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Too much sodium, not enough vitamins and minerals in diets of pregnant women

Matthew Oates, Purdue University


A new study suggests that many pregnant women are not getting the proper amounts of some vitamins and minerals, even with supplements, while many are getting potentially excessive amounts of sodium.


The diets of most pregnant US women lack a wide range of essential nutrients, according to this new study - failing to provide recommended amounts of numerous vitamins and minerals needed to support the healthy development of their unborn child, as well as their own health and wellbeing.

By contrast, dietary sodium - from salt - was consumed to excess by almost all participants (as was sugar, of course, although this attracted little mention - probably because excess sugar is such a universal aspect of modern. western-type diets high in ultra-processed foods). 

Common nutritional deficiencies or insufficiencies in the 1000+ mothers-to be whose dietary intakes were studied included: 

  • vitamins - A, C, D, E, K and B6, as well as folate (B9) and choline (a B-vitamin like nutrient essential for health brain development and function
  • minerals - iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

Perhaps even more shocking is that this lack of essential nutrients in pregnancy was found despite the fact that most of the women WERE using dietary supplements.  As the researchers flagged, these findings indicate that better formulation of pregnancy supplements is needed - not only so that more women could reach recommended intakes of vitamins and minerals, but also to avoid excess intakes of some nutrients,* which were also evident in some women owing to supplementation.

The high proportion of pregnant women using supplements shows most are trying hard to provide what they believe their unborn child needs (and suggests most would probably be receptive to better information on how to improve their nutritional status through food and diet too). 

*Excess intakes of iron, and folic acid, were noted for some women - and while adequate intakes of both are absolutely vital for normal brain (and body) development, too much of either may have harmful side-effects.  However - as the researchers ponited out:

  • without dietary supplements, the vast majority (80-95%) of pregnant women would fail to obtain enough dietary iron
Iron deficiency in pregnancy is well-known to compromise brain development in ways that increase risks for lifelong behavioural, emotional and cognitive problems in the resulting children, such as antisocial behaviour, ADHD and other learning difficulties.

But deficiencies of any essential nutrients during this critical period of early development can have permanent consequences for the health and wellbeing of the unborn child - via so-called 'nutritional programming' effects on gene expression.

For details of this research (which is open-access) see:

For more information on vitamins and minerals in pregnancy, see:

And for more information on how nutrition in early life affects lifelong health and development, see also:

24 June 2019 - MedicalXpress

A new study suggests that many pregnant women are not getting the proper amounts of some vitamins and minerals, even with supplements, while many are getting potentially excessive amounts of sodium.

The new study appears in the recent editon of JAMA Network Open.

Regan Bailey, an associate professor in nutrition science in Purdue University's College of Health and Human Sciences, led the research team.

The study looks at the dietary intake data of 1,003 pregnant women in the U.S., and researchers discovered that many of the participants consumed too little of vitamins A, C, D, E, K and B6, as well as folate, choline and minerals iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

Almost all of the participants consumed too much sodium, and in some instances, consumed too much folic acid and iron.

"Without dietary supplements, 80 to 95 percent of pregnant women would fail to achieve iron recommendations," Bailey said.

Traditionally during pregnancy, women will take additional nutritional supplements, including prenatal vitamins. In the study, almost 70 percent of pregnant women took a dietary supplement, primarily prenatal vitamins.

"It appears that supplements may be necessary for most pregnant women to meet nutrient recommendations," Bailey said.

"However, our findings suggest that responsible formulations of prenatal products could help women achieve recommended intakes without the potential for excess."

Bailey says balance, moderation and variety are ways to encourage a healthy diet for all. She also encourages pregnant women to talk to their health care provider or a registered dietitian regarding dietary questions or concerns.