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, your 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: during 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:
- Lentils and beans
- Wide variety of fruits and veggies
- Extra virgin olive oil
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.
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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.
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!
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 mothers 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 do 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 too often, though we have great intentions, we fail to make good 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.
Sometimes 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.
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!
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