Nina Planck is the author of Real Food and Real Food For Mother And Baby

Washington - When I was pregnant for the first time, I read what I thought to be one of the greatest perspectives on eating during pregnancy. Nina Planck, author of Real Food and Real Food For Mother And Baby, wrote, "You have about forty weeks to build a baby."

Although playing the long game of pregnancy takes the pressure off each individual meal, there are undeniably certain nutrients that are most vital to a baby's healthy growth. It is recommended that a mother-to-be obtain extra of these during her pregnancy.

Essential nutrients during pregnancy:

1. Iron helps carry oxygen to every cell in the body, and helps strengthen the mother's blood that carries the baby's food to the placenta. In fact, pregnant women produce almost 50 percent more blood while pregnant, and iron is crucial to producing these healthy red blood cells. Iron supplements are not absorbed as easily as the iron in whole foods such as red meat, fish, poultry, clams, oysters and blackstrap molasses. Vitamin C is required for the absorption of iron, so include citrus fruits and tomatoes in your meals. Green vegetables such as spinach and kale provide a vegetarian form of iron that is less easily absorbed by the body.

2. Protein cannot be stored by the baby so is essential that it is ingested on a regular basis, ideally daily. Good sources of protein include salmon, chicken, eggs, beans, quinoa, nuts and seeds.

3. Calcium-rich foods are needed for bone and muscle growth, and to keep the baby's circulatory and nervous systems running optimally. Foods with calcium include salmon, leafy greens, almonds, chickpeas and beans.

4. B Vitamins, especially folic acid, help to build the spinal cord and brain. Folic acid can be found in leafy green vegetables, eggs, Brewer's yeast and avocados.

5. DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, is integral for brain development, especially in fetuses. Sixty percent of the brain is made from structural fat, the omega-3 fatty acids being the most essential. DHA comes from wild salmon and other fatty fish, and even pure fish oil supplements. If you are a vegetarian and choose not to eat fish or fish oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds have another omega-3 fat called ALA, 5 to 10 percent of which gets converted to DHA.

6. Other vitamins have important jobs. Vitamin A constructs organs such as the heart; vitamin C encourages tissue growth; vitamin D builds bones and boosts immune health; and vitamin E protects the baby's cells. All of these vitamins are particularly critical in the first trimester.

Foods you should avoid:

  • Deli meat that may have nitrates and bacteria.
  • Raw meat, fish or undercooked eggs.
  • Too much caffeine. You want to stay under 300 mg. of caffeine a day.
  • Too much processed sugar or too many artificial sweeteners.
  • Herbal supplements that have not been approved by your doctor.