Six Pregnancy Superfoods

This post has been modified from one originally published at www.brittanyanderson.net 

One of the most beneficial things we can do to prepare our bodies for pregnancy is optimize our nutrition. Through the science of epigenetics, we now know that mom’s diet has the potential to influence gene expression in her babies for years after birth (1). Nutrient intake is vital to promoting health and reducing the risk of pregnancy complications and incidence of disease for mothers in the perinatal and postnatal periods.  The same is true for infants and toddlers in their first years of life.

It is never too early to begin preparing for a healthy pregnancy, and up-leveling your nutrition is the foundation for health and vitality. A diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods, including plenty of leafy greens and healthy fats will help prevent many of the common afflictions that so many women encounter including heart disease, cancer, mood disorders, and obesity.

Here are six foods to consider adding to your diet:

1. Dates

 

 

Dates are a delicious fruit traditionally eaten in Middle Eastern cultures, and they have a host of health benefits. Specific to pregnancy, they are rich in minerals such as copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, and iron, all of which are important building blocks for a healthy baby. A serving packs about 18% of your dietary fiber requirements so they are excellent for helping to prevent constipation, which is a common issue in pregnancy. Additionally they are a great way to satisfy your sweet cravings, instead of reaching for a candy bar or pastry.

There is some promising evidence that suggests dates positively influence cervical dilation, meaning women who consume them are less likely to require induction and/or augmentation of labor. One study looked at women who ate six dates daily, beginning four weeks prior to delivery, and found that that those who ate dates had more favorable delivery outcomes than those that did not. While the study was not a randomized controlled trial, this is a low risk (and delicious) intervention with potentially significant benefits for both mom and baby (2).

2. Pasture Raised Eggs

Eggs are a wonderful source of protein and fat, and can be a great addition to a healthy diet, but it’s important to consider how they are sourced. Think about it this way: if you are what you eat, then you are what your food ate. Traditionally raised chicken eggs come from hens that are fed genetically modified (GMO) corn and soy, which is not what chickens, or any other animal for that matter, were meant to eat. The healthiest hens (which in turn produce the healthiest eggs) are allowed to roam “free” and eat everything from weeds to bugs. In this way they get an abundance of nutrients, which translates into more nutrient dense eggs for the consumer. Pasture raised eggs contain lower amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher amounts of nutrients like Vitamins A and E. They also boast much higher Omega-3 content, which is essential for fetal brain development (3).

In general eggs are a great source of B Vitamins, which are critical to multiple metabolic functions in the body, including cellular division and detoxification. They also contain choline which is particularly critical for fetal brain development and for placental function. Prenatal vitamins do not contain adequate amounts of choline, so it is important for women to eat a diet rich in this nutrient. “In the United States, women eating diets that are lower in choline content (150 mg/day) are at significantly greater risk for having a baby with a neural tube defect (4 × greater risk) or an orofacial cleft (1.7 × greater risk) than are women eating diets higher in choline content.” (4). It is recommended that pregnant women consume 450mg of choline per day and 1 large egg contains around 115mg.

3. Mustard Greens

Most of us know we should be eating our leafy greens and while spinach and kale have stolen the show for the average health conscious consumer, mustard greens have some serious chops! One cup contains over 900% of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin K and 17% of your calcium requirement. Even adding just a half cup to your salad or smoothie gets you a fabulous dose of nutrition. While we never want to take mega doses of isolated vitamins, getting them from whole foods is generally quite safe. If you take a blood thinning medication it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider regarding any dietary restrictions, however for the average woman, adding a couple servings of mustard greens per week can have significant benefits.

In addition to their high vitamin content, mustard greens are low in calories and high in dietary fiber. When building your ideal plate, 50% should comprise leafy greens or non-starchy vegetables. This will help you feel satisfied, while meeting your nutrient requirements.

4. Bone Broth

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that bone broth has become a major health “trend” over the last couple years. This traditional healing food is made by cooking animal bones for hours (usually around 24) until they breakdown. This process releases minerals like magnesium and calcium, and amino acids like arginine and cystine into the broth. These help support immune function, bone health, metabolism, and various other functions. Additionally, the gelatin that is released from the cartilage helps to protect our gut lining and can improve its integrity. It also believed to promote skin integrity and even joint health.

What’s more, bone broth is a amazingly comforting, and is a great option for women who struggle with “morning sickness.” It is an easy and relatively painless way to get some good nutrition despite feeling sick. Check out one of my favorite recipes below.

5. Avocados

Ok let’s get real for a second, who doesn’t want an excuse to eat more avocados?! Can you say GUACAMOLE? These amazing fruits pack a huge punch when is comes to nutrient density. They are full of healthy fats and their buttery texture makes them perfect for a variety of sweet and savory applications.

According to Comerford et. al,  “Avocados are unique among fruits and vegetables in that, by weight, they contain much higher amounts of the key nutrients folate and potassium, which are normally under-consumed in maternal diets. Avocados also contain higher amounts of several non-essential compounds, such as fiber, monounsaturated fats, and lipid-soluble antioxidants, which have all been linked to improvements in maternal health, birth outcomes, and/or breast milk quality (5).” For these reasons avocados are an ideal pregnancy food! Add them to your smoothie, spread some on your favorite toast, or check out the truffle recipe below.

6. Chocolate

Cacao has long been touted as a superfood and has been used traditionally in Central and South American cultures for centuries. Known for its high polyphenol content, cacao also contains an abundance of such minerals as magnesium and iron. Cacao is high in theobromine, a substance similar to caffeine that helps to relax smooth muscle and dilate blood vessels.

There have been multiple studies indicating that chocolate consumption has a beneficial impact on endothelial function, meaning chocolate (or more accurately, the compounds it contains) may contribute to improved blood flow and circulation. Some studies have demonstrated improved placental blood flow when pregnant women consume chocolate, and there is currently a large-scale systematic review underway to determine whether chocolate consumption lowers the risk of developing pre-eclampsia (6).

While this isn’t giving you license to thrown down a box of Godiva truffles every week, a few squares per day of a good quality chocolate is totally fine. Look for dark chocolate that’s close to 70% cacao or higher, or add organic cacao powder to your coffee or smoothie.

Want some yummy ways to incorporate these Superfoods into your diet? Check out these recipes:

Brittany Anderson, WHNP

BIRTHFIT Nashville www.birthfitnashville.com @BIRTHFIT_Nashville

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26514387
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21280989
  3. http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/free-range-eggs-zmaz07onzgoe
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23637565
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4882725/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24360219
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