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Nutritional Necessities (part 2) : Don’t Miss Your Minerals, Don’t Rule Out Sodium

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4. Don’t Miss Your Minerals

Minerals are also known as micronutrients. As with vitamins, your good health and your healthy pregnancy require an optimal supply. Minerals do not supply energy to the body directly, because they do not contain calories, but they do fulfill many vital functions. Minerals are part of a baby’s bones and teeth. Along with protein and certain vitamins, minerals help to produce blood cells and other body tissues. Minerals aid in numerous body functions that support a normal pregnancy.

Minerals are categorized as either major minerals or trace minerals. Though they are all important, trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than major minerals. Minerals are absorbed into your intestines and then are transported and stored in your body in various ways. Some minerals pass directly into your bloodstream. They are then transported to the cells, and the excess passes out of the body through the urine. Again, the rule of moderation is the best policy. Although all minerals are important during pregnancy and you should concentrate on getting enough of all of them, some deserve special attention.

Calcium

We already know how vital calcium is to strong bones and teeth. We also know that if your growing baby can’t get what she needs, the fetal development process will rob your calcium stores. You need enough calcium to protect your stores and for the development of the baby’s bones. Consuming enough calcium during pregnancy may also reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure and toxemia. Calcium requirements do not change throughout pregnancy, but many women still don’t consume enough. Regardless of whether you are pregnant, you should consume at least 1,000 mg per day (for women aged nineteen to fifty years). If you do not consume enough calcium-containing foods, such as dairy products, speak to your doctor about calcium supplements. Keep in mind that the upper limit for calcium is 2,500 mg per day.

Iron

As your blood volume increases during the time you are pregnant, your iron needs increase as well. Iron is essential for making hemoglobin, the component of blood that carries oxygen throughout the body and to the baby. Foods rich in vitamin C can help iron be absorbed into the blood. Many women start their pregnancies with less than optimal stores of iron, which can increase their risk of becoming anemic. Women who have iron deficiency anemia may be prescribed a higher dose of iron supplements. You should never increase your iron intake, especially through supplements, without first speaking with your doctor.

Zinc

Almost every cell in the body contains zinc, which is also part of over seventy different types of enzymes. Zinc is known as the second most abundant trace mineral in the human body. Your requirement for this mineral increases slightly during pregnancy from 8 to 11 mg (for women nineteen to fifty years). Zinc is needed for cell growth and brain development. Too much iron from supplements can inhibit the absorption of zinc.

Women who are having multiple babies have slightly higher recommended intakes for some vitamins and minerals. Your doctor can advise you as to your recommended nutritional intake.

5. Don’t Rule Out Sodium

Although sodium sometimes gets bad press, it is still a mineral that is essential to life and to good health—and that also means during pregnancy. Sodium has many important functions in the body, such as controlling the flow of fluids in and out of each cell, regulating blood pressure, transmitting nerve impulses, and helping your muscles relax (including the heart, which is a muscle.) Sodium, chloride, and potassium are known as electrolytes, compounds that transmit electrical currents through the body. As a result of these currents, nerve impulses can also be transmitted.

Recommended Amounts

The terms “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, yet they are two different things. Sodium is an element of table salt, which is technically known as “sodium chloride.” How much sodium is in table salt? A single teaspoon of salt contains 2,000 mg of sodium. Generally, articles and guidelines that warn of the dangers of eating too much salt are concerned with sodium only.

Fluid retention, or edema, is very normal during pregnancy and is not always the result of eating too much sodium. Instead, this condition is usually the result of increased estrogen production and a greater blood volume. Do not decrease your sodium intake to relieve edema. Restricting sodium too much can disrupt the body’s fluid balance. Extra fluids, especially water, can help relieve some edema. If you are experiencing excessive edema, see your doctor before making any dietary changes.

Although pregnant women should not decrease their sodium intake, excessive intake is not recommended either. During pregnancy, your body’s need for sodium increases. Most women get plenty of sodium in their regular diets, and it is almost never necessary to arrange for extra sodium. In fact, the typical American consumes 4,000 to 8,000 mg per day, well above daily recommended levels. The moderate goal for adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, is approximately 2,400 mg of sodium per day.

In healthy people, the kidneys help regulate the sodium level in the body. Sodium levels usually don’t become too high because most excess sodium is excreted from the body in urine and through perspiration. For example, when you eat foods that are high in salt, you probably urinate more frequently because the body is trying to rid itself of the extra sodium. Even though your sodium intake may vary from day to day, your body is very efficient at maintaining a proper balance.

Moderate Your Sodium Intake

While sodium is a very important mineral during pregnancy, be careful not to overdo it. For many people, consuming sodium in moderation means making some dietary and lifestyle changes. A strong preference for salty foods is easily acquired and usually starts at a young age. It is all in what your taste buds get used to. To help moderate the amount of sodium in your diet, begin to gradually decrease your salt intake, especially if you are accustomed to salty tastes. Eat plenty of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables as well as fresh foods as opposed to processed, canned, or prepared foods. If you eat frozen convenience foods often, look for products that have less than 800 mg sodium per serving. Choose lower sodium foods by paying attention to the nutrition facts panel on all packaged foods. Keep in mind that condiments such as ketchup, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, mustard, pickles, and olives can be high in sodium, so go easy on these.

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