pregnancy

The Importance of Calcium and Vitamin D in Pregnancy

Danielle Omar, MS, RD Calcium and Bone Health Leave a Comment

When I was pregnant I ate peanut butter every single day. Sometimes twice. I would add it to my morning smoothie, slathered it on toast, stirred it into oatmeal, mixed it into my energy bars and of course, I ate it straight from the jar. After all of that PB consumption, I thought for sure my daughter’s first words would be peanut butter. They weren’t.

Crazy as it may be, she turns 8 this year and still doesn’t like peanut butter. In fact, she hates the stuff. Just the smell of it makes her cringe. It’s amazing how what we eat when we are pregnant can have little to no impact on our child’s taste preferences, but is so important in every other way!  

While pregnant, baby is relying 100% on mom to provide the nutrients needed to grow normally and thrive in utero. This is particularly important when it comes to Vitamin D and Calcium. Not only is mom’s intake during pregnancy vital but her status before getting pregnant is equally important. This is especially true for at-risk women, particularly those with dark skin, who live in northern regions (north of San Francisco and Virginia), as well as women who cover their skin for religious or cultural purposes.

I spoke with Elizabeth Ward, an expert in pregnancy nutrition and award-winning author of several books, including Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During & After Pregnancy, about why having appropriate levels of Vitamin D and Calcium before getting pregnant is so important. She says, “They work together to help baby’s bones, teeth, muscles, nerves, and heart to develop. Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb Calcium. Inadequate Vitamin D during pregnancy is linked to weaker bones and fractures in newborns, and that newborn blood levels of vitamin D are dependent on mom’s Vitamin D levels. “

Ward also noted that many expectant mothers do not understand the long-term effects that pregnancy can have on their own bone health. By not getting enough Calcium from foods or supplements, the mineral is taken from mom’s Calcium stores (in her own bones) to meet the extra demands of pregnancy. This process may put her at risk for osteoporosis later in life. 

Food Sources of Vitamin D and Calcium

The best way to get more Vitamin D and Calcium during pregnancy is to ask a few Dietitian moms. So that’s what I did.  

Elizabeth Ward stands by milk as the best way to get both Calcium and Vitamin D together, and points to the fact that Calcium and Vitamin D from dairy is well absorbed. Fortified eggs, such as Eggland’s Best, are also good sources of Vitamin D.

A surefire way to get a serving or two of milk in your diet is with a morning smoothie! Smoothies are great for getting in more calcium because you can add leafy greens like spinach and kale along with milk or yogurt, says Katie Serbinski, Dietitian, mom of two, and founder of www.MomtoMomNutrition.com.

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When dairy isn’t an option, you have to get a little more creative. Katie Cavuto, a Dietitian and Personal Chef, suggests adding seeds to your diet for added calcium. Both chia and sesame seeds contain about 80 mg of Calcium in just one tablespoon and are also high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. She suggests sprinkling sesame seeds onto salads and steamed veggies or using tahini (a sesame paste) as a base for salad dressings. Chia seed pudding is also a great snack for pregnant moms. This Banana Chia Pudding is made with milk and layered with yogurt, bumping up the Calcium content even more. 

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Other plant-based options include beverages fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D such as soy milk and orange juice. A great tip from Heather Goesch, a Dietitian who specializes in women’s health, is to remember to shake fortified beverages before drinking them because the calcium settles to the bottom.

And finally, don’t forget your seafood!  Oily fish like wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, perch, and rainbow trout (8-12 oz. / week) are safe to consume during pregnancy and are delicious natural sources of Calcium and Vitamin D. Get creative with canned salmon and add Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise for a twist on a traditional salad. Ellie Krieger’s Pasta Salad with Salmon, Peas, and Herbs looks amazing!

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While many Dietitians and health professionals recommend a “food first” approach when it comes to getting Calcium and Vitamin D, sometimes it’s just not enough when you’re eating for two. Cal-EZ is a great way to supplement your intake and is perfect during pregnancy, when taste preferences can be a little off. Cal-EZ mixes easily into smoothies and other beverages.  Because it has no flavor, Cal-EZ can be added easily to everyday foods. You can stir it into oatmeal or yogurt, fold it into mashed potatoes or pancake mix, or you can sprinkle it into your morning smoothie. You can even beat some Cal-EZ into your scrambled eggs!

Most importantly, supplementing with Cal-EZ before and during your pregnancy provides peace of mind. Just one serving contains 100% of the RDA for calcium and 167% of the RDA for Vitamin D.

Editor’s Note: Danielle Omar is an Integrative Dietitian, author, and expert consultant, lending her love of creating to some of the most highly regarded food features in television, radio, web, and print media. She’s a plant-food blogger, an expert consultant to food writers nationwide, and founder of Food Confidence where she inspires men and women to confidently transform their wellness goals into sustainable, healthy new lifestyles.

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