In preparation to write an earth-shattering piece on nutrition for pregnancy, I realized the recommendations we give to pregnant women are suspiciously close to ones we give to regular people. There are the pregnancy-specific no-no’s (no alcohol, smoking, caffeine, raw fish, or lunch meat), but the do’s are common recommendations for a healthy lifestyle: Eat A Rainbow of Foods! Drink So Much Water!! Don’t Drown Yourself in Refined Sugars!! Please Exercise!
Whole foods (those which are unprocessed and as close to their natural state as possible) are your best bet in giving your baby the best nutrients for growth. Our goal is to enjoy nutrition from all the different food groups in balanced amounts. Since you already know the basic tenants of nutrition (eat your fruits and veggies, etc.), let’s focus specifically on why you need extra protein and a bunch of nutrients during pregnancy and how to find them in whole foods.
Protein is Key
We learned in school that protein is a key building block in repairing muscles and tissues, as well as growing hair and nails. During pregnancy, eating at least 75 grams of protein per day plays an important role in increasing a woman’s blood supply and can also help in lowering the risk of pregnancy-related diseases like preeclampsia. Women have also noticed a link in increased protein intake and decreased instances of morning sickness and swollen feet.
Protein can be found in fish, chicken, turkey, pork, tofu, legumes, nuts, milk, cottage cheese, eggs, and whole grains. Vegetarians and vegans have to work a little harder to source the amount of protein needed to increase their blood supply, but it’s definitely possible.
There are five nutrients that matter the most during pregnancy: calcium, iron, zinc, fiber, and folate. They’re all easily found in dietary supplements, but during pregnancy, it’s ideal to get these nutrients from actual food as often as possible. Generally, the body distributes and utilizes nutrients most effectively when they’re absorbed naturally.
Calcium is important to build your baby’s bones and teeth, but it also may help reduce your risk of pregnancy-related complications, like hypertension or preeclampsia. We typically associate calcium with dairy, but it’s also present in dark leafy greens like kale, broccoli, and bok choy, as well as edamame, almonds, and figs.
Fiber serves to combat pregnancy-induced constipation and exists in split peas, lentils, black beans, blackberries, and broccoli. Iron intake is important in avoiding anemia (deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood) and is in leafy greens, dried fruits, eggs, molasses, fish, and cherry juice. Zinc supports the immune system and exists, interestingly enough, in different kinds of seeds: squash, pumpkin, watermelon, and sunflower. It also shows up in eggs, mushrooms, brewer’s yeast, and turkey.
Folate or folic acid (a B vitamin) is important to prevent neural tube birth defects (like spina bifida), but is one that’s actually a bit difficult for the body to extract from food. You can find folic acid naturally in whole grain breads, dark leafy greens, avocados and citrus, but popping a vitamin is a totally okay way to supplement what you need, too.
You’re Doing Great
The fact that you’re taking the time to read this article means that you care about your baby’s well-being and you’re already an amazing mom. Really. You’ve got a million suggestions of what to do and how to eat well, but chances are you already know what’s best for you. Your body will tell you what’s okay and what’s not. Eating food that makes you feel good is always a good call, but if you’ve got a weird craving, that’s okay too. Food cravings are totally normal in pregnancy and can indicate a need or deficiency in your diet. Although we all know it’s best to avoid refined sugars, maybe you kinda need that ice cream sundae. I think it’s all about balance. As long as you’re also eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies, drinking a ton of water, and enjoying some light exercise, you’re totally fine. 🙂
Photo credit: @przemekklos via Twenty20
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