Soon-to-be mums may be missing out on iron or other key nutrients that they need for a healthy baby and delivery. If not following Health Canada’s recommendations about what to eat during pregnancy, conditions such as iron deficiency anemia may be amplified.
A Statistics Canada survey of 1,854 women of child-bearing age (19 to 30), found over half did not eat according to dietary guidelines set by Health Canada. The survey found an alarming 57% of the women did not meet the specific recommendation to eat at least two servings of protein foods, such as lean meat, fish and eggs, each day. Perhaps not surprisingly, the same report noted some Canadians – especially women – have inadequate intakes of iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.[i]
Women require almost twice as much iron than normal during pregnancy (27 mg vs 18 mg iron a day) and to meet this significant increase, and prevent iron deficiency, it is necessary to eat a variety of iron-rich foods each day.
There are two types of dietary iron, known as heme and non-heme. Heme iron from meat (lean cuts of beef, pork, veal, lamb, poultry and seafood) is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron from plant-based sources (legumes, nuts, seeds and soy). For this reason, the daily iron requirements for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher than for those who eat meat. Meat also boosts iron absorption from plant-based food sources by 150% – known as the Meat Factor. Another reason why vegetarians will need more iron.[ii]
Iron supplements tend to be hard on the stomach so should be taken with food and under the advisement of a health care provider to ensure the proper dose. Excess supplemental iron can accumulate in the body and cause illness and can also interfere with zinc absorption.
Iron deficiency is challenging to diagnose so it may go unrecognized for some time before developing anemia. Whether iron deficient or anemic, the consequences of either during pregnancy are important to consider. Iron deficiency may result in preterm deliveries and low birthweight infants. Additionally, these moms are more likely to experience postnatal depression, fatigue and increased risk of infection.[iii] Women may also struggle to cope with normal blood loss at delivery.
[i] Health Canada. Evidence Review for Dietary Guidance, Technical Report, 2015.
[ii] Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc : a Report of the Panel on Micronutrients. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2001.