What are key nutrients for would-be mums?
Q: I’m just wondering if there is anything I should be doing nutrition wise if I’m trying to conceive? Many thanks, Josephine.
A: Many women don’t find out that they are pregnant until a month or so into their pregnancy, and optimal nutrition is needed from the get go. So taking even better care of yourself in the lead up to a pregnancy can really help to ensure that both you and your baby are as healthy as possible.
It is vital that you understand that ALL vitamins and minerals are needed for optimal fertility and a healthy pregnancy, but there are a few nutrients that are extra important if you are planning a pregnancy.
Optimal levels of folate, a B group vitamin, are needed right from the beginning of a pregnancy. Adequate intake significantly reduces the risk of neural tube defects, and the neural tube is often formed by the time a woman finds out she is pregnant. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables,
citrus fruits, liver and legumes.
The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for folate during pregnancy is 150 per cent of the normal daily requirement for adults, and it can be difficult to meet these needs without a supplement. When planning a pregnancy, the Ministry of Health recommends taking a folic acid supplement for at least one month before you might become pregnant and throughout the first trimester to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
Your doctor can advise the optimal dose for you based on your current health picture (some people with pre-existing health conditions may require more than others, or a form that is slightly different in structure). It is also important to know that taking single nutrients is not always ideal as each nutrient feeds into particular biochemical pathways. Vitamin B12 and folate rely on each other, for example, so a health professional experienced in pre-conception care is best to guide you with what is right for you.
If a nutrient is not in the soil, it cannot be in the food. Unfortunately, New Zealand soils do not contain iodine so locally grown produce reflects this, and studies have shown evidence of iodine deficiency re-emerging in New Zealand. Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones, which control the basic activity of each cell in the body, including metabolism, growth and development.
Thyroid issues can affect fertility, so optimal iodine intake is important when trying to conceive. During pregnancy, iodine is needed for normal brain development in the foetus, and even subclinical hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency in the mother can lead to irreversible brain damage.
Iodine is found in seafood, seaweed and iodised salt. Not all salt is iodised, so it’s important to check the label. During pregnancy, you need about 1.5 times the amount of iodine an adult normally requires, and the Ministry of Health recommends taking an iodine supplement daily. You only need a small amount of iodine each day to meet your needs. If you have any preexisting thyroid conditions, it’s essential that you consult with your qualified medical professional before supplementing iodine.
❚ Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. See drlibby.com
A few nutrients are very important if you are planning a pregnancy.