At any stage of your life, a focus on complete nutrition is fundamental to well being, and with the increased responsibilities and pressures of pregnancy, the focus on good health could not be more significant.
The three trimesters of pregnancy are widely varied and the embryonic state, conception to the eighth week of pregnancy, is the most critical stage with all systems undergoing important foundational development. This is the time when your growing bubs is most susceptible to damage from poor nutrition, as well as drugs and toxins.
Optimal nutrition is a diet that focuses on real wholefoods, organic foods free from petrochemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, pastured meats free from antibiotics and hormones and treated ethically and humanely, sustainable seafood, and seasonal, local food that is complimentary to the environment and conditions in which you live.
In recognizing and adapting some traditional food preparation techniques, being mindful of the source of your nutrients, consuming to meet your nutritional requirements and eradicating industrialized food and drink as well as toxins and chemicals, you can shift your pregnancy into a higher state of well being for both yourself and your bubs, and without complicating the menu!
The primary focus should be put on quality rather than quantity, with the priority being an inclusion of nutrient dense foods cooked slowly and at lower temperature to retain the greatest possible nutrient value. In the case of some nutrients, optimal values can not be met by diet alone and supplementation will be necessary.
Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional focus for your first trimester …
Fat soluble vitamins
Vitamin A is ubiquitous in the development of every organ system of the body therefore adequate amount of animal fats, like butter and ghee, should be included in the diet as well as beta carotene rich foods like sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, broccoli and kale.
It is important to mention here that due to the link between high doses of Vitamin A and birth defects, Vitamin A supplementation, such as Cod Liver oil, should be avoided as well as the use of skin care products which contain Retinol.
Vitamin D requirements are almost double during pregnancy, to maintain this steep increase regular, sensible sun exposure is encouraged.
Water soluble vitamins
All water soluble vitamins sharply increase during pregnancy, that is all Vitamin B’s and Vitamin C, and due to the fact that they are not stored in the body their requirements need to be consistently met daily.
Folate is the most seriously considered nutrient during pregnancy, in particular pre conception and during the first trimester, as adequate intake prevents neural tube defects as well as preventing mental retardation and other deformities. Supplementation is recommended with folini acid due to it’s preferred absorption rates as well as the inclusion of folate rich foods like beans, lentils, cabbage, watercress and spinach. Also, folate absorption is dependent on zinc status so it is important to also meet requirements of this nutrient.
Choline plays a pivotal role in the development of the brain and nervous system, it’s inclusion in the diet should not be overlooked. This vitamin can best be obtained from egg yolks and high quality grass fed dairy, and from a lesser extent from nuts, legumes and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
Calcium needs are doubled during pregnancy and are best built up throughout the pregnancy to avoid bone loss once bubs needs become significant in the third trimester. Calcium rich foods are best known as dairy, however in the case of a vegan diet or dairy allergy, requirements can still be met be including a healthy quantity of sesame seeds including tahini, green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, almonds and broccoli.
Magnesium sub-clinical deficiency is common and in pregnancy this can be seen with symptoms such as muscle cramps, fatigue and an increased risk of hypertension. It is imperative to include this mineral in your pregnancy nutrition plan and with increased life pressures, namely stress, along with depleted rates of this mineral in our soils, supplementation along with dietary inclusion is recommended. Foods rich in this mineral include pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, leafy greens, brown rice and bananas, whilst supplementation with a magnesium based natal supplement is ideal.
Zinc as previously mentioned is pivotal in the uptake of folate, but further from this it’s requirement is increased in pregnancy and many women fail to meet the necessary intake. Be sure to include zinc rich foods regularly such as pastured dark meat chicken, pastured grass fed meat, yoghurt, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and cheese.
Iodine plays a very important role in bub’s mental and motor development and requirements for this nutrient are often not met in the female diet. An inclusion of iodine rich foods such as seaweed, fish, and eggs are important. If you suspect, through dietary absence, that you may be low in Iodine, be sure to include this in your next blood test and supplement where necessary.
Iron needs greatly increase in the second and third trimester, however stores in the first trimester are equally important to avoid anemia and possible irritability from deficiency of this highly indicated mineral. It is important to include vitamin C rich foods like citrus and peppers with your iron intake due to a greatly increased absorption rate. Many women are unable to meet iron requirements by diet alone and supplementation is recommended once stores start to fall which is usually somewhere in the second trimester. Avoid ferrous sulphate supplements and choose the preferred form of iron which is ferrous bisglycinate.
A word on hydrochloric acid…
Hydrochloric acid is produced in your stomach and is fundamental in the metabolic breakdown of foods as they work their way through your digestive system. In pregnancy hydrochloric acid production is reduced and due to the important role it plays in the absorption of many of the above listed nutrients, it is important to stimulate it’s production. This can also be indicated in the presence of constipation, which is often a symptomatic side effect of it’s deficiency. To stimulate it’s release I would encourage including bitter foods in your diet such as rocket, citrus, as well as apple cider vinegar, which is best consumed with warm water before a meal.
Due to the importance of several amino acids during pregnancy, such as glycine and taurine, anyone choosing a vegan diet needs to be diligent in including complete proteins for the full array of amino acids. Some examples of complete proteins which are plant based include chia seeds, quinoa and buckwheat, all excellent inclusions in everyone women’s diet.
Saturated fats are crucial in the development of your fetus. They make up nearly half of our cell membranes, participate in cell signaling, carry fat soluble vitamins and are an important source of energy.
Focus needs to be given here to omega 3 essential fatty acids, an in particular EPA and DHA which are found in abundance in small cold water oily fish like sardines, salmon, river trout. They are imperative in developing the baby’s central nervous system and eyes. Overall include good quality fats in your daily diet such as oily fish, coconut oil, butter, ghee, nuts and avocados.
Clean drinking water is imperative to good health. Aim to drink at least 3 litres of water a day, if this quantity can not be met through water intake alone, consider including herbal teas and bone broths into your daily menu.
Probiotics are one of the easiest and safest supplement during pregnancy and the benefits of optimizing your microbiome are amazing. A healthy microflora will support your immune function, balance your digestive system and improve your overall health. On a more specific note, recent studies show that the use of a certain probiotic strain, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, is able to nearly half the risk of the infant developing atopic disorders such as eczema, asthma and hay fever, later in life.
Dietary and environmental hazards to avoid during pregnancy include…
Alcohol, no alcohol consumption is deemed safe in pregnancy.
Caffeine, metabolsiim is slowed during pregnancy and caffeine readily passes the placenta. Eliminate or limit caffeine, which includes coffee, black tea and chocolate.
Food additives, sweeteners such as saccharin, cyclamate and aspartame should be completely avoided.
Heavy metals, developing bubs is very vulnerable to heavy metals and care should be taken in sourcing food especially fish, which should be kept to small cold water oily fish and should only be consumed three times per week.
Listeria and other food borne bacteria, eat freshly cooked well washed foods, refrigerate any left overs promptly and eat by the next day. Be aware of any high risk foods which should be avoided when pregnant.