You – and Your Baby – Are What You Eat
Eat fish for healthy brain development of the fetus. Avoid fish because it is full of mercury and toxic. Do not eat unpasturized foods because of the risk posed by harmful bacteria. Raw milk is one of the healthiest foods you can consume to nourish a growing baby. Is it any wonder that pregnant women are confused about what to eat? The amount of conflicting information that is distributed by the media or on the internet is enough to stress out any mother-to-be. Which reminds me, avoid stress! That’s not good for baby either. Sigh….
The point that I want to make today is that when it comes to the health and well-being of our babies (and later, children), we probably shouldn’t take any one source as the sole authority on what foods to put into our bodies. Not the government. Not the latest pregnancy book. It is up to us mamas to do our own research, to listen to our bodies, and to find a way of eating that supports us on our quest for a healthy and happy pregnancy.
Having said that, I do have my own thoughts about what constitutes a healthy diet during pregnancy. With the following suggestions, I hope to impart a little food for thoughts, and to inspire you to do a bit of your own research as you think about your diet and your baby’s nutritional needs.
Get Your Daily Dose of Sunshine.
There has been some important research in recent years about the role of vitamin D in pregnancy. Be aware that excessive use of sunblock can actually inhibit our body’s ability to create this essential vitamin. The best food sources are fatty fish and fish liver oils.
Follow Your Cravings. To a Point.
Perhaps there is a bit of inherent wisdom in the notoriously crazy cravings of a pregnant woman. I’m not suggesting that you have ice cream and pickles for breakfast every morning, but giving in every now and then to a strong craving might actually be advantageous to your psychological health. We shouldn’t be so overly preoccupied with our “healthy” eating that we forget to enjoy life. Rather, use it as an opportunity to examine your diet further. Perhaps there might be a nutritional need behind that craving. Is your body craving more healthy fats? More carbohydrates? More salt? More protein or iron-rich foods?
Think Quality, Not Quantity.
In our diet-crazy culture it is easy to become obsessed with values. How many carbohydrates should we be eating daily? How many grams of protein? I would rather emphasize the quality of foods, rather than quantity. Eat whole foods that are as untainted as possible. Buy organic when you can, paying special attention to the dirty dozen and the clean 15. Consider especially the source of your animal products, as chemicals and pesticides tend to concentrate in the milk and meat of animals. In the words of Michael Pollan, “You are what what you eat eats.”
Favor Foods That Are Nutrient Dense.
Sometimes pregnant women are recommended a low-fat, whole-grain based diet, but the problem with this approach is that it excludes some of the most important nutrients for a growing baby. For example, healthy fats are essential for the proper absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which are important for cell function and fetal development. Traditional cultures have long been aware of the importance of nutrient dense foods for a healthy pregnancy, and they even reserved certain foods for conceiving for pregnant women. Foods such as fish, eggs, milk from grass-fed cows, and organ meats have all been highly regarded by various cultures, and although I realize that suggesting you incorporate these into your diet might not win me a popularity contest, my point is that perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to exchange ages of traditional wisdom for the latest fads in nutrition.
Be Careful When Choosing Supplements.
If there is one thing that many pregnant women know about prenatal nutrition, it is the importance of folate to the developing fetus. Dark leafy greens, broccoli, beets, chicken liver, and lentils are good food sources. The problem is that many supplements contain the nutrient in the form of folic acid, which as it turns out, might actually be harmful. Read more here about the difference between folate and folic acid.
How has your diet changed during pregnancy? Please share your most unusual cravings below!