Vitamin C and zinc are two of the many essential vitamins and minerals you need to consume to stay healthy. These nutrients are particularly important for pregnant women. They help to support your immune system and help keep your developing baby healthy.
Nutrient Consumption During Pregnancy
A healthy diet requires three main macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates. When you eat foods that contain these nutrients, you're also consuming vitamins and minerals known as micronutrients.
The Food and Drug Administration considers nearly 30 different vitamins and minerals to be essential for good health. Your body isn't able to produce enough of these nutrients, which means you need to get them from the foods you eat.
Certain nutrients are particularly important for pregnant women. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant women need to consume additional amounts of folic acid and iron.
Certain micronutrients — specifically vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium — are considered nutrients of concern for Americans. This means most people consume insufficient amounts of these nutrients, so if you're pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you should definitely make sure you're getting enough of these vitamins and minerals.
However, all nutrients are important to a pregnant mother and her developing baby. For example, vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, supports the formation of connective tissue, while zinc is particularly important for reproductive health, growth and development.
Getting enough vitamin C and zinc in pregnancy is important because these nutrients help support the immune system and your body's ability to repair wounds.
Vitamin C and Pregnancy
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily amount of vitamin C for women is 75 milligrams. However, pregnant women need a bit more — 85 milligrams per day. Lactating women need the most, at 120 milligrams per day. Certain people may also need additional vitamin C.
According to a March 2015 study in the journal Functional Foods in Health and Disease, pregnant women who are obese may require more vitamin C than women of normal weight. If you are pregnant and taking iron supplements, you may also need more vitamin C — iron supplements have the potential to decrease your vitamin C levels.
- Act as an antioxidant
- Help the body make collagen and connective tissue
- Help the body absorb the iron in plant-based foods
- Protect the body's cells from free radicals (this, in turn, prevents disease)
- Prevent deficiency-related diseases
- Support immune system function
Getting enough vitamin C in pregnancy is particularly important for vegan and vegetarian women, since this nutrient helps the body absorb iron found in plant-based foods. If you're vegan or vegetarian, make sure you're getting enough vitamin C because consumption of this nutrient allows your developing baby to get enough iron from the foods you eat.
Getting enough vitamin C from food is usually fairly easy. Vitamin C is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, kiwis, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, peppers and potatoes. If you consume five servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, you should be able to get 200 milligrams or more of this essential nutrient.
Zinc and Pregnancy
Although zinc is not a nutrient of concern, according to the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization estimates that over 80 percent of women don't consume enough zinc during their pregnancies.
According to the NIH, women typically need 8 milligrams of zinc per day. However, when they're pregnant, women need 11 milligrams of zinc per day. Breastfeeding mothers need 12 milligrams of zinc a day, because lactation can reduce the amount of zinc in the body. This nutrient is particularly important because it:
- Can help prevent preterm births
- Is required for your body's sensory functions, particularly taste and smell
- Supports DNA and protein synthesis, as well as cellular division
- Supports growth and development during pregnancy, as well as throughout childhood and adolescence
- Supports immune system function
- Supports wound healing
Zinc is found in a range of different foods. Seafood like oysters, crab and lobster and meat-based products such as beef, pork and chicken are richest in zinc. However, you can find zinc in plant-based foods too. For example, beans, chickpeas, peas, cashews, almonds and pumpkin seeds all contain this essential nutrient. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with zinc.
Getting enough zinc during pregnancy is particularly important for women who are vegan or vegetarian. Although zinc is available from plant-based products, the zinc in these foods is not as easily absorbed as the zinc from meat products.
Fortunately, you can improve the amount of zinc you get from plant-based foods. For example, you can soak beans, grains and seeds until they sprout to improve their nutrition. Also, leavened grain-based products have more zinc than unleavened products.
Vitamin C and Zinc Limits
Although vitamin C and zinc are both important for your health, you shouldn't consume these nutrients in excess. Both of these nutrients can cause side effects when you get too much.
Zinc is easier to consume large amounts of compared to vitamin C. The daily tolerable upper intake level that the NIH lists for zinc is 40 milligrams. Consumption of too much zinc can result in various gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and diarrhea.
Regular consumption of around 80 milligrams of zinc per day can increase the chance of urinary health problems. Too much zinc (between 60 and 450 milligrams per day) may also lower your levels of copper and iron, worsen your immune system function and be bad for your cholesterol.
Vitamin C has a much higher tolerable upper intake level of 2,000 milligrams per day. It would be very difficult to consume this amount naturally. However, some people may choose to supplement their diets with synthetic ascorbic acid or buffered vitamin C.
These supplements can be used for a variety of reasons, from trying to support immune system function to helping pregnant women reduce urinary tract infections. However, in these cases, vitamin C is still given at amounts below the tolerable intake level. The amounts of vitamin C administered in such cases are typically between 100 milligrams and 1 gram per day.
- Functional Foods in Health & Disease: "Vitamin C: Optimal Dosages, Supplementation and Use in Disease Prevention"
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Nutrition During Pregnancy"
- FDA: "Vitamins and Minerals Chart"
- NIH: "Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- NIH: "Vitamin C: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- Pathogens: "Non-Antibiotic Prophylaxis for Urinary Tract Infections"
- World Health Organization: "Zinc Supplementation During Pregnancy"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Vitamin C"