

  • You can decrease your chances of contracting Listeria by using caution with hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, or other deli meats (e.g., bologna), or fermented or dry sausages unless they are heated to an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot just before serving.
  • Avoid getting fluid from hot dog and lunch meat packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
  • Do not eat soft cheese such as feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, brie, Camembert, blue-veined, or panela (queso panela) unless it is labeled as made with pasteurized milk. Make sure the label says, “MADE WITH PASTEURIZED MILK.”
  • Pay attention to labels. Do not eat refrigerated pâté or meat spreads from a deli or meat counter or from the refrigerated section of a store. Foods that do not need refrigeration, like canned or shelf-stable pâté and meat spreads, are safe to eat. Refrigerate after opening.
  • Other foods that are more likely to cause foodborne illnesses include sushi, rare or undercooked meats and poultry (chicken), beef, raw eggs, Caesar dressing, and mayonnaise. For more information on Listeria, go to the CDC.

Another food of concern for pregnant women is fish. Although fish is a low-fat, healthful protein choice, there are certain fish that have elevated levels of methyl mercury or Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), a pollutant in the environment.

Consuming fish with high levels of methyl mercury during pregnancy has been associated with brain damage and developmental delay for babies.

  • Eating identified safe fish 1 time a week is safe for pregnant women.
  • The March of Dimes recommends pregnant women should avoid all raw and seared fish. Raw fish includes sushi and sashimi, undercooked finfish, and undercooked shellfish (such as undercooked oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops).
  • Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish even when cooked as they have higher levels of mercury.
  • The March of Dimes cautions against eating fish that may contain higher levels of PCBs. Fish in this category include bluefish, bass, freshwater salmon, pike, trout, and walleye.

For more information on safe fish, go to the CDC or the March of Dimes.

How much weight should I gain?

Gaining the right amount of weight during pregnancy by eating a balanced diet is a good sign that your baby is getting all of the nutrients he or she needs and is growing at a healthy rate.

Weight gain should be slow and gradual. In general, you should gain about 2 to 4 pounds during your first 3 months of pregnancy and 1 pound a week for the remainder of the pregnancy. A woman of average weight before pregnancy can expect to gain 15 to 35 pounds during the pregnancy. You may need to gain more or less depending on whether you are underweight or overweight when you get pregnant. Recommendations also differ if you are carrying more than 1 baby.

Where does all the weight go?

  • Baby, 6-8 pounds
  • Placenta, 2-3 pounds
  • Amniotic fluid, 2-3 pounds
  • Breast tissue, 0-3 pounds
  • Blood supply, 3-4 pounds
  • Fat stores for delivery and breastfeeding (remainder of weight)
  • Uterus increase, 2-5 pounds

TOTAL: 15 -35 pounds

What if I am gaining too much weight?

Try to get your weight back on track. Don’t consider losing weight or stopping weight gain altogether. You should try to slow your weight gain to recommended amounts, depending on your trimester. During the first trimester, you should gain 2 to 4 pounds total; during the second and third trimester, you should gain 1 pound per week. Consider trying these diet changes to gain weight more slowly:

  • Eat the appropriate portion size and avoid second helpings.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products.
  • Exercise; consider walking or swimming on most if not all days.
  • Use low-fat cooking methods.
  • Limit sweets and high-calorie snacks.
  • Limit sweet and sugary drinks.

What if I am not gaining enough weight?

Every woman is different and not everyone will gain at the same rate. You should talk to your doctor if you are concerned that you are not gaining enough. Weight gain can be hindered by nausea and morning sickness. Excessive vomiting can be a symptom of hyperemesis gravidarum, which you should discuss with your doctor. Consider trying these diet changes to gain weight within appropriate ranges:

  • Eat more frequently. Try eating 5 to 6 times per day.
  • Choose nutrient and calorically dense foods such as dried fruit, nuts, crackers with peanut butter, and ice cream.
  • Add a little extra cheese, honey, margarine, or sugar to the foods you are eating.

What can I eat if I am not feeling well?

Pregnancy symptoms vary. Some women may have difficulty with morning sickness, diarrhea, or constipation. Here are a few suggestions on how to deal with these symptoms.

  • Morning sickness: For morning sickness, try eating crackers, cereal, or pretzels before you get out of bed. Eat small meals more frequently throughout the day. Avoid fatty, fried foods.
  • Constipation: Increase your fiber intake by eating high fiber cereal and fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, make sure you are drinking plenty of water—at least 10-12 glasses per day.
  • Diarrhea: Increase your intake of foods containing pectin and gum fiber to help absorb excess water. Good choices include applesauce, bananas, white rice, oatmeal, and refined wheat bread.
  • Heartburn: Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day, eat slowly and chew thoroughly, avoid spicy or rich foods, and caffeine. Do not drink a lot of fluids with your meal, drink fluids in between meals. Try not to lie down after eating a meal, and keep your head elevated when lying down.

Are cravings normal?

Many women will have food cravings during pregnancy, but there are others who do not. If you have food cravings, it’s okay to indulge as long as it fits into a healthy diet and does not occur too often.

If you are craving non-food items such as ice, laundry detergent, dirt, clay, ashes, or paint chips, you may have a condition known as pica. You should discuss this with your doctor immediately. Eating non-food items can be harmful to you and your baby and may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency such as iron deficiency.

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