What are superfoods?1
Most people have heard of, and understand, the term ‘superfood’. But in fact it has no official definition and is felt to be so misleading that the EU has banned its use on packaging.
The concern is that people might think they can continue eating unhealthy foods and undo the damage by eating so-called superfoods. What’s more, these foods are often tested in much higher concentrations than you would normally eat. So the extent of their benefits is unclear.
”Foods that are referred to as superfoods often have a higher content of nutrients per gram than other foods. For example, 20g of blueberries provide more of certain nutrients than 20g of strawberries.”
What is true is that some foods are more nutrient dense than others. And during pregnancy, eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods as part of a balanced diet is a good way to provide all the vitamins and minerals your baby needs for healthy development.
Beneficial nutrient-dense foods for pregnancy:
Dark, leafy vegetables, including
- Bok choy
- Seaweed – limit your intake to one portion per week to avoid getting too much iodine
These vegetables contain a variety of nutrients that support your baby’s development along with a healthy serving of fibre. Spinach is particularly rich in iron and folate, while broccoli is a surprisingly good source of calcium and vitamin D. Bok choy contains beneficial phytonutrients, and the iodine provided by seaweed supports your baby’s developing brain.
With a higher concentration of nutrients and energy content for their size than most fruits, berries are an ideal way to increase your nutrient intake2.
They are packed with antioxidants including ascorbic acid, otherwise known as vitamin C. As well as helping to fight infections and protect cells2, vitamin C is needed to make collagen, the main structural protein of your baby’s body. It also helps your body absorb iron, which is an important nutrient for your baby’s developing brain3.
Fish, especially oily fish including:
- Fresh tuna (tinned tuna isn’t classified as an oily fish)
Oily fish is an excellent source of many beneficial nutrients for you and your baby. As the name suggests, they are a good source of fats – Omega 3 in particular. These fatty acids support your baby’s developing brain4.
A lean protein, oily fish is also a good source of vitamin D, vitamin A and selenium and it’s recommended that you eat two portions per week. Take care not to eat more than this: it is one of the foods to limit during pregnancy, in this case due to potentially high mercury content which can damage your baby’s developing nervous system4.
If you are vegetarian, you can boost your Omega-3 intake by including walnuts, rapeseed and linseed oil in your pregnancy diet4.
Nutrient-dense carbohydrates, such as:
- Sweet potatoes
- Wholegrain cereals
Carbohydrates are affordable, versatile and provide the energy that fuels your baby’s development.
Bananas are a good source of energy as well as potassium and vitamin B6, which has been shown to help relieve nausea5.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes contain various nutrients, and sweet potatoes have the added benefit of keeping blood sugar levels more stable due to their slow-release properties. Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin A. White potatoes supply potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, iron, vitamin C and certain B-vitamins6.
Wholegrain cereals are a fibre-rich source of energy. Look for fortified varieties that provide folic acid to support your baby’s neural tube development, and iron for its benefits to your baby’s brain.
Dark, leafy veg provide many of the vitamins and minerals that support your baby’s development along with a healthy dose of fibre.
An excellent source of antioxidants, especially vitamin C, which is essential for your baby’s growth while helping to fight infection.
Boost your intake of brain-building Omega 3s with two portions per week of salmon, mackerel or sardines.
Boost your nutritional intake with the following meals and snacks:
- Grilled salmon with a spinach and watercress salad
- Broccoli and bok choy stir-fry with fish, chicken or pork
- A mixed fruit salad of blackberries, blueberries and banana slices
- Sardines on wholegrain toast
- Baked sweet potato with a healthy topping, such as hummus or cottage cheese
1. NHS UK. What are superfoods? [Online]. 2015. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/superfoods/Pages/what-are-superfoods.aspx [Accessed September 2016]
2. Manganaris GA et al. Berry antioxidants: small fruits providing large benefits. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2013.
3. Hallberg, Leif, Mats Brune, and Lena Rossander. The role of vitamin C in iron absorption. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research. Supplement= Internationale Zeitschrift fur Vitamin- und Ernahrungsforschung 1988;(30):103-108.
4. British Dietetic Association. Food Fact Sheet: Diet, behaviour and learning in children [Online]. 2016. Available at: www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/dietbehaviourlearningchildren.pdf [Accessed September 2016]
5. Jewell D, Young G. Interventions for nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy (Cochrane review). In: The Cochrane Library. Wiley, Chichester, UK.
6. Public Health England. McCance and Widdowson. The Composition of Foods. 7th summary edition. The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015.
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