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.

 

Part 1: Nutrition to Boost Your Immune System

Are you tired of catching every cold and flu that you come in contact with? Do you dread the colder weather because you are afraid of getting sick? Are you obsessed with disinfecting everything to prevent illness? Although viruses and bacteria are the primary cause of illness, your diet and lifestyle may also contribute to how often you get sick and how long it takes to get better. We thought we would bring you a series on how to boost your immune system with nutrition.

The influence of diet on the immune system has been a hot topic for many years in the field of nutrition. Poor nutrition has been associated for a long time with a poorly functioning immune system. At first, the focus was more on making sure people were receiving adequate nutrition, meaning getting enough calories, protein, and other nutrients in order to support immune function. But, the research has gotten more detailed over the last few years including vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive compounds. Taking a look at your overall diet may help boost your immune system and fight off the next cold or flu you are exposed to.

Protein, carbohydrates, and fat

Getting the right balance of the macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates and fats may be the first step to helping boost your immune system. Immune cells, like all the cells in the body, are made from protein. Therefore, we need adequate protein intakes to make sure we have enough raw materials to make new cells as needed. People with malnutrition, especially when they are lacking protein, tend to have a poor immune function.

Adequate fat, specifically the healthy omega-3 fats in the diet can have an anti-inflammatory effect improving overall immune function. The benefits from omega-3s are generally not seen with supplements, but only with omega-3 rich foods such as fish, walnuts, and chia.

A diet high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, can reduce overall immune function and actually decrease the number of immune cells available to fight infections. If you want an immune-boosting diet, make sure you are getting adequate protein daily, are including healthy fats in your diet, and limiting the amount of refined carbohydrates you are consuming.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Immunity

There are several vitamins that play a role in proper immune function. Vitamin C is the most popular and widely used to help prevent colds. But, the research doesn’t actually support that commonly held belief. A high vitamin C intake will not prevent colds, but has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold. If you are suffering with a cold, consider increasing your intake of foods high in vitamin C such as citrus, bell peppers, and strawberries.

Another important immune-boosting vitamin is Vitamin A a fat-soluble vitamin that can help reduce the rate of viral infections. It is used to improve white blood cell function and maintain healthy mucus membranes, which help prevent infection. Since Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can be toxic if taken in high doses as a supplement, therefore it is best to eat vitamin A rich foods. Some foods to include are fish, especially salmon, and orange or yellow colored fruits and vegetables such as carrots or mangoes.

Certain minerals such as iron and zinc also help our bodies stay healthy. Iron deficiency may result in impaired immune function, whereas adequate intakes of iron help boost the immune cells to fight off infections. Most people do not need an iron supplement unless indicated by a doctor, instead try to increase your intake of high iron foods such as lean red meat, beans, or fortified cereals. Zinc deficiency may also suppress the immune system and increase susceptibility to infections. The best way to get adequate zinc in your diet is to eat lots of green leafy vegetables, such as spinach.

Overall an adequate diet with plenty of protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals will help you stay healthy over the flu and cold season. Make sure to include lots of green leafy vegetables, fish, and a few foods high in Vitamin C for an extra boost. In our next article in this series, we are going to address what supplements you can use to help keep your immune system healthy.

Vitamin D Deficiency

After a recent doctors visit for some routine blood work, I discovered I have vitamin D deficiency. You may be thinking, how can a dietitian be deficient in any vitamin? Well, vitamin D is different from other vitamins because food is generally a poor source.  So, no matter how balanced my diet might be, I can still be deficient. Our skin makes vitamin D when it is directly exposed to sunlight, especially in the summer months.  Sadly, like most people today, I spend most of the day light hours inside the office. And with my fair skin, I try not to expose myself excessively to the sun and when I do I cover up with sun screen. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a vitamin D deficiency.

But, I am not alone, a study from 2007 from the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal, analyzed vitamin D status in three areas of Australia: southeast Queensland, Geelong region, and Tasmania. The results showed that study participants in Tasmania had the greatest prevalence of low vitamin D levels approximately 67.3% of subjects had levels less than 50 nmol/L, followed by those in Queensland (40.5% of subjects), and lastly 37.4% of participants in the Geelong region.

Certain population groups are also more prone to vitamin D deficiency.  People with darker skin do not absorb the vitamin from the sun as well as those with lighter skin.  Also, people who live in colder climates, who have illnesses that prevent proper absorption of nutrients, and breastfed children who do not receive supplemental vitamin D, are all at risk for developing a deficiency. The elderly are also at high risk due to time spent indoors and the skin becomes less efficient at absorbing the vitamin as we age.

Why is vitamin D important?

I am concerned about my vitamin D levels because vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a variety of health problems. People with low vitamin D may experience more bone fractures or muscle weakness, due to the role that vitamin D plays in calcium absorption. Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to specific cancers such as thyroid, prostate, and breast cancer. Vitamin D is also vital for a healthy immune system and can help us fight off bacteria and viruses, especially in the winter months.  People who are obese tend to have lower levels of vitamin D, as vitamin D is fat soluble and gets trapped in the body’s fat cells.

Treatment of Vitamin D deficiency

The first thing to do if you believe you might be deficient in vitamin D is to ask your doctor for a blood test called 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OHD). This specific vitamin D blood level should be ? 70 nmol/L.  For those with a significant deficiency, your doctor may prescribe a high dose of the vitamin temporarily to quickly correct the deficiency. The upper limit of vitamin D is 10,000 IU.

If you want to take an over the counter supplement look for one with Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) which more closely matches the type vitamin D naturally found in the body, therefore it is the preferred form for supplementation. If you are deficient, try to take 1000 IU daily to get your levels up, unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Many people may need a “maintenance” level of vitamin D during the winter months of 600 IU. But, the best thing you can do to naturally get your vitamin D levels up is to spend a little time enjoying the sunshine. Just 10-20 minutes of direct sunlight during the summer months will help keep your vitamin D levels up. So get out there and enjoy the sunshine!