Why DHA Doesn’t Belong in Your Prenatal Vitamin

The more, the merrier may be the old saying, but that’s really not what you want happening in your prenatal vitamin. When it comes to this sort of specialized nutritional support, what’s not included is just as key as what is. Ideally, any prenatal brand you trust with something as important as your fertility, pregnancy, and growing baby has done its homework. In our eyes, that means thoroughly researching their ingredients, investigating which nutrients are typically accessible through diet alone, and double checking how all of this stuff interacts. That’s exactly what we did here at Beli, and that’s exactly why you won’t find DHA (among other ingredients) in our prenatal vitamin.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • As supplements, prenatal vitamins are designed to shore up the nutritional gaps in your diet – not serve as a replacement for poor nutrition.
  • While DHA is essential during pregnancy, it’s not shelf stable when combined with other ingredients and is best accessed via food or as a separate supplement.
  • Vitamin A is another essential nutrient during pregnancy, but it can be harmful in high doses and is easily accessed in the typical American diet.
  • Iron and calcium are essential minerals that compete for absorption, which means reduced bioavailability. Since calcium is another nutrient you can pick up in your diet, Beli prioritizes iron in its prenatal vitamin formulation.

Let’s first clarify that a prenatal vitamin is a supplement, and by definition, it’s intended to supplement your nutrition. Multivitamins and prenatal vitamins aren’t designed to replace a mindful diet – they simply help shore up the nutritional gaps that inevitably occur. 

Any dietitian will tell you that your diet can and should be the main source of all the essential vitamins and minerals you need not only to function, but to thrive. But pregnancy is its own little animal, and your needs for specific nutrients – folate, choline, vitamin D, and iron, among others – increase. Supplementing with a great prenatal vitamin is the best way to ensure that you’re getting everything you need.

But as mentioned, more isn’t necessarily better. In fact, when it comes to prenatal vitamins, more can actually be seriously problematic. So what don’t we include? Let’s get to it.

Why Beli Skips DHA

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid. It’s found in salmon and tuna. It’s non-negotiable for the proper growth and functional development of the brain in babies, and adults use it for brain function too. If you’ve ever heard someone call salmon “brain food,” now you know why.

Here’s the thing about DHA. You absolutely need it during pregnancy. But our position here at Beli is that while you should certainly be getting adequate amounts, DHA has no place in your prenatal vitamin. Why? We have a few reasons.

  • It’s accessible in many foods. DHA is abundantly found in fish, including salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring. But you’ll also find a version of it in chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts, edamame, kidney beans, and wheat germ. The daily recommendation is at least 200 mg before, during, and after pregnancy, and you can knock that out by eating 8 to 12 ounces of salmon in a week.
  • It’s not shelf stable when it’s combined with other ingredients in capsule form. Surprise – DHA is prone to oxidative degradation from light and heat, which means it smells bad and tastes worse. If you’re spending good money on your prenatal vitamins, how awful is it that a bottle might go bad before you get to it? And don’t just take our word for it. “I typically avoid prenatals with DHA in them since it's not supposed to be very stable when combined with other nutrients in supplement form,” says Brooke Boskovich, RD.
  • It’s personal. A DHA supplement should be a private decision. You may have a reason for avoiding a fish-based source, after all, or for deciding your DHA should only come from wild-caught fish.
  • Those fishy burps + morning sickness? Ugh. A prenatal vitamin that includes DHA can be hard on your stomach – the last thing you want if you’re already dealing with morning sickness. Taking a separate DHA supplement gives you a little more flexibility to decide when you can best stomach your pills.

Why Beli Skips Vitamin A, Calcium, and Riboflavin

Vitamin A is another important nutrient during pregnancy, helping your baby’s organs, bones, eyes all develop properly, along with supporting the respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems. But high doses of vitamin A can actually lead to birth defects, and the typical American diet provides all the vitamin A you need. It’s in all kinds of foods, including meat, dairy products, fish, eggs, fortified cereals, and most fruits and veggies.

Including vitamin A in your prenatal vitamin is a classic example of too much of a good thing. Oversupplying nutrients isn’t beneficial, and in this case, it’s downright harmful.

Then there’s the matter of iron and calcium, two compounds that compete for absorption. While both essential minerals are, well, essential, the combination in a prenatal vitamin means reduced bioavailability. In other words, you aren’t actually getting the amount indicated on the label. That’s particularly problematic when it comes to iron, since iron deficiencies are a slippery slope to anemia.

Since calcium is another nutrient you can pick up in your diet with adequate amounts of dairy, including milk, cheese, and yogurt, along with dark leafy greens and fortified cereals, we prioritize iron in our prenatal vitamin. We opt for a chelated version that’s tummy friendly, since iron is notoriously hard on the stomach.

Then there’s riboflavin, or vitamin B2. Your baby uses it for proper bone, muscle, and nerve development. But again, this is a vitamin best sourced in your foods, where it’s readily available. Riboflavin can be found in milk, meats, nuts, leafy greens, and fortified foods.

The Bottom Line

A good prenatal vitamin is supposed to support you from fertility to post-partum with all the right nutrients in all the right amounts. And that means being mindful of what isn’t included. Luckily, Beli has you covered. Instead of trying to kitchen sink your prenatal vitamin, we’ve calibrated a very precise blend of nutrients – it’s everything you need, and nothing you don’t.

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