Tuesday 26 October 2010 by Helen

After taking a not-so-serious look at 9 Old Wives Tales, and the seemingly random ways in which you might be able to predict whether you're due a baby boy or girl, I thought it was probably time to provide some facts. No more mythical tales, for now, instead, an all singing all dancing list of 4 Essential Prenatal Vitamins, with some advice on which foods contain the vitamins, recipes and a brief overview of the canned VS fresh debate. I have also thrown a little challenge in at end. (Firstly, a disclaimer -I'm providing general information, not specific medical advice.)

Vitamin A 

Why you need it? It helps to maintain healthy teeth, bones and soft tissue. Vitamin A is particularly important for women who are just about to give birth, as it helps with postpartum tissue repair.  By helping to support the respiratory, circulatory and central nervous system, it plays a vital role in fighting off infection. It also known to promote good vision, by producing pigments in the retina of the eye.

Where you find it? Pumpkin, which is in season at the moment! It’s also found in green and yellow vegetables, such as carrots, spinach, broccoli and potatoes, as well as in milk and eggs.

Vitamin A advice - A recipe rich in vitamin A is Roast Pumpkin. It's a satisfying dish that can be enjoyed as a side, or a main (with a separate dish of potatoes or veg perhaps on the side.)

Roast Pumpkin - Directions: Slice the pumpkin into quarters and then scrape out the seeds. You can then leave it in quarters or cut it into chunks. Drissle with olive oil before baking in a 200 degree oven for 60 minutes. If you wanted to add a bit more flavour, you could crush chilli and garlic, add a bit of oil, a pinch of salt and make a paste to rub into the pumpkin. Or, if short of time, you could throw a handful of herbs into the baking tray (fresh or dried.) Rosemary, for example, is a hardy herb that is likely to stay rooted in your herb garden for most of the year. Once the pumpkin is roasted, or towards the end of roasting (for the last 5 minutes or so), you could sprinkle with some grated cheese and toasted nuts. I like the contrast in textures of the gooey cheese and the crunchy nuts. (You could use pine nuts, almonds or pecans.)

Vitamin E

Why you need it? It plays a protective and restorative part in many of the body's functions. Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant, so it protects nutrients such as Vitamin A and C from damage by oxygen, it helps the body to resist infection.  It supports the heart, creating new red blood cells, strengthening capillary walls and dissolving blood clots.

Where you find it? Spinach, fortified cereals, wheatgerm, vegetable oil and nuts.

Vitamin E excursion - Why not go on a trip, or make it your challenge to find the best or should I say the most fortified cereal that actually tastes good. I read an interesting article today, advising on how you should go about choosing the best fortified cereal. Apparently pre-packaged cereal can be a nutrient packed start to the day. Some cereals are high in fibre, others are higher in iron, so the cereal you choose will depend upon the desired affect. A cereal such as Branflakes, which contains a lot of iron, may be a good start to the day if you're suffering from tiredness or if you're feeling weak (and dizzy) or even suffering from anemia.  If on the other hand you are having problems with constipation, then a bowl of All Bran or porridge might help loosen up bowel movements, as these cereals contain the higher amounts of fibre.  A lot of cereal contains wheat, and increasingly people seem to be wheat intolerant, Nature’s Path do a good range that caters for the wheat and gluten intolerant. Millet Rice is my personal favourite from that range, they are high in fibre, low in fat and salt, and naturally sweetened with fruit juice. ( Most importantly, they taste great.)

Vitamin C

Why you need it? It’s an antioxidant, commonly known for helping to build up the immune system.  In pregnant women it plays a vital role in structuring and building up the foetal membrane.  Everyone tends to associate Vitamin C with oranges, but actually 1 cup of strawberries contains 85mg, a much higher level than a single orange, which contains 69 mg.

Where you find it? Tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, peppers and citrus fruits.

Vitamin C - canned? I’ve been reading up on the fresh VS frozen or canned debate and it seems some studies have found that canned foods hold their own when it comes to nutrients. My instinct would be that fresh tomatoes would contain more nutrients, but apparently Vitamin C, A and Thiamine hold up well during canning. Analysis has shown that in some cases (pumpkins for example) Vitamin A levels are higher in the canned productHere's another recipe suggestion involving Vitamin A and C. You could make a ratatouille to accompany the pumpkin. Remember you can alternate the colour of the peppers, and choose fresh or tinned tomatoes, depending on which is available to you.

Vitamin D

Why you need it?

It helps with the absorption of calcium, vital for health teeth and bones. Vitamin D is also known as ‘The Sunshine Vitamin’, as the sun essentially triggers the body to begin manufacturing the vitamin. Apparently  10-15 minutes, three times a week should be adequate exposure. But, according to an article just a couple of months ago, Vitiman D deficiency in pregnant women in Britain is unacceptably high. So, it may be worth considering ways of upping your levels, and making sure you do get out in the sun (if it's out) at least once during the day.

Where you find it? Fatty Fish, milk, eggs and sunshine. So fishwise; mackerel, pilchards, salmon and sardines.

Vitamin D dilemma - The whole soak up the sun solution isn’t any good when the wind and rain sets in. Common during British summertime and standard during wintertime. By eating fish that’s high in omega 3, pilchards or sardines on toast for example, you'll increase your absorption. Cod Liver Oil supplements can also help, and might be an alternative if you’re not partial to oily fish, quite a rich food to digest if you have a delicate stomach.

Other vital vitamins -

Thiamin (B1) - helps to raise energy levels and regulate the nervous system. Iron is found in fortified cereal, eggs rice, pork and berries.

Folic Acid - can help prevent spina bifida and also supports and strengthens the placenta. Folic Acid found in citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, brocolli, beans nuts and seeds.

Iron - can help prevent low birth weight, premature delivery and anemia. Iron-rich foods should help with energy levels during pregnancy. Iron is found in beef, pork, dried beans, dried fruit and oatmeal.

Zinc - helps to produce enzymes and insuline, and can be found in red meats, poultry, beans, nuts, fortified cereals and wholegrains.

Some of the main food groups, such as fruit, meat and vegetables might be harder to measure, vitamin-wise. For example, it could be hard to decipher the exact amount of Vitamin E you ar recieve from your portion of spinach with toasted pine nuts, or how much Vitamin C there is in a handful of strawberries. There are charts you can get which will translate portions into vitamins, but I don't think it's worth becoming too obsessive about.

I am aware there has been conflicting advice on vitamin pills, and it is a little like the ‘should you drink when pregnant ’ debate. I’ve only mentioned a selection of vitamins, and you should get enough of these vitamins from simply eating the right nutrient-rich foods, so essentially, from a balanced diet. If you are concerned you're lacking in any areas and you're looking to take additional supplements, then it’s probably an idea to check with your doctor or nutritionist, just to ensure you’re getting the right dose.

Now for the challenge...

Devise or discover a recipe (any recipe, starter, main or dessert) that contains every single vitamin mentioned in this post. Or, at the very least the 4 main vitamins mentioned.

- Vitamin A,

- Vitamin E

- Vitamin C

- Vitamin D

- Thaimin (B1)

- Folic Acid

- Iron

- Zinc

Many foods contain more than one vitamin, so it's very do-able challenge! I look forward to seeing some delicious recipes posted in the comments section...


Photo credits: via Flickr - PinkSherbertPhotography, OakleyOriginals, Mwri, MagdaMontemor.

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Tags: advice |  Baby |  tips | 
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