Good Nutrition During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time when most women are especially concerned about nutrition and diet as moms-to-be want to give their newborns the best possible chance to survive and thrive.

There are also many dietary restrictions placed on pregnant women, as well as many pregnancy-related symptoms that can affect the ability to eat a balanced diet, making pregnancy a challenging time for many women. But, there are many steps you can take with your diet to ensure you will have a healthy and successful pregnancy.

Eat Nutritious Foods Throughout Your Pregnancy

Good nutrition during pregnancy should be based in whole foods as well as provide adequate calories and nutrients for both you and your developing baby, particularly from protein and healthy fats. Pregnancy is not a time to cut back on calories or try to lose weight.

If you are overweight at the start of your pregnancy, discuss with your doctor how much weight gain is appropriate for you. A woman who starts out at a healthy weight should aim to gain approximately 25-35 pounds during the entire pregnancy.

It is a myth that moms should try to “eat for two” during pregnancy. Most women need about 200-300 extra calories per day to support the growth of a healthy fetus. More calories are needed during the last trimester when the baby is growing the most. Just adding 2-3 extra ounces of chicken or half an avocado to your day will give you the additional calories you need to support the growth of your baby.

The quality of the extra calories you consume is also important, as the baby is also eating everything you eat.  Try to eat every 3-4 hours and include protein, high fiber carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats into every meal.

Green leafy vegetables are particularly important because they contain folic acid which helps prevent neural tube birth defects. Include eggs in your diet as they are a great source of carotenoids, which help with eye development and choline that helps improve brain function.

Focus on Healthy Fats

Fat is critical for brain development of infants. Babies need essential fatty acids, such as monounsaturated fats and Omega-3 fats to help their brains develop properly.  Most women do not consume enough omega-3 fats, specifically DHA, leaving their babies at risk for a poorly developed nervous system and brain.

Omega-3 fats are mostly found in fish. But, there is a significant concern with the mercury content of many species of fish available on the market. Mercury is a toxic chemical that causes brain damage, especially to developing brains.

The best thing you can do to get your critical Omega-3’s is to familiarise yourself with the list of low-mercury fish provided by the Natural Resources Defence Council and choose fish from that list.

Pregancy Supplements Can Help

Since women have so many specialised nutrition needs during pregnancy, it is difficult to meet all the requirements with diet alone, therefore some supplementation may be necessary.

Most doctors recommend women taking a prenatal vitamin which provides folate, iron, and other important nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy.  You may also want to consider increasing your intake of probiotics, or healthy bacteria during pregnancy, due to the connection between probiotics and reduction of childhood allergies.

Consider getting probiotics from food, instead of supplements, such as yogurt, kimchee, tempeh, miso, Kefir, or sauerkraut.  Be cautious of over doing it on supplements during your pregnancy as many dietary supplements are not appropriate for pregnant women. Discuss with your health care provider what supplements are best for you and your baby.

During pregnancy, there is no specific diet to follow, just a few simple rules to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible. A well-balanced diet with just a few modifications along with a few additional vitamins and minerals, will insure a healthy pregnancy for the both of you.


Probiotics and Allergies

Over 90% of the cells in our bodies are not our own, they are actually bacteria cells. This may seem frightening to many who believe that all bacteria are dangerous or cause harm, but actually these bacteria are critical to maintain optimal health.

Many of the bacteria are helpful or inert and actually prevent our bodies from being harmed by pathogenic bacteria.  The microbes that live in our bodies also help extract nutrients from foods and produce anti-inflammatory compounds to help us stay healthy.  The Human Microbiome Project has begun to catalogue common bacteria found in the human body in order to determine the effect they have on human health.

The most important function of bacteria in our bodies is how they interact with our immune system. The balance between health and illness is a very delicate interplay between the microbiome and our immune cells. If bacteria are allowed to take over completely we become septic and die.

Bacteria can also trigger immune cells to over react, leading to the development of certain autoimmune diseases. But, bacteria may have a positive effect on our immune system by teaching our immune cells how to react properly to environmental triggers.

A recent study in Pediatrics found that when pregnant women took probiotics, or healthy bacteria, during pregnancy it had a protective effect against their unborn child developing allergies later in life. Babies who were exposed to the healthy bacteria in probiotics in the womb or received probiotics supplements after they were born had a 12% lower risk of developing allergies to food or environmental triggers.

The researchers who conducted this study believe that exposing children to bacteria early on can help them develop a stronger immune system and learn to react correctly to certain environmental triggers, instead of overreacting to benign triggers, as in the case of allergies.

As our understanding of the role of microbiome in our bodies continues to grow, especially as it relates to the interaction of bacteria and our immune system, we may find that exposure to certain bacteria can actually cause us to have fewer allergies overall.

Since the microbiome plays such a complex role in our overall health, it is difficult to make an over-arching recommendation of how much and what type of probiotic to take for optimal health.

Probiotics have not found to be harmful during pregnancy, but it is always best to ask your doctor before taking any supplements while pregnant. There are many probiotic supplements made especially for children, but should not be given to children who are ill or have a compromised immune system.

Instead you may want to consider getting probiotics from fermented foods such as yoghurt, kimchee, tempeh, miso, Kefir, or sauerkraut. Foods high in fiber provide food for bacteria in the digestive system so try to include at least 25 grams of high fiber foods per day from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

As scientists learn more about the complex relationship between bacteria and our health new cures for common ailments may turn out to be as simple as altering the microbial ecosystem in our bodies.