Category Archives: micronutrients

Nutrition in pregnancy and lactation

Pregnancy is a time for substantial changes in a woman’s body in many ways, including hormonal, mental and physical. This growth and development process needs fuel and constant support, and the overall nutritional status of the mother is central to the outcome of the pregnancy and health of the baby.

Birth defects, birthing complications and health risks in childhood and adulthood are substantially reduced if the mother has a healthy diet. This not only provides the baby with the fuel to grow and develop, but it also helps after birth as it influences the milk produced during lactation which sets the child up for the future.

A recent review of nutritional requirements in pregnancy and lactation was published in the Professional Nursing journal (1) which explained the increases in the nutritional demands for the pregnant/lactating female and the importance of this both in the short and long term.

The authors described how the energy intake requirements increase during pregnancy and lactation. Peaking in the third trimester, the accompanying weight gain needs to be steady and consistent based on the mothers pre-pregnancy weight (from 32.5-45lb weight gain in underweight mothers, to 12.5-22.5lb in overweight mothers). The authors also commented on research findings for macronutrients; reporting required increases in protein by 25g a day, especially in the final quarter of the pregnancy and an average serving of fish or chicken is approximately 22-24g.

Extra Carbohydrates are required through pregnancy
Extra Carbohydrates, such as wholemeal bread and one macronutrient that is required through pregnancy.

The diet also needs to consist of 50-65% carbohydrates with a daily minimum of 175g carbohydrates during pregnancy and 210g during breastfeeding. This is equivalent to a daily serving of 250g of wholewheat pasta with 3-4 slices of wholemeal bread.

Essential fatty acids such as omega 3 are vital during this stage of life. An intake of at least 200mg/day of DHA is reportedly needed for reducing birthing complications. Two portions of fish are recommended each week, however due to high mercury contents shark, swordfish and king mackerel should be avoided. Good options would be sardines, herring or salmon. Fatty acids excluding vitamin A may be supplemented in pregnancy and Udos Choice is a popular addition to many pregnancy health regimes.

Micronutrient demands are also escalated during this time and any nutritional deficiency in the mother can considerably impact on the unborn child’s development. As a result the authors commented on the essential need for dietary increases in iron, folic acid, zinc, selenium, chromium, iodine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamins A, B6, B12, C, and pantothenic acid. Additionally, they recommend a multivitamin including these nutrients but without large doses of vitamin A (as this is related to increased birth defects). These nutrients are associated with reduced risks to the child and a better pregnancy outcome.

The authors also reported findings that supplementing calcium in pregnancy is also associated with decreases in complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension and pre-term birth as well as improved birthing outcomes.

If you are  considering starting a family or are already pregnant or lactating, you may wish to source a multivitamin without vitamin A such as the Bio Health One-A-Day Bio-Caps that contains folic acid, calcium and iron as well as a good quality, pure essential fatty acid supplement. Folic acid and iron can help prevent Spina Bifida and pregnancy-related anaemia, so ensuring intake of these nutrients is particularly important. A wide ranging, balanced diet is essential and should not be replaced by supplements.  This considered focus on your health plan may help to provide your child with a healthy future and reduce the risks of complications during these demanding times.

Written by Lauren Foster


(1) Labuschagne, I.L., Ackerberg, T.S. & Lombard, M.J. (2012) Optimal nutrition during pregnancy and lactation. Professional Nursing,16(1), 26-29.


Micronutrients before pregnancy boost baby’s immune system

Women who supplement with micronutrients before pregnancy may be boosting the immune health of their baby from birth to adult life, a new study suggests.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, such as the B vitamins and the minerals zinc and selenium, that are required by the body in very small quantities in order to perform many crucial bodily processes.

Micronutrient supplementation before pregnancy can improve your child's immune system
Micronutrient supplementation before pregnancy can improve your child's immune system

The new research took place in Gambia, where individuals born during the ‘wet’ season (when there is less food and nurients available), have higher rates of infection and disease. The women in the study were given either a micronutrient supplement or a placebo until they became pregnant. The study then tested samples of DNA from babies at birth again at 9 months old.

The results suggested that the supplemented mothers had babies with healthier immune systems as a result of methylation changes. “These changes are part of the normal development of the immune system provided adequate nutrition is available.” Explained lead researcher Professor Affara. “Where this is not the case, the result is likely to be reduced ability to fight infection and hence susceptibility to infectious diseases.”

The type of changes in the supplemented mothers were created by a better rate of ‘methylation reactions’. Methylation refers to a special set of chemical reactions in the body. These reactions work like a ‘switch’ in your body, activating beneficial chemicals, and deactivating harmful ones. The methylation cycle is important for immune function, and so if methylation is not working optimally, then our ability to fight infection is impaired.

Professor Affara added: ” If we have an improved understanding of what nutrition is important, we can target nutritional intervention to improve health in later life.”

While many of us are aware of the importance of nutrients such as folic acid in pregnancy, it is becoming increasingly evident that the whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals have an important role to play. The current study certainly indicates that mothers who ensure optimum nutrition before pregnancy are supporting the immune health of their children not only at birth, but throughout their child’s life.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC


The paper ‘Periconceptional maternal micronutrient supplementation is associated with widespread gender related changes in the epigenome : a study of a unique resource in the Gambia’ will be published in the April 2012 edition of Human Molecular Genetics.


Eating food rich in vitamins and minerals may impact perceived hunger levels

In September I wrote about the importance of eating a high-quality, healthy, nutrient dense diet when attempting to lose weight or restrict calorie intakes.  Now a new study (1) has indicated that eating such a nutrient dense diet, rich in vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) may influence hunger and satiety.

The study (1) was set up in order to analyse the changes in experience and perception of hunger before and after individuals changed from their usual diet to a high nutrient density diet.

The study is important since hunger can cause people to overeat and consume more calories than their bodies require, hence leading to overweight and obesity over time. 


The research involved over 700 participants who had changed their dietary habits from a low micronutrient diet i.e. one that was low in vitamins and minerals, to a high micronutrient diet.  Participants completed a survey rating various dimensions of hunger (physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, and location) when on their previous usual diet versus the high micronutrient density diet.   Highly significant differences were found between the two diets in relation to all physical and emotional symptoms as well as the location of hunger (1). Hunger was not an unpleasant experience while on the high nutrient density diet, was well tolerated and occurred with less frequency even when meals were skipped. Nearly 80% of respondents reported that their experience of hunger had changed since starting the high nutrient density diet, with 51% reporting a dramatic or complete change in their experience of hunger.


The authors of the study conclude that

A high micronutrient density diet mitigates the unpleasant aspects of the experience of hunger even though it is lower in calories. Hunger is one of the major impediments to successful weight loss. Our findings suggest that it is not simply the caloric content, but more importantly, the micronutrient density of a diet that influences the experience of hunger. It appears that a high nutrient density diet, after an initial phase of adjustment during which a person experiences “toxic hunger” due to withdrawal from pro-inflammatory foods, can result in a sustainable eating pattern that leads to weight loss and improved health. A high nutrient density diet provides benefits for long-term health as well as weight loss. Because our findings have important implications in the global effort to control rates of obesity and related chronic diseases, further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary results”.

Satiety and hunger are influenced by many different factors.  In terms of nutrition and satiety I have previously written about the effect of fibre, prebiotics, probiotics, cinnamon, omega 3 fatty acids and low GI foods and their impact on satiety.

The nutrient quality of the food we eat is very important since a high quality diet will provide the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (bioactive plant nutrients) that are essential for our health and wellbeing.   Vitamins and minerals are essential for the efficient functioning of the body, including the brain.  Eating enough vegetables, fruits, beans/pulses, wholegrains, unprocessed meats/fish, nuts and seeds is a good way to ensure adequate intakes of vitamins and minerals.  These kinds of foods are nutrient dense. 

Supplements should never be considered as an alternative to a healthy diet, however if you are not regularly consuming vegetables, fruits and other nutrient dense foods you might want to check with your doctor about the suitability of a daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, together with an omega 3 fatty acid supplement, to provide for any shortfalls. 

(1)Joel Fuhrman  J et al.  2010.  Changing perceptions of hunger on a high nutrient density diet.  Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:51doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-51.  Published 7th November 2010.

Written by Ani Kowal


Low levels of vitamins and minerals may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease

From the 16th-19th June 2010 the World Congress of Cardiology Scientific Sessions were held in Neijing, China .  New data presented there (1) and released to the press via the World Heart Federation has demonstrated that multiple micronutrient levels can predict the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke).

The World Congress of Cardiology Scientific Sessions is the official congress of the World Heart Federation and is held every two years. Through the Congress the World Heart Federation offers an international stage for the latest developments in science and public outreach in the field of cardiovascular health. The World Congress of Cardiology places emphasis on the complementary nature of science and public outreach and strives to spread the message that through individual, community and patient-care interventions, the growing epidemic of cardiovascular diseases can be prevented(1)

The data (1) showed that reduced multiple micronutrient, vitamin and mineral, intakes were associated with a 1.4 times higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) in White Americans, 1.3 times higher risk in African Americans and 1.6 times higher risk in Mexican Americans.  The study involved over 9, 400 participants aged 45 and older.  Dr. Longjian Liu, MD, PhD, FAHA, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, USA said: “This study is the first to demonstrate that multiple micronutrients have significant predicting effects on the risk of CVD and all-cause mortality among White Americans and minority populations,”, he went on to add that “These data suggest that people should ensure that they are maintaining healthy micronutrient levels to help reduce their future risk of CVD.”  (1)

Vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) are vital for health and are involved in the efficient functioning of all body processes, including heart function.  Inflammation plays a major role in cardiovascular diseases and it seems that a good micronutrient status is important in keeping inflammation in the body low, probably by reducing oxidative stress  in the body.  Eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains daily is important since they contain a huge array of vitamins, minerals and bioflavonoids (bioactive plant chemicals).  Many of the vitamins and bioflavonoids found in these foods act as antioxidants in the body and this may be one way that that prevent disease.  Antioxidants protect the body from attack by destructive molecules known as ‘free radicals’, they protect against ‘oxidative stress’ in the body.  It has been noted in previous studies (e.g. 2)Healthy subjects of any age with a high daily intake of fruits and vegetables have higher antioxidant levels, lower levels of biomarkers of oxidative stress, and better cognitive performance than healthy subjects of any age consuming low amounts of fruits and vegetables. Modification of nutritional habits aimed at increasing intake of fruits and vegetables should be encouraged to lower prevalence of cognitive impairment in later life(2)

Eating a healthful, balanced diet is important for the prevention of many conditions.  Providing the body with good, nutrient rich, food will help to ensure that all the nutrients needed for its efficient functioning are present.  Supplements can never be seen as an alternative to healthy eating but if you feel that your diet consistently falls short of nutrients you might wish to consider taking a high quality, low dose multivitamin and mineral supplement.  It is always best to check with a medical doctor prior to starting any supplementation regimen.  

About the World Heart Federation:
The World Heart Federation is dedicated to leading the global fight against heart disease and stroke with a focus on low- and middle-income countries via a united community of more than 200 member organizations. With its members, the World Heart Federation works to build global commitment to addressing cardiovascular health at the policy level, generates and exchanges ideas, shares best practice, advances scientific knowledge and promotes knowledge transfer to tackle cardiovascular disease – the world’s number one killer. It is a growing membership organization that brings together the strength of medical societies and heart foundations from more than 100 countries. Through our collective efforts we can help people all over the world to lead longer and better heart-healthy lives. For more information, please visit


(2) Polidori MC et al. 2009.  High fruit and vegetable intake is positively correlated with antioxidant status and cognitive performance in healthy subjects. J Alzheimers Dis. 17:4

Written by Ani Kowal