What Foods Have DHA | How Much Of It During Pregnancy?

DHA is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that plays a critical role in fetal development. As a structural component of the brain and eyes, adequate maternal DHA status has widespread benefits. This in-depth article explores DHA functions, recommended intakes, and ideal food sources to include for optimal pregnancy nutrition outcomes.

DHA makes up over 90% of omega-3 fats found in the retina and over 97% in the brain where it plays a structural role(1). Synthesized in small amounts by the body, preformed DHA intake from food sources is necessary to meet demand, especially during critical fetal growth periods. Low maternal DHA status has been linked to complications like preterm birth as well as poorer long-term offspring cognition, behavior and vision (123). The American Pregnancy Association recommends pregnant women aim for at least 300mg daily.

1. Fatty Fish: Excellent DHA Providers

Fish and seafood provide pre-formed DHA already synthesized and easily absorbed. Salmon, trout, herring, sardines and mackerel contain 200-500mg per 3oz serving making them superb dietary sources. Most women can safely enjoy up to 12oz per week, equivalent to 2 average fish meals.(4) Whitefish like cod also deliver DHA but in slightly lower amounts. Fish roe like salmon or trout caviar boasts 40-70% DHA per ounce versus just 1% in muscle meat, representing a highly bioavailable form preferred during pregnancy (5). Factoring mercury levels, strategic fish inclusion ensures ample DHA supply.

2. Eggs and Meat

While higher in other nutrients, certain animal foods deliver small amounts of usable DHA. Grass-fed beef, lamb, and free-range poultry each contain 30-60mg per 3oz with chicken eggs from omega-3 enriched laying hens providing 15-30mg per egg (6,7). The liver should be limited due to excess vitamin A. While meat and egg DHA contributes, higher intake supplements cannot replace the predominant fatty fish intake.

3. Plant-Based DHA

The Best 10 Vegan Sources Of  DHA

Vegetarian and vegan mothers can partly meet their needs by relying on the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to DHA. Edamame, chia seeds, flaxseeds, canola oil, and walnuts excel as ALA sources with 0.4-6.9g per serving yet are inefficient at just 5-10% conversion. Regular intake along with cofactors like iron and vitamin B support limited DHA production. (8,9) DHA supplements using algal oil provide direct preformed DHA, circumventing conversion.

Top 10 Protein-Packed Plant Sources of DHA : Healthy Pregnancy

4. Hemp Seeds and White Beans

Hemp seeds contain 1.8g ALA per tablespoon alongside iron and magnesium. While less prevalent than flaxseeds, they’re easily added to baked goods, salads, or smoothies. White beans serve up 0.8g ALA in addition to fiber, calcium, and vegetable protein per 1⁄2 cup, complementing DHA requirements well.

5. Dark, Leafy Greens and Cruciferous Vegetables

Turnip greens, spinach, kale, and Brussels sprouts offer a modest 0.2-0.5g ALA per 1 cup serving while delivering antioxidants like sulforaphane that protect fetal development from environmental toxins and support cellular function (11). One study found a high folate consumption through green vegetables lowered the risk of neural tube birth defects. Their rich phytonutrient profile enhances ALA plant sources without relying heavily on conversion during pregnancy.

6. Olives, Nuts and Seed Butters

Black and green olives contain 2-3g ALA per 3.5oz. Almonds at 1.5g and walnuts at 2.5g ALA per ounce make tasty snacks with complementary minerals, vitamins, and monounsaturated fats. Peanut, almond, or sunflower seed butter provide 1-2g ALA per 2 tbsp serving to top whole grain toast or fruit for convenient DHA-boosting options.

Benefits of Combinatorial DHA Intake

best sources of DHA

By thoughtfully incorporating a variety of above DHA sources 2-3 times weekly such as fatty fish, eggs, nuts/seeds and dark leafy greens with adequate ALA-containing plant foods, most pregnant women can comfortably achieve the recommended 300mg daily intake. A balanced combination approach using whole, minimally processed foods positively influences numerous physiological systems development for both mother and child. Proper prenatal nutrition truly supports lifelong optimal health outcomes.

How Much Of DHA You Need During Pregnancy?

The optimal DHA intake during pregnancy and lactation is between 300-900mg per day combined with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Specifically, consuming around 200mg of preformed DHA daily from the beginning to the end of pregnancy supports healthy fetal neurological development (1).

Certain predatory fish like tuna, shark, and swordfish should be limited to 170g or less per week due to potential mercury exposure risk. Low-mercury varieties like salmon and sardines provide sufficient DHA without safety concerns and are preferred choices (2).

When DHA is consumed orally, more is absorbed in the readily usable phospholipid form rather than other ester structures. Studies show phosphatidylcholine-bound DHA has around 10 times greater bioavailability, allowing more to cross the placenta into fetal circulation compared to other forms present in regular fish intake (3).

Research suggests 150-300mg daily alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 found abundantly in plant foods, may impart positive health benefits as well by partially synthesizing into DHA and EPA in the body (4).

Meeting these evidence-based intake levels helps ensure optimal DHA status for both mother and baby. Adequate prenatal DHA ingestion has been associated with supportive outcomes such as fewer learning issues, lower inflammation, and reduced risk of age-related neurological decline in children later in life.(5) Maintaining recommended levels promotes lifelong health advantages.