Food, Health

Exploring Nutrient-Rich And Low-Calorie Food Options For Meeting Pregnancy Nutritional Needs


A significant portion of pregnant individuals in the United States face the risk of inadequate intake of six crucial nutrients essential for a health pregnancy, including vitamin A, vitamin D, folate, calcium, iron and omega-3 fatty acids, solely from dietary sources.

Addressing this nutritional deficit while adhering to calorie recommendations and safety limits poses a considerable challenge. A recent study, featured in The Journal of Nutrition and conducted by researchers associated with the National Institute of Health’s Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program, aimed to identify low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods that could effectively supplement these vital nutrients.

To assess the nutrient intake of participants, the researchers compared the amounts of the six essential nutrients obtained from participants’ diets with established pregnancy nutrition recommendations. The goal was to identify additional foods that could fill the nutritional gaps in a manner similar to dietary supplements.

The findings revealed that among the various foods evaluated, none individually provided sufficient quantities of all six nutrients in a reasonable serving size to align with recommended nutrient intake during pregnancy. Raw seaweed emerged as a noteworthy contender, containing five key nutrients – vitamin A, folate, calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.

However, it required an impractical daily consumption of up to 7 cups to meet the recommended daily requirements. In contrast, twenty-one foods and beverages, including a 1.2-cup ready-to-drink nutritional shake, contained at least four key nutrients in reasonable serving sizes.

Nevertheless, the study highlighted challenges in meeting the recommended targets for vitamin D and iron through diet alone, suggesting a potential need for dietary supplements to address these specific nutrient gaps.

According to study author, Katherine Sauder, PhD, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, “This study emphasizes the importance of a balanced and varied diet during pregnancy, along with considering appropriate supplementation, to ensure the well-being of both the mother and the developing baby.”

In an efforts to assist pregnant individuals in enhancing their nutritional intake, the study identified several healthy, low-calorie food options that align with pregnancy nutrition requirements.

Examples of readily available foods include the following:

  • 2 cups of raw carrots for vitamin A
  • 6 cups of reduced-fat milk for vitamin D
  • 4 cups of edamame could provide the optimal amount of folic acid
  • 1 cup of a nutritional drink or shake for calcium
  • 9 cups of multigrain cereal for iron
  • 1 cups of canned chicken for omega-3 fatty acids

What the Study Included

The study involved a comprehensive examination of over 2,300 commonly consumed foods and beverages, focusing on those containing one or more of the six essential nutrients crucial during pregnancy. The assessed foods met the minimum nutrient requirements without exceeding 340 calories or surpassing the maximum limits for any other nutrient. The researchers then compared the diets of 2,450 pregnant participants from six ECHO research sites across the U.S. to established pregnancy nutrition recommendations, offering valuable insights into potential dietary adjustments.

The collaborative research effort was spearheaded by Dr. Sauder and Catherine Cohen, PhD, RD, from the University of Colorado Denver – Anschutz Medical Campus.