Holistic Prenatal Nutrition & What I've Learned So Far - Part 1
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I immediately wanted to re-evaluate my diet and make sure that it was pregnancy-friendly. I knew that I was going to have to eat more, especially more full meals and not just snack my way through the day, which I’m typically pretty content with. I also knew that I was going to have to increase my protein and water intake and use supplements for anything that I couldn’t get from real food but didn’t know how much of each nutrient was needed. I started to research the topic and found that the information I was looking for a was a lot harder to come across than I had expected. I wanted updated recommendations, not the conventional ones that were dated from years ago, telling me to eat margarine instead of butter, low-fat foods, and increase my carbs, which is more commonly what I was stumbling upon. I also wanted recommendations for someone who doesn’t eat meat or gluten.
This was a shock to me. I thought, how could it be possible for someone who is studying to become a nutritionist, working clinically at an integrative health practice AND been researching nutrition pretty much for the last eight years of my life to all of a sudden NOT know what to eat? I was overwhelmed but I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t know what to eat, it was that I didn’t know how much of it I should be consuming to get enough nutrients for both baby A and I.
That was when I decided to buckle down on the research. It also was perfect timing because I started a class in macronutrients a week after finding out I was pregnant. The findings below are a combination of information I’ve learned through my studies at school, clinical work at IWG, an amazing book I found “Real Food for Pregnancy” by Lily Nichols and personal research. Note - this is still a work in progress for me. I don’t feel like I have it ALL figured out yet and am continuing to learn as I go which is why I named the post “part 1.” It mostly covers macronutrients with the exception of iron and choline. Next trimester I’m taking a micronutrients class so I know that I will have a lot more to contribute after that. But hopefully this will be a helpful start to anyone else who thought they knew a lot about nutrition (and maybe did) and then got pregnant, and realized there are a lot of changes that need to be made.
Disclaimer: I’ve never been one to count my calories or calculate how much protein etc. I am eating per day. Even with the information below, I’m still not doing that but I did have to complete a 3-day diet journal and evaluate my macronutrients for school which was pretty eye opening. My strategy now is to make sure I’m taking my supplements (more than just what is in my prenatal) and to have more awareness around my meals and macronutrients. I tend to eat a lot of (good) fats and not enough protein but I am now conscious of that and the awareness will guide my decisions on what to eat throughout the day. For example, if I don’t have my daily smoothie (usually for breakfast) which has at least 25g of protein, then I will make sure to incorporate extra protein rich snacks such as pumpkin seeds and add protein sources such as lentils to my other meals.
Water - the general rule is between 8-10 eight oz. glasses of water a day, which means you should likely be getting even more than this . I have my 17 oz. swell bottle glued to my hand at work and make sure to drink 2 bottles before lunch and 2 bottles after. This gets me to 68 oz. I also usually have a mason jar in the morning as soon as I wake up and another at night when I’m taking my supplements. If I’m working out then that will be an additional 17 oz. of water. It’s not easy to transition to drinking this much water, but my 2-before lunch and 2-after lunch rule keeps me on a schedule. Sometimes I have to force myself to drink more but it’s SO important for so many different reasons (delivering essentials to the baby, preventing headaches etc.). I will know pretty quickly if I haven’t had enough water … headache! Also make sure you are drinking clean, filtered water. It’s an initial upfront investment but I LOVE my Berkey water filter and you only have to replace the filters every few years which makes it even out in the long run to other filters that have to be replaced more often and aren’t filtering out as much (fluoride, heavy metals, etc.)
Macronutrient #1: Protein - 80-100g of protein/day. For the first half of pregnancy, less is required so you can shoot for closer to 80g but increase as the pregnancy progresses. This is a LOT of protein, especially for someone that doesn’t eat meat so I have to consciously make sure to incorporate high protein foods such as my protein smoothie, pumpkin seeds, lentils, almonds, eggs, tempeh or sprouted non-gmo organic tofu (on occasion), chia, oats & quinoa. Fun fact: there is actually protein found in all plants so you CAN get it without eating meat but need to educate yourself on the sources. In my 3 day exercise, I consumed 73, 104 and then 77g of protein. The exercise was helpful in showing me where, when and why I wasn’t getting enough. I used cronometer (a free website) for my nutrient analysis.
Macronutrient #2: Carbs - 90-150mg/day (of good quality carbs such as fruit…this doesn’t mean to go all out with processed and refined breads, pastas, etc.). You should also be consuming a minimum of 28g fiber/day. Some good sources of fiber are chia seeds and raspberries (a great topping for a protein and calcium filled Greek yogurt).
Macronutrient #3: Fat - there is no specific number that I have found so far for fats but what I have found is that if you consume enough protein and don’t overdo it with the carbs, you will likely get the needed fat and don’t have to worry too much about it. One thing to be conscious of is your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio which should range from 1:1 to 1:4. I was aware that I ate a lot of good fats (nuts, coconut and olive oil, avocados, etc.) but was not aware of how off my ration was (15:! on one of my days!)…something I need to work on.
Iron - 27mg daily requirement. 1.5x more than the usual amount is needed to account for the increase in blood volume, create red blood cells and transport oxygen to the rest of the body. If you are iron deficient, you could experience anemia related symptoms such as low energy, light headedness, and extra fatigue. It’s hard to differentiate these symptoms from first trimester symptoms, but I did have them pretty early on and my iron came up low in some of my testing so I decided to start supplementing with extra iron first trimester and felt more energy.
Choline - minimum of 450mg/day, more if you have MTHFR. I get my choline from pasture raised organic eggs. Make sure to eat the yolk! That is where the choline is. One large egg yolk has 126mg of choline. I used to eat 1-2 eggs and now eat 2-3. If I don’t have them for breakfast, I’ll try to add them into my dinner. I don’t have them every day but definitely a few times a week. Choline is also very important for preventing morning sickness (first tri).
Hopefully this is helpful! Stay tuned for more updates as I continue my studies and do more research :)