Why pregnancy nutrition isn’t one-size-fits-all

Why pregnancy nutrition isn’t one-size-fits-all

Expecting moms want to have healthy pregnancies and give their babies the best start to life. If you’re trying to conceive, we know you want the same. It’s essential for women to take excellent care of themselves and the precious little one growing inside of them. But how exactly? It starts with having good nutrition and getting the proper vitamins, minerals, and nutrients necessary to support your baby’s growth and development. It’s also important to be aware of any nutritional deficiencies you have so you can do something about them.

“Nutrition is a very important part of every pregnancy from conception through the first three years,” says Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Nutrition and Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Founding Director of the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, and founder of SNP Therapeutics, IncOpens a new window., a genetic testing company. Because genes affect how people absorb food, as well as the processes of metabolism, enzyme digestion, and excretion, the connection between genetics and nutrition is quite evident. That’s why Dr. Zeisel notes it’s very important to evaluate your nutritional profile several months before trying to conceive. 

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Here’s what you need to know about getting the best prenatal nutrition for you and your baby.

Eating well is vital

Women need folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, choline, omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), B vitamins, and vitamin C to support a healthy pregnancy. Where can you get all that? From a well-balanced, healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables (Mother Nature’s multivitamin!) provide necessary vitamins and minerals when you’re trying to conceive and while you’re pregnant. So, make half your plate fruit and vegetables at every meal and try your best to limit foods and beverages with lots of added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. 

It’s especially crucial for pregnant women to make sure they’re getting enough choline and DHA, according to Dr. Zeisel. “Choline and DHA are both involved in supporting brain development and are linked to cognitive development benefits in children through the age of 7.” Choline-rich foods include beef, liver, and eggs – but not everyone gets enough in their diet, so you may need a supplement with enough choline to support your pregnancy needs.

A prenatal vitamin will supplement what you’re missing

Because pregnant women often don’t get enough key nutrients through diet alone, it’s important to take a  prenatal vitamin to make up for it. A good prenatal vitamin will include:

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  • Calcium and vitamin D: Promotes development of the baby’s teeth and bones. 

  • Vitamin B complex: Includes folate (B9), which creates red blood cells, proteins, and DNA.

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  • Vitamin C & E:  Provides antioxidants that are crucial in the production of collagen (found in cartilage, tendons, bones, and skin) and supports a healthy immune system. 

  • Zinc: Important for your baby’s cell growth and brain development, and supports your immune system.

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SNP Therapeutics


When eating right and taking a prenatal vitamin isn’t enough

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You can eat right, take your prenatal vitamin faithfully, but still be deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral you need during pregnancy. That’s because genetics also play a role in a woman’s pregnancy health from preconception through postpartum. “You may have genetic challenges that make it difficult for you to efficiently metabolize certain nutrients – even with a great, varied diet,” says Dr. Zeisel. 

Some common deficiencies include calcium, DHA, choline, and iron, he says. “Even if a woman is eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet, she may not be able to metabolize those nutrients effectively for optimal support of her pregnancy needs,” Dr. Zeisel explains.

For example, the optimal amount of choline a pregnant woman needs is 450 mg/day. If you have no genetic roadblocks to metabolizing choline, you may not need to supplement. “However, if a mom has genetic roadblocks in choline metabolism, the optimal amount of choline for her is doubled and she and her baby benefit by taking more of this nutrient,” says Dr. Zeisel. 

According to Zeisel, a prenatal genetic nutrition test such as the Genate TestOpens a new window identifies how your genes affect the way your body metabolizes nutrients. This information is vital in choosing foods and supplements that meet your unique needs and support your baby’s development.

Our genes play a big role in a healthy pregnancy

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How exactly do our genes affect nutrition during pregnancy? Genes are the blueprint for our health and development. As Dr. Zeisel explains, “Our bodies metabolize food by pulling out nutrients through a series of chemical reactions which transform them into compounds that our cells need to grow and function.” 

“These chemical reactions, often called metabolic pathways, synthesize and regulate nutrients within your body,” says Dr. Zeisel. “Gene spelling differences, called SNPs, may cause inefficiencies in these pathways, leading to deficiencies in the availability of nutrition. This is particularly important during pregnancy when nutrient availability is critical to the development of the fetus.”

According to Genate:

  • 90 percent of women aren’t getting enough choline, a situation exacerbated by the presence of common genetic mutations.

  • 50 percent of women can’t fully utilize folic acid due to a gene mutation.

  • Over 85 percent of women don’t get enough DHA, which is essential for both moms and babies. Genetics can have a significant impact on your ability to metabolize this major nutrient.

 SNP Lifestyle pic 2 SNP Lifestyle pic 2

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SNP Therapeutics

A genetic test can reveal what you may be lacking

A comprehensive prenatal genetic nutrition test such as Genate can look at your genes (and inherited common misspellings in your genetic code) to find possible gaps in your nutrition. 

 “If you can’t metabolize certain nutrients well, you won’t be providing these nutrients to your baby. The test helps you to build a nutrition plan that fits your genetic signature, so you can make sure you’re doing your best when eating for two,” says Dr. Zeisel.

The doctor recommends taking the Genate test as soon as six months before trying to conceive, to understand how you metabolize vital nutrients during your pregnancy. Taking the test is simple: You swab your cheeks using the materials in the Genate test kit, register with Genate, and return the sample to their certified lab. The results are safely processed and sent to you and your doctor via a secure web portal. A registered dietician can help you navigate your test results and create a personalized nutrition plan. 

Many factors influence your pregnancy, but your nutrition is a substantial contributor to your baby’s health. 

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“Knowing your genetic signature, and understanding how your diet may need to be adjusted to better support your healthy pregnancy, is a good place to start,” Dr. Zeisel says. “And then working with a nutritionist to hone in on a diet that addresses your unique genetics can help to overcome inefficiencies and support your child’s growth and development.”

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