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  • Denise Scott

Nutrition for Ages and Stages

This new year, I will present information on nutrition for different ages and stages. I plan to focus each week on different aspects of feeding your infant, toddler, child, and teen, and progress chronologically. Some of these will be revised previous articles. My focus is future disease prevention starting early. We can change the health trajectory in this country and prevent many adult diseases through nutrition. This goal is not difficult to accomplish and is the sole purpose of my blog.

I will start with feeding your baby before birth.

A pregnant woman preparing a nutrient-rich meal.

Did you realize that good nutrition starts for your child before birth? Your diet during pregnancy can promote a good start for your baby and its microbiome. Flavors are passed to your baby through the amniotic fluid and can influence your infant's taste preferences. A rich and varied diet during pregnancy can promote a preference for healthy foods.

You need about 350 extra calories daily during the second trimester and 450 additional calories during the third trimester. Too little weight gain or too few calories can put your baby at risk for preterm delivery or being small for gestational age (SGA). Too much weight gain increases the risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and being large for gestational age (LGA).

A recent study demonstrated that mothers who consumed the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) during pregnancy had children who scored the lowest on standardized tests of verbal function compared to children of mothers who consumed minimal UPFs during pregnancy. These include sugar-sweetened beverages. The suggestion is that eating UPFs in high amounts (25% or more of total calories) during pregnancy can impact the development and function of the fetal brain.

Pregnant women need a balance of macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Listed below are these vital nutrients and some foods that contain each.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are the best fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. These are required for fetal brain development, especially DHA and EPA. Check with your doctor to see if a supplement is needed.

Fatty fish - salmon, tuna, trout, cod, shellfish

Iron needs increase during pregnancy to 27 milligrams (mg) daily. This mineral is crucial for fetal blood cells. Anemia in the mother increases the risk for an SGA baby.

Cooked spinach, lentils, beef, cashews, blackstrap molasses, fortified cereals

Iodine is critical for thyroid function for mom and baby. The recommendation during pregnancy is 220 micrograms.

Seaweed, fish and shellfish, iodized table salt, dairy and eggs

Folic acid helps to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. This should be taken by all women of child-bearing age before and during pregnancy. This is hard to get from foods and should be taken daily. The recommended dose before pregnancy is 400 micrograms and during pregnancy is 600 micrograms.

Calcium is vital for the developing skeleton and enzyme processes. If a mother does not get enough of this mineral, it will be taken from her bones, leading to osteoporosis later. 1000-2000 mg daily is needed.

Dairy, dark leafy greens, nuts, fish, legumes, soy, hard cheeses

—------- Gummy vitamins do not contain iron or calcium.-----------

Choline contributes to healthy brain development. The recommended dose is 450 mg/day.

Eggs, organ meat, beef, poultry, fish, shiitake mushrooms, soybeans, wheat germ, cruciferous vegetables

Zinc is a coenzyme in many reactions; the body does not store this, so it is needed daily. For pregnant women, the recommendation is 60 mg/day. Vegetarians and vegans are at risk for zinc deficiency.

Lentils, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, wild rice, beef, crab

Most vitamins and minerals are in the recommended dosages in your prenatal vitamins, but be sure to check the label and check with your physician.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy:

  • raw meat

  • undercooked poultry

  • deli meats

  • raw eggs

  • sushi/raw shellfish

  • unpasteurized dairy

  • imported soft cheeses (these may be from unpasteurized milk)

----- the above are due to bacterial infections -----

  • alcohol (no amount is considered safe for the fetus)

Foods to Limit During Pregnancy:

  • caffeine (less than 300 mg/day)

  • large ocean fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, canned white tuna, due to their mercury content

  • artificial sweeteners, especially saccharin

  • ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages

A diet rich in whole foods with whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy is essential for you and your developing baby. The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating pattern for pregnancy and beyond. Maintaining a nutrient-rich and varied diet during pregnancy helps establish a preference in children for healthy foods from the beginning.

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