Nutrition Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
Eating right during pregnancy can be overwhelming and confusing, not to mention stressful, as new moms-to-be strive to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. And while the media and well meaning friends, and perhaps future dads, encourage soon-to-be-moms to eat for two, the ensuing 9 months is not a time to eat haphazardly. The standard American diet, fraught with highly processed, inflammatory ingredients, does little to supply much needed essential nutrients, essential fats, antioxidants, or fiber for mother and child.
I recall from my university days, a professor describing the developing fetus as the perfect parasite—not the prettiest picture of a developing baby, but science understands that what the mother doesn’t provide in the diet, the baby will take from her and eventually her organ reserves. Our bodies are an exquisite assembly of cells that innately know how to gather resources required to support new life. Supplying those ingredients falls upon mom to be, often at a time when exhaustion and morning sickness fight for center stage. To keep things simple, I’ve outlined a few key points to help navigate wholesome choices for mother and child:
Make sure your diet is rich in folate before you conceive and especially during early days of pregnancy. Folate can help reduce the risk of birth defects, including those that affect the brain such as encephalopathy and neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Interestingly, folate can also help to improve sperm count in men. Back in the 1990’s the US Government, in an effort to reduce the number of neural tube defects, began to fortify cereals and grain products with folic acid. But there are those who lack an enzyme required to turn folic acid into the active form – folate. Instead, look to whole food sources of folate, including lentils, asparagus, greens, beets, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, and beans.
Choose high quality, pasture raised protein and low mercury fish and seafood. Our bodies use the amino acids in protein as building blocks for cells. Similarly, your baby will use protein and it’s amino acids to assemble nervous tissue, muscles, organs, bone and more. It is especially important during the second and third trimester, a period of rapid growth and development, to have enough protein.
Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA and EPA, are considered essential, because they must be supplied by the diet. Critically important EPA supports the heart, immune system, and inflammatory response, while DHA is paramount for the brain, eyes, and central nervous system. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to decrease the risk of allergies in infants. While our bodies can convert alpha linolenic acid (ALA) found in nuts and seeds to EPA and DHA, the degree of conversion can be unreliable and limited. Choose from EPA and DHA rich wild-caught salmon, sardines, mackerel (except King mackerel), anchovies, and herring.
Fruits and veggies loaded with nutrients, folate, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols, and fiber are a must. Get as many colors on your plate as possible. Research indicates that moms who eat a diet rich in vegetables have offspring whose taste buds crave similar foods. Including these foods during pregnancy is a great way to lay the foundation for your child’s healthy future.
I hope you find these tips helpful for easing the confusion of prenatal nutrition so you can feel your best and both you and your baby can thrive together. When in doubt, choose wholesome, real foods in their most natural form and always aim to eat a variety of colors throughout the day. Focusing on nutrition now will have amazing benefits for your long-term health and the health and habits you hope to encourage in your child.