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What to eat when you're pregnant: The Pregnancy Plate

Guest post by Stephanie Pearson

Nutritionists, like myself, love to share their geeky scientific knowledge about food. We can reach a sort of cerebral high when we get to breaking down and classifying nutrients into their chemical constituents. There is a point, though, at which dissecting the fascinating interplay between enzymes, peptide chains, and our own physiology falls short. When we single out and supplement the parts rather than taking in the whole food, what are we missing?

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This is what pulls me out of nutrition geek-talk into my love affair with the simple perfection of food in its whole form. Thinking in terms of food rather than nutrients is a more tangible, more traditional way to ensure high health during pregnancy. Indigenous cultures from all corners reserved specific foods to be consumed by mothers during preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum periods. We too deserve and need to eat special foods during the childbearing years. Certain foods that were repeatedly prized in traditional cultures were wild oily fish, grass-fed butter, liver, greens, olives, seeds, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Together these foods provide the most important vitamins and minerals for fetal development, including: vitamins A , D, B (including folate), C, and E, calcium, protein, omega-3 fats. Beyond what conventional nutrition tells and encapsulates for us, bringing actual foods to plate during pregnancy may provide a source for the important and mysterious co-factors that allude the lens of science.

Here’s what’s on the plate:

Wild Pacific or Atlantic Salmon

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  • -- Oily fish, like salmon, and the oils found in the livers of white fish are top sources for the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, that are so critical for your baby’s brain development. DHA is particularly important in fertility and pregnancy. Salmon is also an excellent source for protein and minerals, such as iodine and tryptophan. Eating the real fish goes beyond taking an omega-3 supplement to empower you with super mom cofactors. Salmon swim upstream against the current, and sometimes even up waterfalls! There is no doubt that salmon gives us a calm energy from which to face the challenges of childbearing. Wild salmon is threatened by over harvest; in traditional times it most certainly would go to those who need it most. Though the benefits of eating wild salmon far outweigh risks from mercury exposure, limit consumption to twice a week. Also, tap into your lust for liver, if you can. Cod liver oil is high in vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3s. Livers function as a filtration system for toxins, so make sure to buy the highest quality available.

Romaine lettuce or spinach salad topped with avocado, red peppers, olive oil, and pumpkin seeds

  • -- Both romaine and spinach are nutrient-dense sources for folate, the non-synthetic form of folic acid that is pivotal in healthy nervous system development and prevention of iron-deficiency anemia. Buy locally grown, organic greens or grow your own for the highest nutrient load. Greens are “glow” foods that promote relaxation. Remember Peter Rabbit’s cousins the Flopsy Bunnies falling asleep because of the soporific effect of eating lettuces? On the same note, wild lettuce is a powerful medicine for stress and sleep. The synthetic form of the vitamin, folic acid, has been proven effective in preventing disorders, such as spina bifida, but has also been linked to cancer and other chronic problems. Non-synthetic folate is a preferable supplement if there is an aversion to salads or compromised nutrient absorption.
  • -- Organic, unrefined extra-virgin olive oil is an excellent source of vitamin E, but only if stored in an airtight container and used only at low or medium-low heat (save your high heat cooking for coconut oil or clarified butter). Imported olive oil is a a target for false labeling scams, be careful that you are buying real olive oil that tastes and smells like olives. I have nothing bad to say about ‘80s fashion and music, but I am very grateful that the non-fat trend is a relic of the past! Enjoy satiating your appetite with healthy fats.
  • -- A hand held seed grinder is a good tool for freshly grinding seeds onto salads, soups, and grains, thereby adding a layer flavor and nutrition. Presoak pumpkin or sesame seeds in salted water for four hours, drain, and dry on a baking sheet on low in an oven or dehydrator. The traditional practice of presoaking releases enzyme inhibitors that bind nutrients, weakening their nutritional value and making digestion more difficult. Pumpkin seeds have high levels of magnesium and iron, sesame seeds are a good source for calcium. Take a note from a traditional Japanese practice and try mixing sea salt with your seeds for added mineral power. Dried dulse seaweed (or nettles) are other options that add minerals. Beyond nutrients, seeds represent fruitfulness, new life, and fertility itself.
  • -- Add chopped bell peppers to your salad for a stout source of vitamin C and carotenoids. A diet rich in healthy fats enables our bodies to effectively convert carotenoids into vitamin A, a nutrient active in cell division that should be considered as important as folate in early pregnancy. Make sure to buy organic peppers only, as they routinely make it to the top 12 of the dirty dozen list, the Environmental Working Group’s annual list of most contaminated foods.

Baked squash with grass-fed butter

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  • -- Not only are pumpkin and squash rich in vitamin A carotenoids, like bell peppers, but they are questessential foods of autumn. Eating with the seasons is a traditional practice that aligns us with natural rhythms and optimizes the nutrition and quality of the food we eat. Although baked squash is sweet and delicious, unlike other sweet foods it tends to regulate rather than rock blood sugar levels.
  • -- No squash is perfect without a spoonful of grass-fed butter. Look for dark yellow butter from organically-raised, grass-fed animals for a truly traditional pregnancy food. Because grass is richer in vitamins E, D, A, K2 and beta-carotene than stored hay, the butter is also richer in these and other trace minerals, such as selenium. Saturated fats, such as the natural and beneficial transfat conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), are important for fertility and pregnancy. Spring is the best time to stock up on local sources of this specialty butter, but Kerrygold is a good alternative that is available year round.

Enjoy!

Stephanie is a prenatal nutrition educator, nutrition consultant, and clinical herbalist. She specialized in individual assessment and dietary planning for fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum, including support for gestational diabetes, eczema and children’s allergies. Mention this article to receive $10 off classes and consultations through December 2012. For more information or to sign up to receive a monthly newsletter, please visit: www.dailynectar.com and www.wellnesswithinpregnancy.com or contact Stephanie at 971.678.4280 or stephbrooklyn@gmail.com.

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I ate a lot of pinto beans in pregnancy. Beans and legumes are rich in proteins, potassium, calcium and lots of essential vitamins as well as folic acid.

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