I have been doing a lot of research lately on pregnancy nutrition. I honestly have not been satisfied with my findings. I am a licensed nutritional consultant with a focus on weight loss. Obviously you don’t want to be losing weight during pregnancy, but you don’t want to go crazy and gain a ton of fat on your body either. This could lead to problems with your legs, back, blood sugar, blood pressure and a number of other serious medical conditions for the mother and the baby. This brings up the question: does it really matter what we eat while we are pregnant? The answer is yes! Studies have shown that women on poor diets actually have harder labors and their babies run a higher risk of infection the first year of life. Animal experiments have shown that low-protein diets during pregnancy lead to a reduced number of brain cells in offspring.
I am currently 27 weeks pregnant with baby number four, so this is another reason why I am interested in pregnancy nutrition right now. I think every mother is different, and every situation is different. Its funny, with all four of my pregnancies I have gained the majority of the weight in the first 20 weeks! I balloon out, and I get worried, but then the second half of the pregnancy I slowly plateau with my weight and will gradually gain an additional 5-10 lbs over the last 20 weeks. I started out this pregnancy slightly “underweight” so I am not too concerned with the number on the scale, but more with the quality of the food I consume. Every woman is different, and every baby is different. I think throughout pregnancy we should focus less on the number on the scale, and more on what exactly we are putting into our bodies and the outcome of our eating habits.
I have all my clients track their food, but before I was pregnant I was not tracking my food because I was just trying to maintain my weight, and I know by looking at my plate what portions I needed for my body to maintain. Since I have been pregnant I have started logging my food intake. It helps me to plan ahead to make sure I eat the healthy snacks and meals that are loaded with quality nutrition. A pregnant woman should be consuming 80-100g of protein a day. Some support the idea that the baby will get the nutrients it needs regardless of what the mother eats. It will take the nutrients from the mother’s tissues for its own needs if it has to to survive. This is possibly true to some extent but don’t you want a baby that thrives, not just merely survives?
So what should you eat while pregnant? What should you avoid? There are a bunch of theories and old ways of thinking out there. Something that I do not agree with is “avoid salt”, it is important to listen to your body, if you are craving a salty food, then its for a reason. Natural salt such as sea salt or pink himalayan salt is wonderful to eat in moderation.
Another myth is: Avoid all sugars and fats! This way of thinking was brought on by those trying to prevent “pre-eclampsia”, “toxemia” or “gestational diabetes” etc. It has been shown when you severely restrict something in your diet, you can actually bring on these conditions. Your body needs sugars, especially healthy ones from fruits, or honey these sugars are wonderful for you to have in moderation. Fats are important as well, some great foods are avocados, healthy oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and fish oils, and grass fed butter. These things are great to have in moderation, but moderation is key. We raise our own grass-fed beef and natural pork, and free range chickens. I will say that the leaner meats such as the grass fed beef, and the venison we eat are great sources of protein and healthy fats. The pork can be a bit fatty and after I eat that I will get a horrible stomach ache. I feel the same way after consuming a fatty steak or burger from a restaurant. The high amount of saturated fats do not sit well with my stomach, pregnant or not.
I will say that there is not enough information out there for pregnant women on the importance of protein consumption. This is exactly why I track my food intake while pregnant. I want to make sure that I am getting in the 80-100g of protein each day that my body needs. Protein is not a direct source of energy, but it slows down the absorption of carbohydrates and fats so that you get a sort of time-capsule effect. Protein helps allow your blood sugar to rise steadily over a longer length of time so that you have a steady prolonged source of energy rather than ups and downs during the day. Protein is the key to steady energy. Protein is important for the mother and the developing baby. Protein has been shown to prevent some medical conditions such as pre-eclampsia or toxemia. Protein keeps your stomach full longer when eaten in combination with carbs and it helped me a lot with “morning sickness”. Some great sources of protein are: greek yogurt, cottage cheese, jerky, chicken, protein powder, eggs, and other lean meats. Beans also have a high amount of protein, but they also have a lot of carbs, so that can be something to be aware of. Nuts and nut butters also have some protein in them, but they are in the category of “fats” so they should be consumed in moderation.
A lot of the pregnancy nutritional information out there will scare you with “don’t eat lunch meat” or “don’t eat raw milk” or “don’t eat sushi” and these things should be taken and used with common sense and your own intuition. (Obviously, listen to your health care provider, but also do your own research). Eating lunch meat can possibly lead to the deadly virus Listeria. The truth is that you can get also get listeria from bagged lettuce or salad, or frozen veggies in the grocery store, but they aren’t going to tell you to stop eating salad/veggies. I personally eat lunch meat that is fresh with no problems at all. (You can heat it up for 30 seconds to be safe). Same goes for the raw milk and the sushi. If I know it is fresh, and I know where it came from, I personally eat it, but this is strictly a personal decision, you should do your own research and talk to your health care provider before making your decision.
Another thing that pregnant women worry about is caffeine, I know I did with my first pregnancy. I soon found that if I did not have any coffee in the morning, I would have a horrible migraine. I had to have that cup of coffee each day to keep the headaches away. I had horrible migraines the first two pregnancies, but with the last two, keeping up a schedule of coffee (only 1-2 cups a day), along with taking a magnesium supplement twice a day, worked like a charm. It is also SO important to make sure you are getting in enough water! Water is important with digestion, absorption of vitamins, regulating the fluid levels in your body, and keeping away preterm labor. Yes, you will be making more trips to the bathroom, and that is annoying…. But it is a side effect you will get used to.
I have heard stories of pregnant women starving themselves or fasting before an appointment with the OBGYN so that they don’t get “in trouble” for gaining too much weight. This is so unhealthy, and restricting your calories from quality foods means restricting your energy and nutrients, as well as the baby’s energy and nutrients. When the nutrients can not get absorbed efficiently this can lead to preeclampsia, toxemia or preterm labor. Women who eat a healthy well rounded diet of fresh fruits, veggies, and healthy protein from lean meats, eggs, and dairy, have been shown to have healthier pregnancies, healthier babies, and faster easier labors with less chance for a c-section.
I understand that when you are pregnant, and tired, and possibly sick, that last thing you want to do is cook. Trust me, I know! Planning ahead and throwing some chicken in the crockpot can be a game changer between ordering pizza and having a healthy meal for the family. I love salad because you don’t have to cook it, you just put it in a bowl…. Easy! The “Bolthouse farms” salad dressings are so good and very healthy. I also love the steam fresh frozen veggies, they are so quick, easy, and yummy! A little planning goes a long way, and you can feed your body and baby with nutritious foods. Tonight for dinner the kids and I had salad and scrambled eggs…. That is easy and healthy!
I am always on the go, I spend a large amount of time in my car each day. Bringing the kids to and from preschool, swim lessons, tee ball, etc. I get hungry, and instead of being tempted to run though fast food, I keep lots of healthy snacks in my car for myself and my kids. Things like jerky, raisins, apples, protein shakes, clementines, organic protein bars, trail mix, and soy nuts are some of my “go to’s” right now. Moderation is very important, you want to be careful of mindless snacking out of a never ending bag. I will measure out individual portion sizes and put them in snack baggies for myself and my kids. This way we know how much we are eating so we don’t over do it, especially with the fatty foods like nuts.
I hope this information helps to shed a different light on what you have been taught about pregnancy nutrition. I believe that you should gain a healthy amount of weight while pregnant, and also create healthy habits that will carry on throughout your entire life. You should not overly restrict your nutrition (as long as it is coming from quality sources), and keep processed food consumption to a minimum. Think vitamin rich foods and meats and you will do great!
Sarah Williams MS, ATC, SFN
“Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way” Susan McCutcheon
“Guide to Childbirth” Ina May Gaskins
“50 Days to Your Best Life” Dr. Joe Klemczewski, Dr. Kori Propst