Updated: Jun 5, 2019
I’ve partnered with the Produce for Better Health Foundation (which helps to encourage the consumption of fruit and vegetables in all forms around the world) for this post, but the opinions below are my own! The Produce for Better Health Foundation recently launched its new Have A Plant campaign, a movement to transform the way we think about and enjoy fruits and vegetables and take the struggle out of making these plants taste delicious!
We are so excited to announce the arrival of our second child in early December of this year!! Emma will turn three in August, and I am reasonably sure she understands that someone will be joining our family. When you ask her where the new baby is, she points to my stomach, and she's already labeled herself as "The Best Big Sister!"
Like many women experience, my first trimester brought a whole host of lovely experiences, from nausea to vomiting, but I'm finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and feel a bit like my old self again! It ironic that at a time when your diet (especially as a Registered Dietitian/Assistant Professor who teaches "Nutrition Through the Lifecycle") should be a focus, you are carrying saltines and ginger ale around in your purse for use at a moments notice! With that said, it is critically important to include the critical micronutrient, folate, during this first trimester. Even women who may become pregnant (Ages 14-50) need to consume folate in proper amounts. Men are not left out of the equation either, as several epidemiological studies have suggested that increased folate intakes may reduce the risk of certain cancers, including colorectal, lung, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, cervical, breast, ovarian, bladder and other cancers (1, 4).
The “B-complex” group of vitamins include folate, which is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. When it is added in during processing, such as the case with cereals, grains, bread or dietary supplements, it is termed ‘folic acid.’ During the first two to three weeks of pregnancy, the nervous system begins to develop, and it is during this time that folate/folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs). One such example of a neural tube defect you may have heard about is spina bifida, where the spinal cord and nerves don’t close properly and can sometimes be visible outside of the body.
½ cup of cooked broccoli has 52 mcg per serving (2)
The amount of folate needed as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for any women who has the possibility of conceiving is 0.4 milligrams (0.4mg) of folate/folic acid per day. Dietary supplements may also be labeled as 400 micrograms (400mcg). Once pregnant, this amount jumps to .6 milligrams (0.6mg) or 600 micrograms per day.
Folate can be found in many foods in its naturally occurring state, including vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, nuts, beans, peas, eggs, seafood, dairy products, meat and poultry (1). Dark green leafy vegetables are foods with some of the highest folate levels, such as spinach, asparagus, and brussels sprouts. Just one cup of boiled spinach provides 131 mcg per serving (2)! There's a wonderful table on the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements page that lists foods with folate and their amounts so you can make sure you’re getting adequate folate within your diet. Per the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans we should focus on nutrient-dense foods that contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other naturally occurring substances, that may have a positive impact on health (3). Besides fruits and vegetables, fortified foods, such as cereals and grains, can also help supplement the diet for specific nutrients that otherwise may not be consumed in recommended amounts as well.
Since many fruits and vegetables are a good source of folate, "Having a plant for two" could not be more important during pre-conception and pregnancy. Once pregnant, taking a prenatal vitamin is also essential to ensure other critical nutrient needs are met, including adequate levels of iron as blood volume increases throughout pregnancy.
I love to include a variety of vegetables and fruits in my pregnancy diet for my health and the health of my family. Make sure you check out the new website Fruitsandveggies.org which shares recipes, expert advice, videos and more! I've shared a recipe for Mahi-Mahi fish tacos with a side of asparagus below! The pre-prepared slaw mixes are a favorite of mine for convenience, and this recipe is incredibly quick and easy to whip together in about twenty minutes if you can marinate the fish the night before in under refrigeration.
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 lb. cod (or other flaky white fish)
1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
Freshly ground black pepper
8 corn tortillas
1 avocado, diced
Lime wedges, for serving
Sour cream if desired, for serving.
FOR THE CORN SLAW:
1/4 c. mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp. freshly chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. honey
2 c. shredded purple cabbage/slaw mix
1 c. corn kernels
1 jalapeño, minced
1. In a medium shallow bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice, paprika, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne.
2. Add white fish, tossing until evenly coated. Let marinate 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make slaw: In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, lime juice, cilantro, and honey. Stir in cabbage, corn, and jalapeño. Season with salt and pepper.
4. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat vegetable oil. Remove cod from marinade and season both sides of each filet with salt and pepper. Add fish flesh side-down. Cook until opaque and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Let rest 5 minutes before flaking with a fork.
5. Assemble tacos: Serve fish over grilled tortillas with corn slaw and avocado. Squeeze lime juice on top and garnish with sour cream.
Oven-Roasted asparagus (recipe adapted from All-Recipes.com)
10-12 stalks fresh or frozen asparagus
3 Tbsps. Olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 clove of garlic
1. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
2. Place the asparagus into a mixing bowl, and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat the spears, then sprinkle with garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange the asparagus onto a baking sheet in a single layer.
3. Bake in the preheated oven until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes depending on thickness. Sprinkle with lemon juice just before serving.
1. Carmel R. Folic acid. In: Shils M, Shike M, Ross A, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 11th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2005:470-81
2. Office of Dietary Supplements - Folate. (2018, October 4). Retrieved May 16, 2019, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/#en4
3. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. (2015) Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/
4. Bailey, L. B., Stover, P. J., McNulty, H., Fenech, M. F., Gregory, J. F., 3rd, Mills, J. L., … Raiten, D. J. (2015). Biomarkers of Nutrition for Development-Folate Review. The Journal of nutrition, 145(7), 1636S–1680S.