An Introduction To Nutrition For The Childbearing Years

While I don’t believe one diet is right for every individual, there are some essential food groups and nutrients that greatly benefit women during the childbearing years. Eating foods that are anti-inflammatory, low-glycemic, and high-quality, help support the body in the production of energy, restore a sense of vitality, and help with the intense changes that our bodies undertake during this transformational time. The number of calories you consume may matter, but the most important place of focus is on the consumption of the right quantity of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Additionally, the importance of pesticide- and toxin-free food from local, free-range, grass-fed, and organic sources cannot be stressed enough. Below is a brief introduction to some of the building blocks for a healthy diet. To learn more about how to incorporate the healthiest foods for yourself and your baby, I invite you to set up an appointment

PROTEIN
Protein helps stabilize blood sugar, which is extremely important for a developing fetus. Additionally, proper protein intake can help curb some of the intense cravings that occur during pregnancy. Ideally, some protein should be included in every meal. There are many sources of protein to choose from, whether a person is a vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore. Vegans can choose soy, nut, and legume proteins; lacto-ovo vegetarians can have soy, nuts, and legumes in addition to eggs and cheese; omnivores can have all of these foods plus animal foods like poultry, beed, wild game turkey, and fish. High-quality proteins are the best choice, included grass-fed, organic, non-genetically modified organism (GMO) sources. For fish, remember to choose wild-caught sources, as farmed fish may contain hormones and toxic chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). It is also important to select fish that are the lowest in mercury. 
Therapeutic foods: Wild Alaskan Salmon, elk, venison, grass-fed lamb, beed, and bison, almonds, walnuts, coconut, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and their respective butters/pastes

FATS & OILS
It is important to include good-quality fats every day to help keep inflammatory processes in balance. A vast selection of fats and liquid oils can be used for salad dressings (cold preparation) and cooking (warm to hot preparation). Minimally refined, cold-pressed, organic, non-GMO fats and liquid oils should be used whenever possible, as these will be the best quality. Several servings per day of these healthy fats are beneficial. When possible, phytonutrient-dense, unfiltered, extra-virgin olive oil should be used to dress salads and vegetables. MCT oil is another option. While butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows is optimal, this may not be easily available and organic butter is the next best option. A patient who has been advised to avoid dairy products may discuss use of butter or ghee and other alternatives. For medium to high-heat cooking, coconut oil, MCT oil, and ghee are best because they are less likely to oxidize than other oils. Another advantage of coconut oil is that it is a precursor for betahydroxybutyrate, a super fuel for the brain of both mama and baby! Caned coconut milk, which is included in this category, adds nice flavors to casserole and stir-fries. 
Therapeutic foods: avocados, olives, olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, coconut milk, ghee, and butter from the milk of grass-fed cows

NON-STARCHY VEGETABLES
This category is of utmost importance for providing the necessary phytonutrients that nourish and support both mother and baby. Patients are encouraged to try vegetables that are new to them and to aim for a bare minimum of 4-6 servings every day (ideally, 10-12 servings per day). All greens (including collard, dandelion, kale, mustard, and turnip greens), along with chard/swiss chard, spinach, sea vegetables, and the many green vegetables in the crucifer family have been found to support the mitochondria in the brain of both mom and baby. Fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kim chi, are also recommended for brain and gut health. In addition to the therapeutic vegetables listed below, patients should be sure to eat a “rainbow of colors”: red peppers, tomatoes and radishes; orange carrots, peppers, and pumpkin; yelllow summer squash and peppers; green asparagus, avocado, and green beans; blue/purple eggplant and cabbage; and white/tan mushrooms, jicama, cauliflower, and onions. 
Therapeutic foods: spinach, broccoli and all other cruciferous vegetables, seaweeds, asparagus, swiss chard, daikon radish, beet greens, dandelion, okra, onion (garlic, scallion, leeks, shallot), fermented vegetables, sprouts

STARCHY VEGETABLES
Starchy vegetables such as potatoes are included but in limited quantities, especially if a patient needs to be in tight glycemic control, as these foods tend to impact blood sugar. 
Therapeutic foods: Sweet potato, Japanese yam

FRUITS
Fruits are packed with phytonutrients. Fruits with low to moderate glycemic response are a refuge when patients are feeling the need for something sweet. Therapeutic foods in this category include all berries, pomegranate seeds, and grapes with the skin, which have shown to increase levels of glutathione in the body. These fruits also contain high levels of antioxidants and also help with blood sugar control. Apples contain phytonutrients that suppress inflammation. Fruit juices are not encourages, as they are dense sources of sugar and can increase blood sugar levels. Small amounts of dried fruit are acceptable occasionally. It is always best to couple fruit with a little bit of protein, such as nuts or nut butter, to offset any blood sugar spikes. 
Therapeutic foods: apple, all berries, cherries, grapes, mango, banana, pomegranate seeds

BEVERAGES
Hydration helps rid the body of toxins, builds resilience to stress, enhances metabolism and gastrointestinal function, and promotes satiety. It is important to drink plenty of clean, filtered water throughout the day. Individual recommendations for fluid intake will depend on a number of factors including body weight. In addition to filtered water, broths (vegetable and bone), meat stocks, and other beverages like fresh, raw, cold-pressed vegetable juices are also good liquid choices. Various teas are beneficial as well. Some water intake may be replaced with unsweetened coconut water, which is high in minerals and electrolytes.
Therapeutic foods: filtered water, broth, vegetable juices, coconut water

Additional Highlights:

FIBER
Dietary fiber comes from plants such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains. Dietary fiber may be soluble or insoluble, depending on whether the fiber is soluble in water. Soluble fiber contributes to a feeling of fullness, and helps decrease the absorption of dietary sugars and fats, thereby helping to manage blood sugar and blood fat levels. Water-soluble fiber also serves as a food source for the beneficial microorganisms that inhabit the digestive tract. Insoluble fiber is helpful in preventing constipation and hemorrhoids, which are extremely common during pregnancy and postpartum. A minimum of 25 grams per day is recommended.
Therapeutic foods: beans, whole grains, fruit, vegetables

IRON & B12
Adequate intake of iron and B12 is essential during pregnancy and postpartum as anemia is very common. Vitamin B12 i naturally found in animal products including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. Some nutritional yeast products also contain vitamin B12. In dietary supplements may also help boost levels of B12, Iron, and other important B-vitamins. 
Therapeutic foods: organ meats, pumpkin and squash seeds, lentils, spinach, fish, meat, nutritional yeast, dairy products

 

 

 

 

image credit: The Green Kitchen Stories