Even with today's interest in health and fitness, there are still those who have not jumped on the health-food bandwagon. But usually when women find out they are pregnant, good nutrition becomes the foremost issue in their lives. The responsibility of nurturing another human being apparently brings out the best eating habits in pregnant women and nursing mothers. They give up smoking, cut back on caffeine and look to foods that provide optimal nutritional benefit.
Increasing iron in the diet is a high nutritional concern during this time. Improving iron supplies during pregnancy, according to Rita Storey, media representative and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Assn., is a necessity since additional blood will be used in building and nurturing the new life--in the formation of fetal, placental and maternal tissues.
For the mother, it is a requirement because her body will develop a reserve of hemoglobin to stave off anemia during high-volume blood losses, such as when the baby is delivered.
In the body, hemoglobin is the principal component of the red blood cells. It accounts for most of the iron found in the body, and its purpose is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the tissues.
Absorption Rate Varies
The rate at which the body absorbs iron from food varies depending upon the type of iron consumed--heme, derived from meat, fish and poultry in which the iron is part of a protein, and non-heme, present in foods such as milk, eggs and plant products. (Growing children, pregnant women and anemic individuals have a higher rate of absorption than healthy males; therefore, their needs are greater.)
The composition of the rest of the meal and the status of the individual's iron stores are also major influences. Some factors that have an inhibiting effect on the body's absorption of iron are tannins from tea, phytates from cereals (phytate is a phosphorus-containing organic compound that decreases mineral absorption) and antacids.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for adult males is 10 milligrams, and for females the figure jumps to 18 milligrams. Some good food sources include meat, fish, poultry, and especially liver, whole-grain and enriched cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables, eggs and dried fruit.
Meat, fish and poultry are considered superior sources because the iron in those foods is easily absorbed, whereas the cereal products and certain vegetables--especially peas and deep green leafy vegetables--have significant amounts but they are not absorbed as readily.
Other Good Sources
Prunes are also an excellent source. Ten pitted prunes contain four milligrams of iron, second only to one slice of beef liver, which contains 7.5 milligrams. One cup of chopped raw spinach offers 1.7 milligrams, one cup of cooked oatmeal has 1.4 milligrams and 10 dried uncooked apricot halves have 1.9 milligrams.
The recipes that follow are designed to supplement an iron-conscious diet. None will exclusively provide the required daily amount.
"It is possible to get this amount (18 milligrams) from food," Storey said, "but probably 99% of the time prenatal supplements are prescribed because it's difficult to get these foods in the diet every day. That's why prenatal counseling by a registered dietitian is so important. . . . Then they (pregnant women) are apprised of what the principal nutrients are."
DILLED LIVER IN TOAST CUPS
8 slices wheat bread
7 tablespoons butter
1 pound sliced calf's liver
3 tablespoons flour
1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup beef broth
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon dill weed
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup sour cream, room temperature
Trim crusts from bread. Spread each with 1/2 tablespoon butter and gently press into 8 custard or muffin cups. Bake at 425 degrees about 8 minutes or until toasted. Set aside.
Cut liver into cubes and coat with flour. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons butter in skillet until hot and saute onion and garlic in butter until onion is tender. Add liver cubes. Cook, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes.
Stir in beef broth, mustard, dill and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream. Spoon into toast cups and serve with additional sour cream and sprinkle of dill, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Note: Nutrient data does not include additional sour cream.
PER SERVING: 568 calories; 41 gm protein; 32 gm carbohydrate; 31 gm fat; 827 mg sodium; 776 mg potassium.
Protein 64% Riboflavin 284% Vitamin A 754% Niacin 103% Vitamin C 77% Calcium 09% Thiamine 27% Iron 99%
4 cups oats
1 cup diced pitted prunes
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup butter
Combine oats, prunes, nuts, cinnamon and salt in large bowl. Toss to blend, then set aside.
Combine brown sugar and butter in saucepan. Heat to melt butter and dissolve sugar, stirring to blend well. Pour butter mixture over oat mixture, stirring to coat all ingredients.