By Emily Wade Adams, CNC for Natal-Nutrition.com
We’ve all heard the old adage, “You are what you eat.” This concept is even more important during pregnancy. Not only are you what you eat, but your baby is what you eat. As soon as conception occurs the embryo requires nutrients for developmental processes like cellular division and protein synthesis to occur. The baby’s growth and development are extremely rapid, and if the appropriate nutrients aren’t available when the baby needs them that part of its development will be abnormal or could even fail completely. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how nutrient deficiencies can seriously compromise your baby’s health.
While in utero, the baby’s nutritional needs take precedence, so it’s not uncommon for mothers to become nutrient deficient, too. Nutrient deficiencies can set you up for a more difficult pregnancy and postpartum period. Whether you want to prevent health complications for your baby or yourself, it’s imperative to get the best nutrition possible while you’re pregnant.
With its reliance on processed foods, which have had their nutrients refined away, it’s easy to see why the standard American diet lacks essential vitamins and minerals (Hudson, 2022). This is bad enough for everyday health, but it’s especially harmful during pregnancy, when many vitamin and mineral needs increase to account for the baby’s growing demands. For example, the RDAs for folate, magnesium, zinc and iron all increase during pregnancy.
Here are five tips to help you eat a nutrient-rich diet and ensure your baby’s optimal development:
Eat foods that are found in nature. While even natural foods can contain health-sabotaging compounds like sugar (fruit), salt (celery), and starch (grains), nature always packages the poison with the antidote. Natural sugars and starches are bound with fiber in nature, which slows the release of glucose into your bloodstream and may prevent gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. In our bodies – and in nature – sodium is balanced by potassium. Whole foods are also much more nutrient dense than their refined counterparts because their outer layers haven’t been stripped away.
Eat lots and lots of complex carbs, like vegetables that are chock-full of healthy vitamins, minerals and fiber. Avoid refined carbohydrates like those found in processed, packaged and boxed foods. Half your plate should be filled with leafy or crunchy vegetables at every meal. Add veggies to your breakfast omelet, top a salad with grilled chicken for lunch, or saute greens to serve alongside fish for dinner.
Make sure you’re eating enough protein and healthy fats. Protein is especially important during pregnancy, as it is the raw material for body tissues and is essential for development and growth. Fats are an important component of the brain (and the right kinds of fats can be mood enhancing for you, too). Best of all, a protein- and fat-rich diet will stave off cravings and help you feel full longer.
Try to eat organic. Prenatal exposure to pesticides is linked to low IQ, and organic foods are generally more nutritious than non-organic (Murray, Pizzorno & Pizzorno, 2005). Worried about the costs? Hit up your local farmers market, try a CSA box, or refer to the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” report to help you prioritize which produce items absolutely must be purchased organic. It’s essential to seek out organic or pastured meat and dairy to avoid antibiotics and hormones.
Try a prenatal multivitamin. In addition to depleted soil, processed foods and a monotonous diet, stress and illness can also take a toll on your nutrient stores. In America today, it’s not easy to get all the nutrition you need from your food. A whole-foods based multivitamin can provide you with absorbable forms of a broad range of nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy. You can read more about prenatal multivitamins on my site.
Hudson, T. (2022). Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Pregnancy. McGraw Hill: New York.
Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Designing a Healthy Diet. New York: Atria.