Are you ready to prepare for pregnancy? Ah yes, that’s why you’re here. Now, you need to know that it’s important to create a healthy environment for your future baby to grow.
Think about what you eat throughout your day. Sweets and a lot of caffeine to keep you going? You may need to rethink what kinds of food you consume.
Nutrition plays a crucial role when you prepare for pregnancy. Proper nutrition helps improve your chances of conceiving naturally and achieving a healthy BMI that’s neither too high nor too low.
The preconception period is often defined as 3 months before conception, possibly because this is the average time to conception for fertile couples. Essential dietary requirements during this period include Iodine, Iron, and Folic Acid.
Iodine is prescribed in the US for pregnant women. It improves a baby’s intelligence. Seaweeds (such as kelp, nori, kombu, and wakame) are one of the best food sources of iodine. Other good sources include fish and other seafood, as well as eggs. Dairy products contain iodine. However, the amount of iodine in dairy products varies by whether the cows received iodine feed supplements.
Iodine Food Sources
|Food Sources||Micrograms (mcg)
|Seaweed, nori, dried, 10 g||232||155|
|Bread, whole-wheat, made with iodate dough conditioner, 1 slice||198||132|
|Bread, white, enriched, made with iodate dough conditioner, 1 slice||185||123|
|Cod, baked, 3 ounces||158||106|
|Yogurt, Greek, plain, non-fat, 1 cup||116||77|
|Oysters, cooked, 3 ounces||93||62|
|Milk, non-fat, 1 cup||85||57|
|Iodized table salt, 1.5 g (approx. 1⁄4 teaspoon)||76||51|
|Fish sticks, cooked, 3 ounces||58||39|
|Pasta, enriched, boiled in water with iodized salt, 1 cup||36||24|
|Egg, hard-boiled, 1 large||26||17|
|Ice cream, chocolate, 1⁄2 cup||21||14|
|Liver, beef, cooked, 3 ounces||14||9|
|Cheese, cheddar, 1 ounce||14||9|
|Shrimp, cooked, 3 ounces||13||9|
|Tuna, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces||7||5|
|Soy beverage, 1 cup||7||5|
|Fruit cocktail in light syrup, canned, 1⁄2 cup||6||4|
|Beef, chuck, roasted, 3 ounces||3||2|
|Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces||2||1|
|Almond beverage, 1 cup||2||1|
|Apple juice, 1 cup||1||1|
|Bread, whole-wheat, made without iodate dough conditioner, 1 slice||1||1|
|Bread, white, enriched, made without iodate dough conditioner, 1 slice||1||1|
|Raisin bran cereal, 1 cup||1||1|
|Raisin bran cereal, 1 cup||1||1|
|Rice, brown, cooked, 1⁄2 cup||1||1|
|Corn, canned, 1⁄2 cup||1||1|
|Sea salt, non-iodized, 1.5 g (approx. 1⁄4 teaspoon)||<1||<1|
|Broccoli, boiled, 1⁄2 cup||0||0|
|Banana, 1 medium||0||0|
|Lima beans, mature, boiled, 1⁄2 cup||0||0|
|Green peas, frozen, boiled, 1⁄2 cup||0||0|
|Pasta, enriched, boiled in water without iodized salt, 1 cup||0||0|
*DV = Daily Value. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developed DVs to help consumers compare the nutrient contents of foods and dietary supplements within the context of a total diet. The DV for iodine is 150 mcg for adults and children aged 4 years and older. FDA does not require food labels to list iodine content unless iodine has been added to the food. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered high sources of a nutrient, but foods providing lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.
(Reference: NIH Office of Dietary Supplements).
Iron is another essential part of the pre-pregnancy diet plan. Recommended dietary allowance for average non-pregnant women 19-50 years old, is 18 mg per day, and for the 14- 18 age group, it is 15 mg per day.
There are 2 forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. The richest source of heme iron in the diet is lean meat and seafood, whereas non-heme sources of iron include nuts, beans, vegetables, and fortified grain products.
Half of the dietary iron in the United States comes from bread, cereal, and other grain products. In Canada and a few other countries, wheat and other flours are fortified with iron. Heme iron is more readily available inside the body than non-heme iron to be used by the cells.
However, intake of rich Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) food and these products increase their availability within the body. In addition to Ascorbic Acid, meat, poultry, and seafood can enhance non-heme iron absorption.
Moreover, it’s important to know that phytate present in grains, some cereals and legumes containing phytophenols and Calcium have the opposite effect. These food products decrease the availability and absorption of both heme and non-heme iron. However, a typical well-balanced mixed western diet overcomes this possibility.
Iron Food Sources
|Food Sources||Milligrams per serving||Percent DV*|
|Breakfast cereals, fortified with 100% of the DV for iron, 1 serving||18||100|
|Oysters, eastern, cooked with moist heat, 3 ounces||8||44|
|White beans, canned, 1 cup||8||44|
|Chocolate, dark, 45%–69% cacao solids, 3 ounces||7||39|
|Beef liver, pan-fried, 3 ounces||5||28|
|Lentils, boiled and drained, 1⁄2 cup||3||17|
|Spinach, boiled and drained, 1⁄2 cup||3||17|
|Tofu, firm, 1⁄2 cup||3||17|
|Kidney beans, canned, 1⁄2 cup||2||11|
|Sardines, Atlantic, canned in oil, drained solids with bone, 3 ounces||2||11|
|Chickpeas, boiled and drained, 1⁄2 cup||2||11|
|Tomatoes, canned, stewed, 1⁄2 cup||2||11|
|Beef, braised bottom round, trimmed to 1/8” fat, 3 ounces||2||11|
|Potato, baked, flesh and skin, 1 medium potato||2||11|
|Cashew nuts, oil roasted, 1 ounce (18 nuts)||2||11|
|Green peas, boiled, 1⁄2 cup||1||6|
|Chicken, roasted, meat and skin, 3 ounces||1||6|
|Rice, white, long-grain, enriched, parboiled, drained, 1⁄2 cup||1||6|
|Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice||1||6|
|Bread, white, 1 slice||1||6|
|Raisins, seedless, 1⁄4 cup||1||6|
|Spaghetti, whole wheat, cooked, 1 cup||1||6|
|Tuna, light, canned in water, 3 ounces||1||6|
|Turkey, roasted, breast meat and skin, 3 ounces||1||6|
|Nuts, pistachio, dry roasted, 1 ounce (49 nuts)||1||6|
|Broccoli, boiled and drained, 1⁄2 cup||1||6|
|Egg, hard-boiled, 1 large||1||6|
|Rice, brown, long or medium-grain, cooked, 1 cup||1||6|
|Cheese, cheddar, 1.5 ounces||0||0|
|Cantaloupe, diced, 1⁄2 cup||0||0|
|Mushrooms, white, sliced and stir-fried, 1⁄2 cup||0||0|
|Cheese, cottage, 2% milkfat, 1⁄2 cup||0||0|
|Milk, 1 cup||0||0|
* DV = Daily Value. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developed DVs to help consumers compare the nutrient contents of foods and dietary supplements within the context of a total diet.
The DV for iron is 18 mg for adults and children age 4 years and older. FDA requires food labels to list iron content. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered high sources of a nutrient, but foods providing lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.
Iron is also available in many dietary supplements. Multivitamin/multimineral supplements with iron, especially those designed for women, typically provide 18 mg iron (100% of the DV).
Folic Acid is also an essential prenatal micronutrient you need while you prepare for your pregnancy. Folic Acid is available in various multivitamins and prenatal supplements.
The typical dose range in adult supplements ranges from 680 to 1360 mcg DFE (400 to 800 mcg Folic acid). When taken with food, 85% of supplemental Folic Acid is available for absorption within the body. However, 100% of it is available to the body if taken without food.
Folate is naturally present in certain foods. So it’s beneficial to take these foods during the preconception period. These include dark green leafy vegetables, fruits and fruit juices, nuts, beans, peas, seafood, eggs, dairy products, meat, poultry, and grains. Good to know that Spinach, liver, asparagus, and brussels sprouts are among the foods with the highest folate levels.
Since November 1, 1998, the Canadian government has also required the addition of 150 mcg folic acid/100 g to many grains, including enriched pasta, cornmeal, and white flour.
Folic Acid Food Sources
|Food Sources||Micrograms (mcg) DFE
|Beef liver, braised, 3 ounces||215||54|
|Spinach, boiled, 1⁄2 cup||131||33|
|Black-eyed peas (cowpeas), boiled, 1⁄2 cup||105||26|
|Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV†||100||25|
|Rice, white, medium-grain, cooked, 1⁄2 cup†||90||22|
|Asparagus, boiled, 4 spears||89||22|
|Brussels sprouts, frozen, boiled, 1⁄2 cup||78||20|
|Spaghetti, cooked, enriched, 1⁄2 cup†||74||19|
|Lettuce, romaine, shredded, 1 cup||64||16|
|Avocado, raw, sliced, 1⁄2 cup||59||15|
|Spinach, raw, 1 cup||58||15|
|Broccoli, chopped, frozen, cooked, 1⁄2 cup||52||13|
|Mustard greens, chopped, frozen, boiled, 1⁄2 cup||52||13|
|Bread, white, 1 slice†||50||13|
|Green peas, frozen, boiled, 1⁄2 cup||47||12|
|Kidney beans, canned, 1⁄2 cup||46||12|
|Wheat germ, 2 tablespoons||40||10|
|Tomato juice, canned, 3⁄4 cup||36||9|
|Crab, Dungeness, 3 ounces||36||9|
|Orange juice, 3⁄4 cup||35||9|
|Turnip greens, frozen, boiled, 1⁄2 cup||32||8|
|Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce||27||7|
|Orange, fresh, 1 small||29||7|
|Papaya, raw, cubed, 1⁄2 cup||27||7|
|Banana, 1 medium||24||6|
|Yeast, baker’s, 1⁄4 teaspoon||23||6|
|Egg, whole, hard-boiled, 1 large||22||6|
|Cantaloupe, raw, cubed, 1⁄2 cup||17||4|
|Vegetarian baked beans, canned, 1⁄2 cup||15||4|
|Fish, halibut, cooked, 3 ounces||12||3|
|Milk, 1% fat, 1 cup||12||3|
|Ground beef, 85% lean, cooked, 3 ounces||7||2|
|Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces||3||1|
* DV = Daily Value. The FDA developed DVs to help consumers compare the nutrient contents of foods and dietary supplements within the context of a total diet. The DV for folate is 400 mcg DFE for adults and children aged 4 years and older, where mcg DFE = mcg naturally occurring folate + (1.7 x mcg folic acid). The labels must list folate content in mcg DFE per serving, and if folic Acid is added to the product, they must also list the amount of Folic Acid in mcg in parentheses. The FDA does not require food labels to list folate content unless folic Acid has been added to the food. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered high sources of a nutrient, but foods providing lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.
† Fortified with Folic Acid as part of the folate fortification program.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Antioxidant-rich Foods
Apart from these, you should take Omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidant-rich foods. Vitamin E, C, and green tea are rich in antioxidants. These antioxidants help treat modifiable causes of infertility, like PCOS and obesity. Omega-3s are present in several dietary supplement formulations, including fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil, and vegetarian products that contain algal oil. A typical fish oil supplement provides about 1,000 mg of fish oil.
Omega 3 Food Sources
- Flaxseed oil
- Chia seeds
- Baked Beans
- Ground Beef
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
Preconception Nutrition. American Pregnancy Association 2019
Written by: Sherina Paul Raj. MD, CRGS, RDMS (ObGyn)
Check out our blog – 6 Ways to Prepare for Pregnancy