The Most Important Nutrients

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Harvard Medical School
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The Most Important Nutrients

Pregnancy Guide
Eating Right
The Most Important Nutrients
The Most Important Nutrients
Find out which nutrients your body needs most during pregnancy.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Most vitamins and several minerals play an important role in your baby's development and in your health during pregnancy. Here's a quick rundown of the most important nutrients needed before, during and after pregnancy for both mother and child, and their best food sources:


Function: Strengthens bone, teeth; helps blood clot; builds muscle and nerve response

Best sources: Milk, cheese, yogurt, leafy green vegetables, clams, oysters, almond, legume, tofu; softened bones of canned fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon


Function: Helps body use iron; aids energy metabolism

Best sources: Liver, shellfish, nuts, legumes and water

Folic Acid

Function: Needed to produce protein and blood; cell growth/division and function; helps with hemoglobin formation; DNA, RNA synthesis

Best sources: Liver, eggs, leafy green vegetables, yeast, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables and orange juice


Function:Needed for increased maternal basal metabolic rate

Best sources: Seafood and iodized salt


Function: Carries oxygen in blood, prevents anemia (in expectant mothers); increases resistance to infection

Best sources: Liver, meat, dried fruit, enriched and whole grains, legumes and green leafy vegetables


Function: Needed for nerve and muscle function; helps body process carbohydrates

Best sources: Legumes, whole-grain cereals, milk, meat and green vegetables


Function: Promotes healthy skin, nerves and digestion; helps the body use carbohydrates

Best sources: Meat, liver, poultry, fish, and whole-grain or enriched cereals


Function: Maintains proper muscle tone and fluid balance

Best sources: Potatoes, bananas, prune juice, yogurt and raisins


Function: Needed for fetal skeletal and tooth formation; increased maternal calcium and phosphorus metabolism

Best sources: Milk and milk products, meat, poultry, fish, whole-grain cereals and legumes

Riboflavin (B2)

Function: Helps body release energy to cells; promotes healthy skin and eyes

Best sources: Milk, whole-grain or enriched breads and cereals, liver, green leafy vegetables

Thiamine (B1)

Function: Helps body digest carbohydrates; needed for normal functioning of nervous system

Best sources: Whole-grain or enriched breads and cereals, fish, pork, poultry, lean meat and milk


Function: Needed to produce insulin, aids synthesis of protein, DNA and RNA

Best sources: Oysters, seafood, meat, liver, eggs, whole grains and wheat germ

Vitamin A

Function: Needed for cell development, tooth bud formation and bone growth

Best sources: Green leafy vegetables, orange-yellow vegetables like carrots, squash, whole milk

Vitamin B6

Function: Helps form red blood cells; essential for processing carbohydrates, lipids, fats; making DNA

Best sources: Meats, bananas, egg yolk, whole grains and legumes

Vitamin B12

Function: Needed in the formation of red blood cells and helps maintain nervous system

Best sources: Liver, meat, fish, poultry, milk. (this is only found in animal foods — vegetarians should take a supplement)

Vitamin C

Function: Speeds healing of wounds and bones; increases resistance to infection. Helps make collagen in connective tissue; builds strong cells; helps body use iron, calcium and folic acid

Best sources: Citrus fruits, broccoli, green pepper, strawberries, cabbage, tomatoes, cantaloupes and potatoes

Vitamin D

Function: Helps body use calcium and phosphorous; needed for strong bones and teeth

Best sources: Fortified milk, leafy green vegetables, egg yolk, fish oils, butter, liver and skin exposure to sunlight

Vitamin E

Function: Prevents anemia in premature infants; important as an antioxidant

Best sources: Vegetable oils, whole-grain cereals, wheat germ, green leafy vegetables


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Last updated May 20, 2013

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