When you’re pregnant, the nutrients you consume are more than fuel—they’re the building blocks for a whole new person. “Babies are built from food,” says Alan Greene, MD, founder of DrGreene.com. “When you look at your baby, you have to understand that everything you see comes from the food you’ve eaten.”
As new studies are released and exotic foods continue entering the American diet, it can be tricky for pregnant customers to navigate their nutritional needs. That’s where retailers come in. By offering helpful information, you can become a valuable resource. Here, we round up the latest nutritional advice and provide marketing tips to make reaching this unique demographic easy. Foods marked with an asterisk are especially important to purchase organic, to avoid high pesticide levels. Here’s how to take care of your pregnant customers now, for lasting relationships down the road.
- and polyunsaturated fats
“Avocados are a great source of healthy fats, and one of the few fat sources that also contain fiber,” says Willow Jarosh, RD, cofounder of C&J Nutrition in New York City, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. “They’re also versatile—you can substitute avocado for mayonnaise or use as a garnish on soups.” Because constipation can be an issue during pregnancy, getting adequate fiber is especially important. Avocados are a great choice because they also act as “nutrient boosters” by helping the body absorb other fat-soluble nutrients such as beta-carotene, a carotenoid that has a higher recommended daily allowance for women who are pregnant or nursing, Jarosh says.
Surprisingly, a half cup of dried red beans offers the same antioxidant level as a full cup of wild blueberries, says Rachel Abrams, MD, founder of the Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine and Chi Center in Santa Cruz, Calif. Expectant moms should also choose beans for their high zinc levels, which support a healthy immune system. Pregnancy can tax the immune system, making moms-to-be more susceptible to colds and flu as well as auto-immune diseases, Abrams says.
“Berries are high in polyphenols and other antioxidants, help reduce allergies and are easy to eat when other foods don’t taste good, especially in the first trimester,” Greene says.
- Essential fatty acids
“EFAs that fish provide are critical for the healthy brain development of the fetus,” says Abrams, “but this category is trickier both for environmental and health reasons.” (See “Tips for Serving Pregnant Customers,” at right.) Fish also provides an excellent source of lean protein, and the omega-3s and omega-6s it offers are among the healthiest fats, Abrams says.
The proteins in hemp closely resemble the proteins in our bloodstream, Abrams says. These proteins, globulin and albumin, are used by the body in immune cells, enzymes and antibodies. Abrams suggests using hemp powder in smoothies, along with other superfoods like berries and yogurt, as a way to get condensed nutrition without taking pills, which can make pregnant women nauseous.
Another excellent choice, especially for EFA content, is chia seeds. “The seeds are extremely high in omega-3s,” says Greene, “and can be added to cereal and baked goods.” These healthy fats are also linked to fetal brain development.
Orange vegetables *
- Vitamin A
“Sweet potatoes, pumpkin and butternut squash are solid, grounding, comfort food, which is what pregnant women need,” says Abrams. Potatoes have a particularly high pesticide load, and should always be eaten organic, Greene says.
Leafy green vegetables
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
“Vegetables like spinach and chard offer critically important nutrients during pregnancy,” Jarosh says. Adds Greene: “Folate needs during pregnancy go up more than any other nutrient, and folate is found primarily in green leafy vegetables.” Insufficient levels of folate prevent abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord during fetal development, Greene says.
This ancient food from the Andes is a nutritional powerhouse, with the highest protein content of any grain. “This is a great way to get protein and fiber into the diet,” says Jarosh, “and it’s also easy to cook and very versatile.” She suggests using quinoa to make pilafs, sprinkling it on salads and even using it as a breakfast cereal topped with fruit.
Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, including lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. In addition, its magnesium content has a positive impact on blood-sugar levels, and may help women avoid both gestational diabetes and elevated blood pressure during pregnancy, Jarosh says.
“Think of healthy fats as condiments, not the main star of the meal,” Jarosh cautions. “Don’t eat a cup of walnuts, but use them to enhance other foods.” The Food and Drug Administration’s health claim for nuts suggests that just 1.5 ounces per day can have a positive impact on cholesterol levels.
“Yogurt can be added to nutrition-packed smoothies,” says Abrams. “The probiotics in cultured dairy products aid digestion and support the immune system.” Remember to buy organic products, Greene says. “The antibiotics and hormones in conventional [dairy] products are not what you want to be feeding your baby.”
Tips for serving pregnant customers
Fish: What should you recommend? Recent Food and Drug Administration tests revealed that the average mercury in canned tuna was 35 times greater than in canned salmon. And species at the top of the food chain like swordfish, shark and wide mouth bass contain much higher levels of mercury and PCBs, according to the sustainable seafood advisory list from Seafood Watch.
Highlight small fish like sardines and anchovies as healthy options. Farmed freshwater fish, such as trout, tilapia and catfish, are also a good choice for their lower levels of mercury and other contaminants. “In terms of when to eat fish during pregnancy,” says Greene, “it’s really in the second and third trimesters that EFAs are most important to the fetus, when nutrients are actively pumped across the placenta. Most kids are not getting enough during pregnancy, and that can cause real health problems, including the increase in allergies.” Studies suggest that low levels of EFAs during pregnancy can have an effect on both brain development and later behavioral issues, and even increase risk of preterm birth.
Share dietary information. “Every retailer should have a bulleted top 10 list, which tells where to find the items and includes a few recipes,” says Alan Greene, MD.
“There are lots of opportunities for the retailer to engage pregnant shoppers,” says Jeff Weidauer, vice president of marketing for Vestcom, a retailing consulting firm based in Little Rock, Ark. “First and foremost is at the shelf edge, where you can point out foods that are good sources of the nutrients they need.”
Weidauer also suggests offering cooking classes utilizing these top foods, posting additional information on your store’s website and providing special programs for pregnant shoppers, with coupons and discounts. “It’s a great way for a retailer to reach out to somebody who could become a loyal customer in the future, and really make a connection with that new mom because you helped her through that difficult time,” he says. –M.C.
Make sure your pregnant customers are getting enough of the following five critical nutrients, advises Willow Jarosh, RD, cofounder of C&J Nutrition, with locations in New York City, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Here’s what she recommends and why.
CALCIUM is important for developing strong bones and teeth for mother and child as well as maintaining normal muscle contraction, blood clotting and heart rhythm. Though calcium needs don’t increase while pregnant, most women only get 75 percent of what they need. This can be especially critical during pregnancy as the growing baby may leech the calcium it needs from the mother’s bones.
VITAMIN D is needed for both mother and baby so they can absorb calcium. Though Vitamin D is made in your skin cells through exposure to ultraviolet light, research shows most people living in northern latitudes (anywhere above Atlanta) don’t make enough throughout the year to meet suggested recommendations.
IRON is needed to produce red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout the body. During pregnancy, iron needs increase because more blood is produced. After birth, a baby relies on iron stored in utero to supply its first few months.
PROTEIN contains amino acids, which are essential building blocks for human tissue. Adequate protein helps maximize fetal brain development, particularly in the last trimester. It also protects against pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and poor placental function.
FOLIC ACID is a B vitamin involved in fetal cell division. Getting enough folic acid during your first trimester is extremely important for preventing neural tube defects— birth defects that create an opening in the spinal cord or brain. Later in pregnancy, folic acid is important for the formation of red blood cells for both mother and child. –Kelsey Blackwell
Mitchell Clute is a Ft. Collins, Colo.-based freelance writer and father of three who is intimately familiar with the dietary needs of expectant mothers.
*Foods especially important to purchase organic, to avoid high pesticide levels.
To see more articles about guiding your pregnant shoppers to the right foods, go to naturalfoodsmerchandiser.com/pregnancy.