Why nutrition matters even if you’re taking a prenatal vitamin

Prenatal vitamins are an important part of a balanced prenatal diet, but just like with other dietary supplements, sometimes it can be tempting to lean on them too hard for nutrition. Vitamins are supposed to be your nutritional safety net beneath your nutritional balancing act, not the high-wire itself.

Why prenatals are important

Prenatal vitamins are important because, even with a relatively balanced diet, there are certain nutrients that it can be hard to get enough of, and some of these become especially important during pregnancy. This is especially true of folate (found in prenatals as folic acid), which helps to prevent neural tube defects, and iron, which supports growth and helps ward off anemia.

What prenatals don’t do

Prenatal vitamins do some very important things in terms of supporting a fetus’s healthy growth. What they don’t do, though, is provide everything else people need food for. For example:

  • Vitamins and minerals that might not be in your prenatal vitamin, or that your prenatal vitamin might only have a partial daily value of. Vitamins and minerals that are a part of the same whole food may work together in a way that’s healthy and helps your body get the most out of them, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Fiber, which is an important part of a healthy diet, and is also important for that full, satisfied feeling at the end of a healthy meal.
  • Antioxidants, which can help keep the cells that make up your entire body healthy and strong.
  • Other compounds, like phytochemicals, that can help protect your body from a whole host of health problems and complications.
  • Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, because no matter what, you need to eat to live and sustain yourself and keep your energy up. This said, it’s best to get these proteins and carbs from healthier sources.

More than that, some nutrients interfere with each other. For instance, iron can get in the way of calcium absorption, so if you’re getting all of your nutrients at once from vitamins and supplements, you could end up getting less calcium than you think you are. Drinking a few glasses of milk later on throughout the day, though, can help offset the difference. Keeping a varied, healthy diet means that your body has the chance to absorb different nutrients in different ways and at different times, which can help prevent interference.

  • “Ch. 17: Nutrition During Pregnancy.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Apr 2015. Web.
  • “Guideline: Food Safety for Pregnant Women.” FDA. USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, HHS, Food and Drug Administration, Jan 18 2017. Web.
  • Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN. “Top Tips for Eating Right During Pregnancy.” EatRight. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2017. Web.
  • Amy Schweitzer. “Dietary Supplements During Pregnancy.” J Perinat Educ. 15(4):44-45. Web. Fall 2006.
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