Pregnancy – Other Nutrients of Note

Aside from the macronutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that are required for survival, there are other nutrients that have recently raised interest for their potential impact on health. Although they are not all necessary for life, there are some interesting discoveries being made regarding their ability to fight off cancer and heart disease.

Phytochemicals

Also sometimes called phytonutrients, these are chemical compounds found in plants. Phytochemicals make up a plant’s natural defense system against disease. These compounds can be found in many fruits, vegetables and nuts. Phytochemicals are believed to have a number of effects including anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Many phytochemicals are also antioxidants, which are known to be essential in the fight against cancer.

Of the many phytochemicals, the most well known are a group known as caretenoids, which include lycopene, beta- carotene, and lutein. These are very powerful antioxidants with a number of health benefits including fighting cancer and protecting the heart, skin, and more. These phytochemicals can be found in foods like mango, apricot, sweet potato, carrots, broccoli and spinach. Beta-carotene is known as a provitamin, because it can be converted into Vitamin A, which is important for many body functions.

Many other plants and herbs also contain phytochemicals, which may be responsible for their popular use as natural medicines and preventatives. Echinacea, ginseng, and valerian are among these plants.

Antioxidants

Not all antioxidants come in the form of phytochemicals. They also appear in vitamins and minerals as well. In recent years, antioxidants have been the major buzzword in anti-aging and disease prevention.

Antioxidants slow the damaging effects of oxygen on cells. In much the same way that you can use lemon juice to prevent a cut apple from turning brown, antioxidants slow the oxidative process in your body. They are also thought to be important in stopping the damage caused by free radicals, which are molecules that are produced from the breakdown of food and also from pollutants such as cigarette smoke. These free radicals can attack our cells and lead to cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants can help to prevent this from happening.

Antioxidants can be found in foods such as blueberries, raspberries, grapes, cherries and also spinach, broccoli, and garlic. Tea is also an excellent source of antioxidants. While it is true that dark chocolate and red wine also provide good sources of antioxidants, bear in mind that these things are not good for the body if consumed in large amounts, and certainly aren’t good choices during pregnancy.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Although these actually fall under the category of fats, they have been in the news so much lately for their health benefits that they deserve a mention of their own. Found mostly in fish such as salmon and tuna, these essential fatty acids protect the heart and can also lower the risk of cancer, arthritis and other ailments.

Many people do not get enough Omega-3’s in their diet, and there has been a recent push to add them to all kinds of foods and also in supplement form. The most common supplements are fish and flaxseed oil. Eating at least two servings a week of fish should meet your Omega-3 needs, but use caution to avoid fish high in mercury. Other food sources of Omega-3’s include olive oil and nuts such as almonds.

Including these nutrients in your diet will help to keep you healthy and avoid many chronic illnesses.

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