Did you know that your diet plays the most significant role in improving your fertility and maintaining a healthy pregnancy? No matter where you are on the journey towards a healthy family, your diet is the single most important step you can take to improve your overall health. The good news is that it’s also something you have complete control over!
In my six years as a Naturopathic Doctor (and also a birth doula at the beginning) I’ve treated and supported many women through fertility, pregnancy and delivery. We always discuss nutrition first as I truly believe food is medicine. I’d like to begin with what a healthy diet in pregnancy includes as it’s important to focus on the amazingly nourishing foods you can eat. This is what you should eat to allow for healthy baby development and normal weight gain. It’s also what I find decreases morning sickness as well as swelling as baby grows.
- Remember that you’re not technically “eating for two.” You typically need 300-450 extra calories per day by the second or third trimester. This means one extra healthy snack per day.
- The most healthful diet is The Mediterranean Diet – this is what these recommendations are based on. Think about how you would eat in Greece: lean protein, lots of veggies, some full-fat cheese and fruit as dessert. You’ll simply be skipping the wine for now 😉
- You need building blocks for pregnancy and this means choosing protein. Aim to have protein with every meal and snack. This includes vegetarian proteins like nuts and seeds, beans/legumes, or hemp hearts. Also include lean meats like fish (always low mercury), chicken, turkey, eggs, as well as some organic full-fat dairy. Limit beef and pork to one serving a week. Protein is what I find most women are lacking – this is what specifically helps with morning sickness and swelling. Sometimes you will need to eat smaller portions more frequently. Including protein helps stabilize your blood sugar and settles your stomach.
- Focus on nutrient rich plant foods, this includes:
- Vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Choose a variety of vegetables in various forms: raw veggie sticks, soups/stews, greens in smoothies, or try roasting or spiralizing your veggies. Green leafy vegetables are especially important to include.
- Fruits are great sources of antioxidants and can help with sweet cravings. Include berries, apples, pears, and any other fruit you enjoy.
- Grains are good, but include them in their whole form. Use brown rice, quinoa, and steel cut oats for nutritious and low glycemic carbohydrates.
- Don’t be afraid of healthy fats! Use healthy oils like extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil. Eat avocados, olives, and nuts – they’re great for you and for baby’s brain development.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking filtered water is important for keeping your cells healthy and to eliminate swelling. Drink water and safe herbal teas (like rooibos, mint, chamomile) to avoid excess sugar from drinks.
- What does this look like? Here are some ideas for you to envision some meals:
- Breakfast: can include a smoothie with protein, eggs with stir-fried veggies, or oatmeal with nuts, chia & hemp hearts.
- Lunch: try making soups and stews or large salads with protein.
- Dinner: think about the rule of thirds: 1/3 protein, 1/3 starchy vegetable (e.g. sweet potato) and 1/3 green leafy vegetable (e.g. roasted broccoli or asparagus)
- Snacks: veggies with hummus, whole grain toast with avocado and hemp hearts, apple with almond butter, homemade energy balls or a handful of nuts
It’s well known now that you should avoid alcohol as well as smoking when you’re trying to conceive and throughout your pregnancy. I find women tend to focus on what they can’t eat and it breeds negativity. There are lots of foods that you can eat, so focus on the list above of all the wonderful and tasty foods you can have. Here is a list of foods that you shouldn’t focus your energy on:
- High sugar foods, artificial sweeteners, and refined flours. Eliminate pop, juices, and fancy drinks. Yes you can indulge but know these are not nutritious foods.
- Trans fats: avoid fried foods as they increase inflammation and are bad for your heart and blood vessels.
- Caffeine: you can have some caffeine but I tend to limit to 1 cup of coffee or 3 cups of green tea per day (max 300mg caffeine per day). More than this increases your risk of miscarriage.
- Foods that can harbour infections: this includes raw or undercooked meat, seafood, and eggs as well as deli meats/pates, and soft cheeses (mold-ripened, blue-veined, and unpasteurized ). You can have pasteurized cheeses like goat cheese. I simply tell women to act like you’re travelling to avoid food poisoning – don’t eat foods that are suspicious and seem “off.”
What you may need to supplement in pregnancy:
Your diet is the most important source of nutrients for you and baby but pregnancy (and breastfeeding) can be demanding and I typically recommend some supplementation. These are the nutrients to consider throughout your child bearing years (remember to consult a healthcare practitioner for individualized recommendations):
- A high quality prenatal: a prenatal vitamin is your insurance policy in pregnancy. It’s making sure you’re not deficient in any nutrient, specifically folic acid. Choose a prenatal that has its B vitamins in the methyl form.
- Omega 3s: EPA and DHA in fish oils are especially important for baby’s brain development as well as your postpartum mood. If you’re not having three servings of low mercury fish per week you likely need to include omega 3s as a supplement. Aim for a balanced formula that includes at least 300mg DHA.
- Vitamin D: Two-thirds of the Canadian population is deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for your baby’s bone development and helps you absorb calcium. Look for vitamin D in liquid form as it’s easiest to take and assimilate.
- Iron: Have your iron tested throughout your pregnancy. Many women need to supplement an extra 20-30mg of iron in the last trimester. Look for iron glycinate – it’s inexpensive and gentle on the digestive tract.
- Probiotics: Healthy bacteria line your skin and digestive tract. If you have a personal or family history of food sensitivities, asthma, or eczema, probiotics can help your baby’s immune system and digestion to decrease the frequency of these conditions.
Unfortunately living in North America we are exposed to more toxins and processed foods than in Europe. Although you can’t completely avoid chemicals in your pregnancy, it is important to be informed and eliminate them where you can. Below are my favourite resources to be sure you know you’re avoiding toxicity in your food, on your skin, and in your environment:
- Try to buy high quality protein sources: organic is best. The next best option is naturally raised meats.
- For buying produce, follow The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list. These are the fruits and veggies with the most pesticides, so try to buy them organic.
- Avoid high mercury fish. Focus on the least mercury fish.
- Beware of plastics: do not heat food in plastic containers. Use glass and stainless steel instead.
- Choose cleaner personal care products. “If you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin.” Use simple oils like rosehip seed and coconut oil as moisturizers. Use these tips for safer products.
- Use green cleaning methods and these healthy home tips.
I am fascinated by the body’s ability to create and deliver a perfectly scrumptious human being. With these tips I hope you and your baby have the healthiest pregnancy and delivery possible.
Yours in health,
Naturopathic Doctor at SOW Health