Pregnancy Superfoods For A Strong Immune System

  • Titilayo Ologun Master's degree, Bioinformatics, Teesside University, UK
  • Florence Sumner MBBS Medicine, University of East Anglia, UK
  • Regina Lopes Senior Nursing Assistant, Health and Social Care, The Open University

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Overview

The extraordinary journey of pregnancy is accompanied by significant physiological changes, so careful consideration of nutritional choices is necessary. In addition to being vital for the health during this time, a strong immune system also plays a significant role in preserving the health of the growing foetus. To maintain the immune system's tolerance to the developing foetus, immunological modifications take place spontaneously throughout pregnancy.1 During pregnancy, one may become more susceptible to infections and diseases because of these modifications; therefore, eating foods that enhance the immune system is quite important. 

This article explores the topic of pregnancy superfoods for a strong immune system, providing information on several nutrient-rich foods that can boost immunity and result in a healthy pregnancy.

Importance of superfoods during pregnancy

  • During pregnancy, it is advised to eat healthily to promote the normal development of the foetus and enhance the chances of delivery without complications. It also gives a good start into the well-being of newborn babies 
  • Eating habits have an impact on children’s development. For a robust immune system when pregnant, vitamin C is crucial. This vitamin is present in foods, including tomatoes, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, and prenatal vitamins.
  • A balanced diet helps reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, including diabetes during pregnancy, preterm labour, obesity-related difficulties, and high blood pressure. For pregnant individuals who are obese, have had weight reduction surgery, or have a history of diabetes, a healthy diet is important. Diet has a key role in the management of diabetes during pregnancy..
  • Eating a diet with the right amounts of different nutrients is important for a healthy pregnancy and good outcomes for both the baby and the parent. A healthy diet includes lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, fish, and oils that are good for you. Try to eat less fatty red meat and foods made from white flour. Also, avoid sugary foods, processed foods, and unhealthy fats.
  • Taking vitamins with the right nutrients, like folic acid, is suggested before and during pregnancy. Taking folic acid 3 months before you plan a pregnancy and continuing until you stop breastfeeding or for about 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth would be the recommendation. People who have had weight loss surgery and later become pregnant should take extra vitamins and be monitored closely before and during pregnancy.1 

The immune system during pregnancy

The developing foetus and the pregnant person’s immune system must carefully coexist throughout pregnancy. Although the immune system adapts to protect the developing baby, this can also leave the pregnant person more susceptible to illnesses. Therefore, it's important that the pregnant person takes proper nutrition so that both remain healthy.

The body undergoes a variety of physiological changes during pregnancy, including changes to the immune system. To prevent the pregnant person’s body from rejecting the growing embryo, the immune response is slightly reduced during pregnancy. Therefore, some may be more prone to infections and diseases. It is important to strengthen the immune system with a healthy diet that is both balanced and nutritious.

Pregnancy nutrients for immunity

  • Folic acid: take 400 micrograms of folic acid for 3 months preconception until the 12th week of pregnancy. For those with a higher risk for neural tube defects due to diabetes, epilepsy, BMI >30, sickle cell disease or taking certain medications, take 5 milligrams daily preconception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Calcium: during pregnancy, calcium is crucial for developing your baby's bones and teeth. If you're 18 or younger, aim for 1,300 milligrams daily; if you're 19 or older, 1,000 milligrams are needed. While dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt are good sources, you can find calcium in alternatives like broccoli, fortified foods, almonds, sardines, and leafy greens. Calcium supplements are also an option.
  • Vitamin C: this vitamin is vital for a strong immune system and healthy bones during pregnancy. If you're over 19, aim for 85 milligrams daily; if younger, 80 milligrams. You can get this from your prenatal vitamins and foods like citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, and tomatoes.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, aid in the development of the baby's brain and eyes. You can find omega-3 in foods such as fish, flaxseed, walnuts, spinach, cantaloupe and kidney beans.

https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy

FAQs

Which foods can boost your immune system while pregnant?

Foods that can help boost the immune system during pregnancy include

  • Citrus Fruits: Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and lemons are rich in vitamin C, which supports the immune system
  • Berries: Berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are packed with antioxidants that help protect cells from damage.
  • Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that contribute to a healthy immune system.
  • Yoghourt: Live and active cultures contain probiotics that support gut health and the immune system
  • Lean Proteins: Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and legumes are good sources of protein, zinc, and other nutrients that aid immune function
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, sunflower seeds, and other nuts and seeds offer healthy fats, vitamin E, and zinc
  • Garlic: Garlic contains compounds that have been shown to enhance the immune function
  • Whole grains: Whole grains like oats, quinoa, and brown rice provide fibre, vitamins, and minerals that support overall health.
  • https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/have-a-healthy-diet/

 Which foods should I avoid during pregnancy?

  • Unpasteurised Dairy Products: Avoid soft cheeses made from unpasteurised milk, like goat cheese or mould-ripened varieties such as brie and camembert, unless cooked until hot. This is to reduce the risk of infection from bacteria such as listeria.
  • Raw or undercooked meat: Don't consume meat that's not properly cooked, as this could also increase the risk of infection
  • Liver and Pâté: Stay away from liver and all types of pâté, including vegetarian options, as they may contain listeria
  • Game Meats: Avoid game meats like goose, partridge, or pheasant, as they may contain lead
  • Raw or Partially Cooked Eggs: Only consume eggs with the British Lion mark or from the Laid in Britain scheme. Duck, goose, or quail eggs should also be fully cooked. This is to reduce the risk of infections such as salmonella.
  • Certain fish: Stay away from swordfish, marlin and sharks as they may be high in mercury. Shellfish must be properly cooked to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Cold-smoked or Cured Fish: Avoid cold-smoked or cured fish like smoked salmon unless it's thoroughly cooked to reduce the risk of infection
  • Excess Caffeine: Limit caffeine intake to no more than 200 mg daily to avoid risks like low birth weight and miscarriage
  • Herbal teas: Some herbal teas may contain caffeine or herbs that are potentially risky during pregnancy. Check labels and keep herbal tea intake to 1-2 cups a day.
  • Alcohol: It's safe to completely avoid alcohol during pregnancy to prevent harm to your baby.

By avoiding these foods and substances, you'll help ensure a healthier pregnancy and better outcomes for both you and your baby. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/foods-to-avoid/

 Can I eat for two when pregnant?

Although you do need more nutrients during pregnancy, your daily energy demands only go up by roughly 300 calories throughout the second and third trimesters. 

Summary

The development of a healthy immune system is crucial for the health and vitality of both parent and child. Providing immune-boosting nutrients through a balanced diet is essential to ensuring the delicate balance between immune tolerance and foetal protection. To promote well-being and healthy pregnancy outcomes, a varied and balanced diet must be consumed, beginning in the preconception phase.

References

  1. Marshall NE, Abrams B, Barbour LA, Catalano P, Christian P, Friedman JE, et al. The importance of nutrition in pregnancy and lactation: lifelong consequences. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2022 May 1;226(5):607–32.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Titilayo Ologun

Master's degree, Bioinformatics, Teesside University

Titilayo is a versatile professional excelling as a Biochemist, Public Health Analyst, and Bioinformatician, driving innovation at the intersection of Science and Health. Her robust foundation encompasses profound expertise in scientific research methodologies, literature reviews, data analysis, interpretation, and the skill to communicate intricate scientific insights. Driven by an ardent commitment to data-driven research and policy advancement, she remains resolute in her mission to elevate healthcare standards through her interdisciplinary proficiency and unwavering pursuit of distinction. With a passion for knowledge-sharing, she brings a unique perspective to each piece.

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