Iron is one of those nutrients that pregnant women may want to focus on as part of a healthy diet. Iron is of course necessary for the developing fetus, but it is also essential in large amounts to meet the needs of an expanding blood supply. As blood volume increases, so too does the body’s demand for hemoglobin and healthy red blood cells. Iron’s primary functions in the body are hemoglobin production and the oxygenation of red blood cells. Eat iron rich foods for pregnancy, and if possible before becoming pregnant as well to increase nutrient stores and prevent low levels later in the second and third trimesters.
Protein Sources Are Great Iron Sources
Beef, chicken, clams, oysters, egg yolks and legumes are by far some of the best iron rich foods for pregnancy. A 3 ounce piece of sirloin steak or one-half cup of cooked kidney or navy beans contains 1.6 to 3 milligrams of iron. 6 oysters provide as much as 12 milligrams. All of these foods are also high in protein, which is also important for growth and development. Meat in particular is an excellent source of iron because the type of this mineral found in meat is more easily absorbed by the body than the iron found in beans, vegetables and grains.
Animal Product Alternatives
While beef, chicken and eggs are all great iron rich foods there are plenty of grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables that are good sources as well. In other words, you don’t have to eat a carnivore’s diet when you are pregnant. You do have to ensure that you are including certain foods in your diet, however.
One-half cup of spinach contains anywhere from 3 to 12 milligrams of iron. A cup of cooked oatmeal and one-half cup of beans or raisins contains about the same amount of iron as 3 ounces of beef. Soybeans, dark green leafy vegetables, seaweed, barley, green peas, black-strap molasses, dried fruit and raspberries are all great vegetarian and vegan iron rich foods for pregnant women.
Maximizing Iron Intake
Eating foods that are high in iron is a great way to help prevent a deficiency during pregnancy. There are also ways to maximize your body’s absorption of this mineral from food sources. Eat foods that are high in vitamin C when eating iron rich foods for pregnancy. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on your steamed spinach, have fresh berries with your oatmeal, enjoy freshly sliced tomato and avocado with your roasted sirloin.
While vitamin C improves iron absorption, calcium inhibits it. Save that calcium supplement for before bedtime. Plenty of calcium is just as important during pregnancy as plenty of iron. There is no reason to avoid calcium rich foods in favor of iron rich foods.
Eat plenty of healthy foods containing iron. Your doctor may still recommend an iron supplement during pregnancy as it can be difficult to get enough of this mineral from diet alone.
University of California San Francisco Medical Center
Murkoff, Heidi, Eisenberg, Arlene, and Hathaway, Sandee. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” (Workman Publishing, 2002).
Balch, Phyllis A. “Prescription for Nutritional Healing.” Fourth Edition (Penguin Books, 2006).