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Nutrition in Pregnancy

Written by Amanda Levitt, ND

Whether you are newly pregnant and aren’t sure what foods are optimally nutritious for growing a healthy baby or perhaps you have a gaggle of kids at home and realize that your diet primarily consists of leftover chicken nuggets and goldfish, this is the perfect time to clean up your diet and create healthy eating habits for you and your family.

Are you like many Americans, grabbing fast food on the run, packaged convenience foods, and highly processed foods?  The first step towards excellent nutrition is stopping and thinking about the kinds of food you eat.

When you enter the grocery store, shop around the perimeter. That is where the “real food” lives.  Produce, meat, fish, dairy, eggs, bread…these foods should be the bulk of your shopping cart, with brief forays into the center aisles for specific items on your list.

In the first trimester, many women are nauseous and don’t have much of an appetite.  The strategy for this time period is to try to eat small frequent meals of whatever stays down, trying to make the healthiest choices possible.  Don’t worry if you aren’t able to eat balanced meals at this point, your growing baby is tiny and will get what it needs from your nutrient stores.  As your pregnancy progresses, aim for small frequent meals of nutrient-dense foods to balance blood sugar and maintain energy levels.

Healthy Snack Ideas:

  • Whole grain crackers and cheese
  • Yogurt with granola and fruit
  • Hard -boiled egg and slice of  whole grain toast
  • Veggies and hummus dip
  • Rice cake with nut butter (almond, soy or peanut butter if not allergic.)
  • Turkey slices and whole grain crackers
  • Edamame soy beans
  • Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
  • Apple or pear with cheese or nut butter
  • Protein smoothies are a great way to get quality protein on the run.  Blend whey or rice protein with soy or cow’s milk, fresh or frozen fruit, plain yogurt, and a splash of juice for sweetness to make a delicious meal or snack.  Leftover smoothie can be frozen in popsicles for a protein packed treat
  • Lo-fat plain  yogurt with 100% maple syrup and fruit

Carbohydrates:

In our society, carbohydrate is a dirty word.  Carbohydrates are actually the main source of energy for all body functions.  That said, all carbohydrates are not created equal.  Trade refined grains like white pasta, rice, bread and crackers for whole grain options.  Whole grain products have a lower glycemic index, which means that they will not spike your blood sugar.  Instead, they are like a time released capsule of energy.  Whole wheat pasta, whole grain cereals with less than 5 grams of sugar, Ezekiel bread, brown rice, and quinoa are great choices.  Whole grain options are also higher in protein and fiber, giving you more bang for your buck! Constipation is common in pregnancy. Eating increased fiber in the form of complex carbohydrates like whole grains and beans promote better bowel function.

Fruits and Veggies:

Less than 10% of Americans eat the recommended 5 a day of fruits and vegetables.  Think of fruits and vegetables as vitamin, mineral, and fiber-packed power foods.  Try to eat at least 2 servings of fruit a day and 3 servings of vegetables.  Green leafy vegetables are especially high in folic acid, which prevents neural tube defects.

Varicose veins and hemorrhoids are common pregnancy complaints. Dark skinned fruits like blueberries, raspberries, plums, and cherries are especially high in plant chemicals called flavonoids, which strengthen blood vessels.   Aim for 1 cup a day of fresh or frozen.

Protein:

Proteins provide the framework for every cell in the body.  Protein requirements are increased during pregnancy.   Including a protein with each meal and as a snack will help to balance blood sugar and maintain energy levels throughout the day.  Inadequate protein intake is associated with toxemia of pregnancy.   As we move up the food chain, pesticides and toxins in the environment become more concentrated.  Try to choose organic options for protein foods whenever possible.

Best Protein Sources:

  • Eggs
  • Lo-fat dairy: cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, milk
  • Fish (see best choice table)
  • Beans/legumes: black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, lima, navy, pinto, tofu, tempeh
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachio, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts
  • Organic chicken/turkey
  • Grass fed beef

Fats:

Healthy sources of fats include: fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, and vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower, safflower, sesame, coconut, canola, and flax. Fish contain Omega 3 fatty acids which are important for fetal brain and retinal development, and maintaining cardiovascular health and mood. One caveat, fish can pose considerable health risks when contaminated with substances such as metals (e.g., mercury and lead), industrial chemicals (e.g., PCBs) and pesticides (e.g., DDT and dieldrin). Choose safe sources of fish from the table below.  Flax oil and raw walnuts are good vegetarian sources of omega 3’s.

Best choices for fish:

 high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in environmental contaminants and are eco-friendly

  • wild salmon from Alaska (fresh, frozen and canned)
  • Arctic char
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • sardines
  • sablefish
  • anchovies
  • farmed oysters
  • farmed rainbow trout and
  • albacore tuna from the U.S. and Canada.

What your baby does NOT need:

  • Caffeine: limit your caffeine intake to 1 serving a day
  • Smoking: It is definitely time to quit.  Smoking in pregnancy is linked to low birth weight, and exposure to smoke in the home increases your baby’s risk of asthma and respiratory infections.
  • Soda: High in phosphorus, sodas can promote calcium loss.  Also filled with sugar or artificial sweeteners and flavors.  Better choices:  water, coconut water, seltzer with juice, and diluted (50%) fruit/vegetable juices.
  • Alcohol

There is definitely wiggle room for treats.  I recommend the 90% rule.  Eat nutritious whole foods 90% of the time, and then enjoy the occasional chocolate brownie or ice cream without any guilt.  Just be sure to read labels.  If the ingredients contain chemicals that you need a PhD in chemistry to pronounce, I recommend choosing the option with real food ingredients that taste more delicious anyway!

Remember, as the mom of the house you have control over what is in the kitchen.  You have the power to shape your family’s palate. Choose well and bon appétit!

Dr. Amanda Levitt is a naturopathic physician specializing in natural medicine for women and children and the mother of 3 wonderful and wily children.   www.wholehealthct.com

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