A healthy pregnancy diet will promote your baby's growth and development. Understand which nutrients you need most and where to find them.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

There's no magic formula for a healthy pregnancy diet. In fact, during pregnancy the basic principles of healthy eating remain the same — get plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. However, a few nutrients in a pregnancy diet deserve special attention. Here's what tops the list.

Folate is a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects, serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. The synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods is known as folic acid. Folic acid supplementation has been shown to decrease the risk of premature birth.

How much you need: 400 to 800 micrograms a day of folate or folic acid before conception and throughout pregnancy

Good sources: Fortified cereals are great sources of folic acid. Leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and dried beans and peas are good sources of naturally occurring folate.

Food Serving size Folate or folic acid content
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28
Cereal 3/4 cup (15 to 60 g) ready-to-eat cereal 100 to 700 mcg — choose a cereal that's 50 to 100 percent fortified
Spinach 1/2 cup (95 g) boiled spinach 131 mcg
Beans 1/2 cup (89 g) boiled Great Northern beans 90 mcg
Asparagus 4 boiled spears (60 g) 89 mcg
Oranges 1 small orange (96 g) 29 mcg
Peanuts 1 ounce (28 g) dry roasted 27 mcg

In addition to making healthy food choices, taking a daily prenatal vitamin — ideally starting three months before conception — can help ensure you're getting enough of this essential nutrient. All women who might become pregnant should take a daily vitamin supplement containing folic acid.

You and your baby need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps your circulatory, muscular and nervous systems run normally.

How much you need: 1,000 milligrams a day; pregnant teenagers need 1,300 milligrams a day

Good sources: Dairy products are the best absorbed sources of calcium. Nondairy sources include broccoli and kale. Many fruit juices and breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium, too.

Food Serving size Calcium content
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28
Cereal 1 cup (20 to 60 g) calcium-fortified ready-to-eat cereal 100 to 1,000 mg
Juice 1 cup (237 mL) calcium-fortified orange juice 349 mg
Milk 1 cup (237 mL) skim milk 299 mg
Yogurt 6 oz. (170 g) low-fat fruit yogurt with low-calorie sweetener 258 mg
Cheese 1 oz. (28 g) part-skim mozzarella cheese 222 mg
Salmon 3 oz. (85 g) canned pink salmon with bones 181 mg
Spinach 1/2 cup (95 g) boiled spinach 123 mg

Vitamin D also helps build your baby's bones and teeth.

How much you need: 600 international units (IU) a day

Good sources: Fatty fish, such as salmon, is a great source of vitamin D. Other options include fortified milk and orange juice.

Food Serving size Vitamin D content
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28
Fish 3 oz. (85 g) cooked sockeye salmon 570 IU
Milk 1 cup (237 mL) skim milk with added vitamin D 115 IU
Juice 8 oz. (237 mL) calcium- and vitamin D-fortified orange juice 100 IU
Eggs 1 large hard-boiled egg (50 g) 44 IU

Protein is crucial for your baby's growth throughout pregnancy.

How much you need: 71 grams a day

Good sources: Lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs are great sources of protein. Other options include beans and peas, nuts, seeds and soy products.

Food Serving size Protein content
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28
Cottage cheese 1 cup (226 g) low-fat, 1% milk cottage cheese 28 g
Poultry 3 oz. (86 g) boneless, skinless grilled chicken breast 26 g
Fish 3 oz. (85 g) canned pink salmon with bones 17 g
Lentils 1/2 cup (99 g) boiled lentils 9 g
Milk 1 cup (237 mL) skim milk 8 g
Peanut butter 2 T (32 g) peanut butter 7 g
Eggs 1 large hard-boiled egg (50 g) 6 g

Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy, you need double the amount of iron that nonpregnant women need. Your body needs this iron to make more blood to supply oxygen to your baby.

If you don't have enough iron stores or get enough iron during pregnancy, you could develop iron deficiency anemia. You might become fatigued. Severe iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy also increases your risk of premature birth, having a low birth weight baby and postpartum depression.

How much you need: 27 milligrams a day

Good sources: Lean red meat, poultry and fish are good sources of iron. Other options include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, beans and vegetables.

Food Serving size Iron content
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28
Cereal 1/2 cup (40 g) quick oats fortified with iron 20 mg
Meat 3 oz. (85 g) roasted lean beef tenderloin 3 mg
Spinach 1/2 cup (90 g) boiled spinach 3 mg
Beans 1/2 cup (88.5 g) boiled kidney beans 2 mg
Poultry 3 oz. (85 g) roasted dark turkey 1 mg

Prenatal vitamins typically contain iron. In some cases, your health care provider might recommend a separate iron supplement.

The iron from animal products, such as meat, is most easily absorbed. To enhance the absorption of iron from plant sources and supplements, pair them with a food or drink high in vitamin C — such as orange juice, tomato juice or strawberries. If you take iron supplements with orange juice, avoid the calcium-fortified variety. Although calcium is an essential nutrient during pregnancy, calcium can decrease iron absorption.

Even if you eat a healthy diet, you can miss out on key nutrients. Taking a daily prenatal vitamin — ideally starting at least three months before conception — can help fill any gaps. Your health care provider might recommend special supplements if you follow a strict vegetarian diet or have a chronic health condition. If you're considering taking an herbal supplement during pregnancy, consult your health care provider first, as some herbal supplements might be harmful to your pregnancy.

Feb. 15, 2017