Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Super Foods for Pregnancy (Guest Post)

January 27th, 2011 · 22 Comments · Natural Health, Super Foods

This is the second in a two-part series of guest post from Donielle of Naturally Knocked Up, where you can always find great advice on foods for fertility.

Now that you know how important your diet is before conception, let’s look at foods specific to promoting a healthy pregnancy.

Once you see those two little lines on the home pregnancy test, you’re world changes. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen them before and how many children you already have, your views on food you place in your body will be dramatically altered for the next couple of years. While trying not to become obsessed with the perfect pregnancy diet, it is important to understand that eating needs to be different. Our bodies are nourishing and building a new little life, one that needs plenty of vitamins and minerals.

Food for Pregnancy: Overview

I loved Nina Planck’s book Real Food for Mother and Baby and absolutely adore the way she outlines a good pregnancy diet. Like myself, she was finding it hard to eat the gargantuan amounts of food recommended by many nutritionists. (Here’s a fun interview with Nina Planck here at Kitchen Stewardship.)

Her basic outline is this: the entire pregnancy the baby needs B vitamins (which can also help lower morning sickness symptoms!), Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. To get these nutrients a woman would eat:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Lentils and beans
  • Wide variety of fruits and veggies
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Nuts

Nutrients more specific to the first trimester are Vitamins A and D for proper organ development. These nutrients can be found in butter, eggs, and seafoods.

Second trimester nutrients are calcium and protein for good bone and muscle development. Meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese, and eggs are great sources of these essential nutrients.

For the third trimester we’re looking at brain development and Omega-3 fats are pivotal. The best source around is going to be fish! And if you can’t afford to buy a lot of fish, buy a good cod liver oil supplement instead.

Just like eating before conception helps us to build nutrient stores for baby, continuing to eat well during pregnancy has benefits beyond measure. And while a diet rich in variety is essential to make sure we consume plenty of different nutrients, there are also a few stand out foods that every pregnant woman should eat.Food #1 to eat During Pregnancy: The Egg

The egg truly is an incredible food source during pregnancy! It has the much-needed protein, vitamins A and D, as well as bits of iodine and omega-3 fats (when you choose organic and pastured eggs, see the nutrition facts on eggs). To get as much nutrition as you can from these little powerhouses, make sure you buy eggs from a trusted source; one where you can ask what they are fed and how they are taken care of. (Local Grand Rapids Real Food Resources)

The eggs should always be eaten whole. Did you know that the yolk itself is not a baby chicken? Nope. The yolk is what feeds the baby chicken and its the part of the egg that contains most of the nutrients! So make sure you eat those yolks! Even better if you can add in a couple extra yolks to your scrambled eggs or omelets. (save the whites for facials) Raw egg yolks are also a great addition to smoothies as keeping them raw is even more nutritious (just make sure that when you consume them raw that they are from a trusted source).

Food #2 to Eat During Pregnancy: Fish

High in Omega-3 fats and the all important DHA for brain development, fish should be part of each and every pregnancy diet. These wonderful fats aid in proper hormone balance during pregnancy and fish also has a healthy dose of vitamins A and D as well as much-needed protein.

Yet, it seems this is another food that is very often vilified because of the toxins that may build up within fish.

We need to understand: The benefits outweigh the risk.

Yes, toxins like mercury may be all to common place in seafoods. We are slowly destroying our oceans and the wildlife that live within it via pollution and overfishing. This is important to remember and will guide us on how to choose the fish we consume.

So how do you choose fish? (also info here)

The most important thing to look out for and avoid, while eating fish during pregnancy, is the very large fish. The large size often means the fish is older, leaving more time to build up a toxic burden. It also means that it’s higher on the food chain; again leaving more room for toxic buildup. Salmon and other small fish are perfect choices.

Also, make sure to buy wild caught fish! Farmed fish unfortunately consume a diet not meant for fish at all (lots of corn!) and they severely lack in many essential nutrients. If you can’t find a local source for nutrient dense wild salmon, try ordering from an online supplier like Vital Choice.

One last tidbit about those fragile omega-3 fats – you need to lightly cook fish, cooking only until it is done. High heats like grilling and frying can damage those precious fats so that your body can’t use them.

Food #3 to Eat During Pregnancy: Beef (and other parts)

Beef is a wonderful source of omega-3 fats, iron, protein, and B vitamins. The other parts of the cow, you know….like the liver, are also great during pregnancy!

photo credit: jelles

And yes, iron is a metal and normally we think of keeping metals out of our bodies, but this one in particular is very useful. Within the body, iron helps to carry oxygen to the lungs as well as move blood through out the body. A woman’s blood volume actually increases by about 50 percent during pregnancy – so iron is definitely needed! This blood also feeds the placenta, and without the placenta being properly nourished, a baby’s growth may be stunted.

The source of your meat makes a difference. Conventional factory farm beef cows are fed a diet high in grain (not their normal diet) and are often time subjected to antibiotics and various hormones. These hormones may upset the delicate balance of your own hormones, so buying organic, grass-fed beef is very important.

*One of the ways to help your body absorb and utilize iron is to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C into your diet as well.

Food #4 to Eat During Pregnancy: Probiotics

One of the biggest things we can do for our children’s future health is to consume lots of probiotic foods. It will offer the building blocks for proper digestive health and set the stage for their own ability to absorb nutrients from the foods they eat their entire life.

As mother’s we pass on our own gut flora to our children, so if we consume healthy amounts of probiotic foods, their immune system will be stronger. This means they’re less likely to get sick, and should they get sick, less apt to suffer severe symptoms. Not only that, it’s pivotal to have a proper balance of bacteria within your body before birthing. Without enough good bacteria in the body to fight off unwanted yeasts and bad bacteria, a woman and her baby could be subjected to all kinds of health issues. Chronic yeast infections, eczema, thrush, mastitis, fatigue, and even severe diaper rashes can all be caused by a yeast overgrowth in the body. If you have a hospital birth, you may also be asked to get a group B strep test done. Having the right balance of bacteria in your body can directly effect the outcome of this test!

To find probiotic foods, look for yogurt (with no sugar – sugar defeats the purpose of eating probiotics) kefir, kombucha (though if you don not drink kombucha prior to pregnancy, keep this one out as it may have a slight detoxing effect on the body), and properly lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut or root slaw. Use them daily! Consume them as often as possible!

When Diet Fails

All to often, though we have great intentions, we fail to make do on our promise to eat the “Perfect Pregnancy Diet”. So what happens then?

I firmly believe that we should gain most of our nutrients from foods. Real, wholesome, nutritious foods. But sometimes supplements are necessary. Our foods, even when grown organically, may not have the same level of nutrients they would have had before industrial farming took over. Study after study has shown that supplementation of certain nutrients can drastically alter the baby’s health.

Sometime supplements are needed, and I for one take them during pregnancy to make sure that any ‘holes’ that might be in my diet are filled. Baby’s health is just too important.

But what supplements should you take?

I for one, along with many other health professionals, moms, and people who just read about nutrition, think that a fish oil is a wonderful addition to supplement any pregnancy diet. You will need to make sure the fish oil you consume during pregnancy is free of mercury and other such toxins. I also think that a cod liver oil supplement is great during pregnancy as it offers ample amounts of vitamins A and D. My favorite is a traditionally fermented cod liver oil from Green Pastures. You can also find a skate oil from Green Pastures as well that would be a lovely substitution for the cod liver oil.

Many folks would show concern for many of the fish oil supplements found in normal grocery and drug stores. I agree as the processing of it may denature certain nutrients. It may also be hard for your body to process when taken long-term.

But.

Yes….but. I also know women who have used that cheapo fish oil to help them overcome major issues like PPD and had wonderful success. So I just can’t get myself to tell someone not to take it if they can’t afford the expensive stuff. I think in this case, the benefits may outweigh the risk.

A multi-vitamin can also be beneficial during pregnancy. To increase those benefits, look for a vitamin made from raw foods, like the ones from Garden of Life. They’ll be easier for your body to process and the nutrients will be more readily available for you to use. Whatever you do, try to stay away from synthetic vitamins. They’re tough on your body and some may do more harm than good. (Katie here: I’m taking the Garden of Life prenatals every other day and the prescription whatevers on the days in between, because you can only get the high dose of folic acid in prescription vitamins. Folic acid is especially important in the first trimester.)

But again, if you absolutely can not afford the more expensive raw vitamins, I’m also not going to tell you not to take any at all. Like we’ve discussed, studies have shown dramatic differences in things like the rates of spina bifida when a woman takes extra folic acid for pregnancy. If you truly and wholeheartedly believe that you need to take a multi-vitamin supplement during pregnancy, buy the best that you can afford. Leave the rest in the hands of God. We can rest in the fact that we are doing what is within our power….he will handle the rest!

Thank you, Donielle, for your always excellent info and perfectly KS balanced perspective on natural fertility – do visit her over at Naturally Knocked Up for the Sugar Detox Challenge, great recipes, and the Natural Fertility Workshop. Donielle is a Master Herbalist student, and natural momma to two littles after struggling with infertility. She has a passion for spreading the word on how food truly affects our fertility.

Advertising Disclosure: The links to Amazon.com and Drugstore.com will share a small commission with me – but drugstore.com has the best deal I could find anyway, so it’s win-win!

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22 Comments so far ↓

  • Nicole

    Great information, and timely too! I am getting past the nauseous stage of my pregnancy and can handle eating a wider variety of foods. Now I know what to focus on! Thanks!

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  • Katie @ Wellness Mama

    Great info. It’s great to see the advice about getting enough protein and good fats… that seems to often get neglected. Also, thanks for reminding me about probiotics- off to order those now.

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  • Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

    I just finished having eggs, salad dressing with raw egg yolk and anchovies, and I’m cooking with beef tonight. Oh, and I had kombucha. :) I didn’t eat like this in other pregnancies, so I can’t wait to see how healthy this baby is!

    Oh, and I just wrote an ebook about healthy pregnancy foods with lots of healthy recipes! Had to mention it. :) On sale through tonight too!

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  • Pat Robinson

    Most people don’t realize the difference between folic acid and folate, since they believe that they are both ‘the same vitamin.’

    REAL folate is much better than folic acid!
    http://heal-thyself.ning.com/profiles/blogs/folate-vs-folic-acid

    Dr. Fuhrman warns: DO NOT take multivitamins
    that contain folic acid and If you are pregnant,
    DO NOT take prenatal vitamins!
    http://www.mothering.com/community/forum/thread/1184692/real-folate-is-much-better-than-folic-acid

    Pat Robinson

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Pat,
    That’s definitely a new one for me. I just checked the Garden of Life raw prenatals, and they list folic acid, not folate. I wonder how that works since their products don’t contain synthetics, but real food vitamins. ?

    I have a hard time eating raw greens during my first trimester, when folate is most important, so I do struggle with getting enough, I’m sure, from my diet. I’m also surprised that liver and beef aren’t on the list of foods high in folate, as I was under the impression that liver especially was a knock-out food for all B vitamins.

    Some food for thought…but nothing to take with a grain of salt and just stop the prenatals. Our modern diet, even when you’re doing a pretty darn good job as I am, most days, isn’t up to par compared to what we probably need.
    Thanks for the interesting links! :) Katie

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    Pat Robinson Reply:

    Yes, I’m in communication with GoL about their folic acid. http://heal-thyself.ning.com/group/nutritionbiochemistry/forum/topics/folic-acid-vs-folate

    Liver and beans, legumes and whole grains are great sources of folate too.

    Pat

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    Donielle @ Naturally Knocked Up Reply:

    Pat, I am definitely not a fan of prenatal vitamins in the least bit. But I also can’t get myself to tell women (who may be eating a very standard american diet, to stop taking them. To do so may have disastrous effects.

    I also was aware that many times the ‘folic acid’ they put in them was not the same as folate – though I thought the GoL ones had folate. Please pass on any info you find about those!!

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  • JessieLeigh

    Thanks, Donielle (and Katie!) for such a comprehensive post! I kind of shudder to think about how I approached my “pregnancy diet” the first time around and, really, even my third. I didn’t understand the impact of different nutrients. I had such horrible, horrible hyperemesis with all three and my OBs just kept telling me to “eat anything I could keep down”. It was actually my kids’ pediatrician who finally told me, “You need more vitamin B.” And he was totally right. I also must say that I truly appreciate how you acknowledge that we all should do the best we can and have trust in God. Some “healthy eating” posts can leave the average reader feeling disheartened. Yours succeeds in leaving us feeling empowered.

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  • Mary

    Good stuff. I found this while surfing this evening, it looks pretty good but haven’t had a chance to read it yet and it has a couple of chapters on pregnancy diets and nutrition –
    http://safepregnancy.net/BIGBOOKOFBABYSAFETYTIPS.html

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  • Suzie Fenwick

    Hey! Great article, really informative and interesting. I can’t agree more with your advice especially the probiotics part. So important to get those friendly bacteria into our little ones ASAP. I think of it as nature’s way of mothers giving their kids a natural inoculation! Thanks for the article!

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  • Ginny

    This post is perfect timing for me. I’m at 11 1/2 weeks and have been scouring every resource I can get my hands on to find the “perfect” pregnancy diet. I did read Nina Planck’s Real Food for Mother and Baby, which I love!! My first 2 pregnancy “diets” left so much to be desired and I’m already eating a lot better than I ever did previously. One diet I keep coming across is the Brewer Diet. It seems to loosely follow the WAP principles, but doesn’t talk about probiotics, stocks, or ferments of any kind. I thought I would be able to modify it to include more WAP principles, but so many people that I’ve talked to say that they gained a ton of weight trying to eat all of the food that is required. I, myself, don’t eat 5 sesrvings of grains a day, which is one of the requirements.

    The way you have it outlined makes it much more doable for me. I think that some of want amounts and numbers, but we have to remember that we are each individuals. Thanks!!

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  • Crystal - Prenatal Coach

    Great post Donielle! I’ll continue to focus on eating nutrient dense super foods until I become pregnant. I think these foods are equally as important for optimal fertility! I’m going to share this post with my readers :)

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  • Rachel Ramey

    I’m sorry to just now be commenting – I know this is a little old – but I’d like to know if you can tell me more about “passing on our own gut flora” to our little ones. I had some medical testing done when I was pregnant with my now-3-month-old daughter and one of the things that turned up was that my gut is all but sterile. (I have no idea why – we drink raw milk on a daily basis, we eat yogurt, etc. But there was very little of anything there.) I expressed the same concern to the doctor – if I could pass on that lack, if I could pass on a yeast infection (had I had one, which I didn’t), etc. My doctor – who is pretty holistically minded – said that isn’t possible. He said that the unborn baby is in a sterile environment as far as that goes, and her own gut flora will be built based on what I FEED her (after birth), but not at all on the condition of my own gut.

    I’m not beyond believing my doctor is mistaken, but he seemed pretty confident of the science of it, so I’d like to hear some more concrete evidence/reasoning before deciding that’s the case. :)

    (If I had tons of money, I’d have my little one tested for the sheer curiosity of it! lol But I can’t afford to have lab testing done just ’cause I want to know.)

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    Donielle @ Natural Living Moms Reply:

    From what I understand is that it really depends on how the baby is born. During a vaginal birth the baby picks up bacteria as it moves through the birth canal. If the mom has a healthy abundance of good bacteria, it’s thought that the baby then will have much of the same bacteria. If the mom had antibiotics before or during birth and her own healthy bacteria was destroyed, the baby *really* is born sterile. (and antibiotics used during labor are specifically for killing bacteria in the mom due to group b strep, etc)

    If the baby is born c-section, then again, they don’t pick up the bacteria as they move through the birth canal.

    But the mom’s system afterward is most important, at least in my understanding. Because what you feed baby, will feed his/her immune system. A breastfed baby, again – gets all it’s healthy bacteria from mom. My daughter struggled with the same yeast issues that I did, and once I finally got mine under control, her issues went away as well.

    A formula fed infant (especially one born via c-section or after antibiotics) is really at greatest risk for improper gut balance. They didn’t pick up bacteria during birth and they aren’t getting it from mom.I think they’ve finally started to put probiotics in some formulas, but it’s not wide spread yet.

    So I don’t think your doctor is ‘wrong’, I just think that if doctors and hospitals prescribe antibiotics during labor for a group b strep positive mom because the baby picks up bacteria during birthing, that you also have to think that it’s picking good bacteria as well.

    That’s my non-medical opinion. :-)

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    Rachel Ramey Reply:

    But is what’s in my vaginal tract necessarily the same as what’s in my gut? (Not arguing, just discussing. :) I’d love to get to the bottom of this!)

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    Donielle @ Natural Living Moms Reply:

    I wish I knew. :-)

    If only I had my own lab to do my own studies! I honestly don’t know – but it is a question I have. Especially when so many holistic practitioners and alternative health folks claim that the immune system of a baby is based on mom and her immune system – which is based in the gut.

    Some bacteria in the gut shouldn’t be in the vaginal tract – the whole reason to wipe front to back.

    Here’s and interesting look at the bacteria they’ve found in different regions of the body: http://www.textbookofbacteriology.net/normalflora_3.html
    it also says”At birth the entire intestinal tract is sterile, but bacteria enter with the first feed. The initial colonizing bacteria vary with the food source of the infant. In breast-fed infants, bifidobacteria account for more than 90% of the total intestinal bacteria. Enterobacteriaceae and enterococci are regularly present, but in low proportions, while bacteroides, staphylococci, lactobacilli and clostridia are practically absent. In bottle-fed infants, bifidobacteria are not predominant. When breast-fed infants are switched to a diet of cow’s milk or solid food, bifidobacteria are progressively joined by enterics, bacteroides, enterococci lactobacilli and clostridia. Apparently, human milk contains a growth factor that enriches for growth of bifidobacteria, and these bacteria play an important role in preventing colonization of the infant intestinal tract by non indigenous or pathogenic species. ”

    And I agree that the digestive system is sterile when born, just that the baby picks up good bacteria as it moves through the birth canal. After that it comes from mom – and moms good bacteria and immune system then go to baby. The above quote even says that babies get bifidobacteria from mom – which in the table looks to be that it’s only found in the small intestine. Enterobacteriaceae and enterococci are also found in breastfed babies, yet only found in an adults intestines – not the vaginal tract.

    Wikipedia says that “The primary colonizing bacteria of a healthy individual’s vaginal tract are of the genus lactobacilli[1] and the lactic acid they produce”

    It’s an interesting question – I sure don’t have all the answers. :-)

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    Rachel Ramey Reply:

    That’s very helpful; thank you! I’m with you on wishing I just had my own lab! :)

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    Nicole Reply:

    So I have a question, based on all this and practical application. I am about to have a c-section with my 4th, with the possibility of antibiotics (they are telling me these are necessary due to a nasty uterine infection after my last baby). I am happy with neither of these, but am trying to make the best of the situation. Therefore, my question is this. Will taking probiotics prior to the c-section and birth be a good idea, so that I can enhance what I pass on through my breast milk??

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    Donielle @ Natural Living Moms Reply:

    Personally, I’d take them before, and immediately after. Also get some food prepared ahead of time and eat little to NO sugar in the weeks following the birth. Do as much as you can to strengthen and support your immune system. Doing this before the birth builds it up so that hopefully the antibiotics don’t kick it completely useless. It also helps your own gut permeability and will strengthen your own health. Do it after to build it back up so that the antibiotic use doesn’t become something you have to re-visit often. (often times women get on a horrible antibiotic cycle after birthing)

    Good luck!

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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