Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Real Food Nutrition During Pregnancy : Part 1- The Do's

Information on what to eat during pregnancy is easy to find.  Accurate information?  A little bit harder.  Whole grains and low fat diets (!) are often emphasized for pregnant mamas.  It is hard enough to sustain a single body on such a nutrient-poor diet, but two?  Impossible without mom or baby suffering nutrient deficiencies (usually mom:loss of bone density, tooth decay, etc.)  So what are the diet "rules" for expectant mothers?  Eat real food and use your intuition.  That's it.

We can talk all day about micronutrients, like how much folate, and how many mg of calcium one needs, or we can talk about food.  Eating REAL food.  It is intuition that guides us as we make choices to truly nourish our bodies, instead of creating a state of mild starvation that manifests as cravings for high sugar, low-nutrient junk foods.  The first part of this article with focus on what TO eat (I thought it best to start out positively, yes?), and Part II will focus on pregnancy superfoods, and Part III discusses what NOT to eat and following intuition concerning food choices.  So what does a pregnant mama need?  Protein, fats, vegetables, fruit, and probiotic foods.  

Protein...of good quality.  Grass-fed/pastured eggs, meat, raw whole milk and cheese (if dairy can be tolerated)are superior sources, as well as small cold water fish.  If grass-fed is not available to you, organic is a good choice, but I do warn against pasteurized milk. Nuts and seeds are also good options.  It is wise to include a serving of protein in each meal, as well as most snacks.  Protein is the source for eight essential amino acids not manufactured in the body.  These amino acids are quite literally the building blocks of life.  No tissue can be created, no metabolic process completed, without these aminos.    Adequate protein in pregnancy can prevent low energy, deperession, pre-eclampsia as well as nutritionally-linked pre-term labor and low birth weight (when no other medical reason presents itself, lack of adequate nutrition is often the cause of these two complications).  Protein is also our most readily available source of easily assimilated iron, a pregnancy must-have.  Make protein rich foods the foundation of your diet.

"What about beans?", you say.  Beans do provide protein, and are a healthful addition to the pregnancy diet, but they are so carbohydrate-rich that I feel we shortchange ourselves if we are counting on them as protein sources.  "And vegetarians?"  Well, I will never be accused of being moderate.  I do not support vegan or vegetarian diets during pregnancy.  That being said, I will advise to avoid relying on the bean/grain combos often recommended, and focus on eggs, raw dairy, nuts and seeds as well as the protein-rich veggies.   Do not by any means eliminate beans, because they are healthful sources of nutrients and a certain measure of carbohydrate-rich food is necessary during pregnancy, but do not rely on them as your main protein source.

Fats...never have a meal or snack without them!  Not only will fats keep you full longer, keep your blood sugar stable and provide absolutely essential nutrients like vitamins A and D, but the right kind of fat is necessary to ensure a pregnant mamas neurological and endocrine (read: reproductive) health as well as the neurological development of  the unborn babe.  Research in the last decade has shown possible irreversible neurological dysfunction due to lack of good fats in utero.  So what are these good fats?

Grass-fed or organic butter and ghee are my favorite sources (ghee being butter with all milk solids removed leaving only the butterfat, and having an especially sweet and nutty flavor), vitamin D rich lard is a good choice in winter, and coconut oil is yet another delicious source of saturated (good!) fat.  All of the fats mentioned above, with the exception of butter, are appropriate for high-heat cooking, such as sauteing or frying.  Olive oil can be used liberally to dress salads and veggies, but not for cooking, as it is not stable enough to withstand high temperatures.  Foods like coconut milk in a morning smoothie or curry, and ultra versatile avocados, are delicious sources of dietary fat.  Additionally, supplementing with a high vitamin cod liver oil (containing both A and D) daily, for Omega-3 balance, rounds out the fat requirements. 

Take care to seek out sources of grass-fed fats.  Their ratio of Omega-3's to Omega-6's is preferable to their grain-fed counterparts, not to mention that conventional fats often carry more than their share of pesticide residues and hormones.  Organic is a good second choice, avoiding the contaminants, but sacrificing the superior fatty acid profile.

Vegetables...Eating a rainbow of veggies is going to provide all those necessary micronutrients we tend to obsess over.  Focus on dark leafy greens or broccoli daily, and compliment them with a wide variety of colorful foods.  The greens supply ample minerals, orange foods such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, and carrots, appear to be reproductive tonics, and red foods, like beets, nourish the blood.  Depend on vegetables, not fortified cereal grains to provide your vitamins and minerals.  B's, C, calcium, magnesium, all the trace minerals and more right there in the humble vegetable.  Look at your plate at each meal.  Is it two-thirds vegetables?  Are multiple colors represented?  Remember, eat a rainbow everyday.

Fruits...always whole, never juice.  Without the fiber, all the fructose is overwhelming to the liver (which is already working overtime for you and the babe).   Not only will a wide variety of fruits provide nutrition, but they are hydrating and fibrous, a winning combination for overcoming pregnancy constipation.  Fruit will also provide plenty of carbohydrates and natural sugars for additional energy needs of the pregnant body, so again, eat liberally of wide range of colors.

Probiotic Foods like kraut, kombucha, and kefir (just to name a few) provide us with good bacteria.  These probiotic foods enhance digestion for optimal nutrient absorption, comfort (heartburn, anyone?), and easy elimination.  Additionally, lactic acid bacteria safely boost immunity and balance the flora of the body, preventing and treating the overgrowth of yeast and step B bacteria so common in pregnancy.  So, by growing healthy gut flora now, you can avoid unnecessary interventions of antibiotics during labor later, as well as prevent thrush.  The mother is the initial source of bacteria that colonize a babes gut, first in the vaginal canal and later through breastmilk.  Optimizing gut flora can help avoid infant digestive issues as well. 

Those are my 5 pillars of a healthy pregnancy diet.  You may notice grains are missing, to be discussed in Part III.  I REALLY would love feedback, so any comments, testimonials or challenges to this type of diet, OR if I have forgotten anything essential...let me know!  Part II, coming soon, will discuss yummy pregnancy superfoods!

 This is me at 8 months pregnant with the mystery twins, Sophia and Emma!