Omega 3 Rich Foods and Pregnancy
We all know how important a good diet is in maintaining a healthy pregnancy. After all, your baby relies on you for the vitamins, nutrients, and calories he needs throughout his development. A good pregnancy diet is well-balanced and addresses you and your baby’s specific needs. Omega 3 rich foods are particularly essential. Omega 3 foods can provide your baby with the energy and materials necessary to good physical and mental growth. Omega-3s are also important for your own health and well-being during pregnancy.
What are Omega 3s?
Omega 3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are found in various foods, including fish, game, seeds, and plants. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are one of four types of fats you’re your body gets through your food. Though Omega 3s are called "fatty acids," they are actually very good for you and are a necessary component for both mental and physical health. Omega 3 fatty acids are often referred to as essential fatty acids. This is because they cannot be produced by your own body, but instead need to be gotten through essential foods.
Types of Omega 3s
There are three main types of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Your body can use all three of these Omega 3s to help perform different functions.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): EPA is found primarily in fish and fish oil.
- Docosahexanoic Acid (DHA): DHA is especially important to your body, and is also found primarily in fish.
- Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA): ALA is found mostly in seeds, vegetable oils, and leafy green vegetables. It is converted into EPA and then into DHA in your body.
Omega 3 During Pregnancy
In the past decade or so, the importance of Omega 3 during pregnancy has been acknowledged. It is now known that Omega 3 actually plays a large role in the development and growth of your baby when it is in your uterus. Omega 3 helps to:
- build the brain
- form the retinas
- develop the nervous system
Omega 3 is also necessary for your own pregnancy health and wellbeing. Omega 3 helps to:
- reduce your chances of developing preeclampsia
- reduce your risk for postpartum depression
- minimize the chance of preterm labor.
Omega 3 Deficiency During Pregnancy
Having an Omega 3 deficiency while you are pregnant can prove very harmful to you and your baby. Your baby takes Omega 3 from the foods that you eat. The nutrients cross the placenta, helping your baby to grow and develop. However, if your baby does not get enough Omega-3 from the food you eat, he will begin to take it from your own stores. Researchers believe that these stores may be located in the brain, which can result in a loss of up to 3% of your brain cells. Omega 3 deficiency during pregnancy is linked with:
- increased rates of postpartum depression
- increased chances of having a low birth weight baby
- increased chances of preterm labor or cesarean birth
The Future Benefits of Omega 3
Taking Omega 3 during pregnancy has also been proven to help you and your baby out in the long run. Recent studies were performed on infants who were exposed to adequate levels of Omega 3 while in the womb. These babies showed advanced attention spans and greater visual acuity than non-exposed children. Their development was also two months ahead of non-exposed children. Other Omega 3 benefits include:
- less chance of developmental or behavioral problems later on
- less incidence of breast and prostate cancer
When To Take Omega 3s
Your are probably wondering when is the best time to begin taking Omega 3 supplements or increase your natural intake of the fatty acid. Omega 3 is actually something that you should be including in your diet on a regular basis. Even when you are not pregnant, you should aim to get a fair bit of Omega 3 into your body.
During pregnancy, it is recommended that you get at least 250 mg of Omega 3 every day. However, Omega 3 oils are especially important during the final trimester. It is during this time that your baby uses Omega-3 to form approximately 70% of her brain system. She is also working on the rest of her nervous system.
Good Omega 3 Sources
Omega 3 is best found in fish and fish oil products. High levels of Omega 3 are found in:
- oily fish, like mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, salmon, and pilchards
- Omega 3 fish oil supplements
- fresh or frozen tuna
However, it is important to keep in mind that fish can be contaminated with mercury and PCBs, so make sure that you choose safe types of fish.
Omega 3 can also be found in non-aquatic sources. Good choices include:
- fortified foods, like eggs, bread, and juice
- dark green vegetables
- canola, sunflower, and flaxseed oils
Omega-3 supplements are available but check to make sure that your supplements are not made from fish livers. The liver can contain high amounts of retinol vitamin A, which has been linked to birth defects. Omega-3 supplements not derived from fish livers but rather from the body of the fish are less likely to contain this type of vitamin A. If you would prefer to err on the side of caution, you can always look for supplements that are made specifically for pregnant women.
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