Blog post content sponsored by Barilla.
My interest in pregnancy nutrition started well before I became a mom. I was always interested in why women craved various foods during their pregnancies and how nutrition plays such a pivotal role during those 9 months. I wrote a book called Feed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom’s Healthy Eating Guide to help women navigate an often overwhelming amount of information and provide a roadmap for good health during that important time.
Since then, I’ve been interviewed dozens of times about what foods are best to eat during pregnancy. There’s one surprising food that always makes the list—pasta. Sure, it’s delicious and great for satisfying carb cravings and can help some women deal with their nausea and food aversions, but the real reason it should be part of a pregnancy eating plan is that it’s enriched.
Folate and iron are two nutrients critical for a healthy pregnancy and baby’s development. Many people don’t know that enriched refined grains, like semolina pasta, are enriched with folate and iron. As part of a public effort to reduce birth defects, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) mandated folate fortification in staple grain products (cereal, pasta, rice and bread) in 1998. The fortification program has been one of their top 10 greatest achievements in public health, helping to reduce neural tube defects in infants by 20 to 30%.
Folate (or folic acid) is a B vitamin that is essential to the development of a baby’s spinal cord and spinal nerves and plays a key role in preventing the birth defect spina bifida. Because the spinal cord is one of the very first things to develop in a growing baby, it’s essential to get enough folate not only when you’re pregnant, but before you even get pregnant.
Iron is the mineral that’s involved in making red blood cells, and pregnancy sends your need for iron skyrocketing as you double your blood volume to keep up with the demands of a growing baby. Without enough iron, a pregnant mom will become anemic, causing her to feel out of breath and fatigued and can lead to preterm and low birth weight babies.
Per the FDA, enriched refined grains are a good source of these nutrients, and pasta is one of my favorites! Women can feel good eating @BarillaUS semolina pasta, knowing that it is an excellent source of folate (50% DV) and a good source of iron (10% DV).
Unfortunately, most pregnant women or those planning to become pregnant do not understand the important role of iron and folic acid in pregnancy. According to a consumer survey conducted on behalf of Barilla, only a quarter of women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant understand that iron and folic acid help prevent birth defects, and similarly, only a quarter recognize refined grains as a source of iron and folic acid. And the popularity of low-carb diets, like Keto, Paleo and gluten-free, have exacerbated the issue, putting pregnant women at risk for folate and iron deficiencies and negative health outcomes for their babies. Research has found that women who restricted their carbohydrate intake (less than 95g per day) were 30% more likely to have a baby with neural tube defects, such as anencephaly or spina bifida.
The good news is, it’s easy to incorporate enriched semolina pasta into a balanced, Mediterranean-style Diet! And pasta goes well with so many nutrient-rich vegetables, lean proteins and healthy oils, like olive oil. Check out this easy Shrimp Orecchiette with Cabbage and Avocado.
If you’re looking for more pasta inspiration and need some help with serving sizes, check out this guide from Barilla.