Doctors, nutritionists, and mommy intuition all agree that one of the most important times in our lives is pregnancy. For nutritional purposes, this period should be considered a minimum of 6 months before conception, the entire gestational period, and up to two years following birth. During this time, as women, our nutritional needs are at their peak. The health and longevity of our children hinges upon our ability to meet the dietary demands of our bodies and our baby’s bodies. That is a lot of pressure to be under, but meeting these needs does not have to be overly complicated.
First, let’s discuss the foods not to eat during pregnancy. There are the obvious toxins, such as cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs (even prescriptions). But the list of foods to avoid seems to be different depending on where you look! As a rule though, much better to be safe than sorry. Here are some basics to omit from your diet, as recommended by the Weston Price Foundation: transfats, vegetable oils, refined sweeteners (including sugar, high fructose corn syrup & agave), artificial sweeteners (including Equal, nutrasweet & Splenda), white flour, soy products, caffeinated substances, and when possible, all microwaved/processed foods. When in doubt, leave it out! This includes synthetic vitamin supplements. (Many of the prenatal vitamins on the market.)
Wow. So that is quite the list of no-nos! The good news is, there are a lot of nutritious and delicious foods left to choose from! All foods that will expand the health of you and your baby, instead of deteriorating it!
Here is a list of the 6.5 MOST essential pregnancy foods:
1. Butter. A rich source of vitamins A, D, K2, and E, butter from grass-fed cows is necessary for development of body and brain. There is a lot of research on the importance of DHA for baby’s brain as well. Butter has DHA! It also provides iodine for thyroid support, and contains lecithin, selenium, copper, zinc, and chromium. Last, but not least, butter contains arachidonic acid, a type of fat essential for healthy skin and intestinal function. You should eat at least 4 tablespoons a day, in or on whatever you like. Note that the source of butter is important to maximize nutritional benefits. My favorite brand is Kerrygold, available at most grocery stores.
2. Eggs. For starters, the whites of eggs are an excellent protein source. It is the yolks, however, that pack the biggest nutritional punch. Egg yolk is a great source of choline–crucial in brain development and the formation of resilient nervous systems. Egg yolks also provide a great source of healthy cholesterol, necessary for the production of sex hormones and to help the body (and baby) deal with stress. Pregnant/nursing women should strive to eat a minimum of two eggs per day. If you tire of eating eggs on their own daily, include them in smoothies, Homemade ice cream and custards. (Note: some people, myself included, do not tolerate eggs well. If this is you, don’t despair! Pay special attention to the rest of your diet, and you can have every hope of a healthy pregnancy.)
3. Fresh fruits & vegetables. These foods lend variety to the diet. They can help hydrate, and fruits are a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth! Fruits and vegetables can be a good source of Vitamin C, folate, and magnesium, a mineral that helps prevent muscle cramping. Since the human digestive tract is not designed to cope with a high amount of raw fiber, veggies are most beneficial when at least partially cooked. Also, their nutrition is most absorbable by the body when consumed with a healthy dose of fat. (Think coconut oil, butter, or avocados!) It is important to purchase organic fruits or vegetables when possible. You can consume an unlimited amount of these foods during pregnancy!
4. Bone broths. Homemade bone broths have almost-endless benefits for you and your baby. They are a gelatin-rich food that will help you digest your food, potentially alleviating pregnancy nausea. The gelatin in broths will contribute to strong bones, tendons, and connective tissues for both you and baby. Homemade stocks also contain glycine. Glycine is needed for protein synthesis in the fetus, the synthesis of the placenta, and protection of mother and baby from toxins and stress. (For complete information on the benefits of this nutritional superfood, as well as detailed instructions on how to prepare it, see my post on “If you do just ONE thing to improve your diet.”) Drink at least one cup of broth per day, but note that you cannot overdo it when it comes to this food!
5. Seafood & meats. Seafoods are a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids. They are also a good source of iodine and other important trace minerals that support neurological function, thyroid function, and aid in promoting restful sleep. Seafood is a complete source of protein, iron, and zinc needed for building baby’s body. Other important meats include lamb, beef, pork, poultry, and game meats. Note that the fat of the meat also supplies valuable nutrients and aids in protein digestion, so the fat should be consumed when practically possible. Eat at least two servings of seafood per week and some kind of meat daily.
6. Salt. Without salt, you can digest neither carbohydrates, nor protein. Salt also supports adrenal function in Mama. As far as baby goes, salt/sodium plays a critical role in neurological development. Sodium activates an enzyme needed for the production of the cells in the brain that support both logical and creative thinking. Unrefined mineral salts are best for these purposes. There is no specific amount required, rather, consume salt to taste in and on your foods to meet your needs.
6.5. Raw milk & raw cheese. Dairy is rich in choline, whose importance I outlined previously. It is also a source of healthy cholesterol, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A and K2. Weston Price and Sally Fallon provide a lot of information on the importance of these foods as part of a healthy pregnancy diet. I don’t disagree, however, I am downplaying their importance a bit and making them a “.5”. I do this for two reasons. One, dairy is one of the least-tolerated foods out there. (Often individuals who do not tolerate dairy products well CAN consume moderate raw dairy, however, because of the enzymes present in these foods.) The other reason I do not focus heavily on dairy consumption is because locating raw dairy can be difficult to do. For example, the US Government has outlawed the sale of raw milk in our area as of this year. The good news is, raw cheese is available in most health food stores, as well as online at http://www.uswellnessmeats.com.
Those are the 6.5 foods to include in your diet before, during, and after pregnancy. But what about supplementation?? By and large, if you eat a healthy diet, you should minimize the need for whole food supplements. That said, there are a couple very important foods that I am assuming you’d rather supplement than prepare and consume. These are liver and cod liver oil.
Cod liver oil is chock-full of Vitamin A. This vitamin is indispensable for the development of strong bones, keen eyesight, mineral metabolism, hormone production and mental stability. If a woman with low Vitamin A status becomes pregnant, the heart in the fetus cannot form properly. This can result in miscarriage or serious birth defects. During mid-gestation, Vitamin A is required for fetal lung development. Deficiency of this vitamin can also result in reduced kidney function. It is very difficult to obtain adequate Vitamin A from plant foods because leafy greens and orange fruits and veggies actually contain carotenes, which are only the precursors to Vitamin A. Too much A without Vitamin D complementation is not ideal either. This is why a cod liver oil supplement is ideal. When searching for a cod liver oil, the best ratio of Vitamins A to D is 8:1.
Now to touch on liver. Of all of the foods available in the human diet, liver is the most nutrient-dense. Beef liver contains over 50,000 IU of Vitamin A per serving. It is an excellent source of phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, Vitamin B2, B6, choline, biotin and folate. Liver even contains more Vitamin C per gram than carrots! It is a valuable source of Vitamin K2, which is critical for the development of baby’s bone structure, teeth, blood and brain. Assuming that consuming actual animal livers as a patê or cuisine does not appeal to you, it would be wise to consider consuming quality desiccated liver capsules.
(We have spent today discussing Mom’s diet. As a last point, I would like to emphasize that Dad’s diet pre-conception can be equally important! The same basic nutrition is essential for him as well. This will ensure that the ideal foundation is in place for your bundle of joy!)
So eat up, and happy baby-making! 😉
Yours in health,
(A large portion of the information in this post is borrowed from the book “The Nourishing Traditions…” by Sally Fallon and supported by my own clinical findings.)