Here at Health Foundations, we emphasize the importance of a healthy diet before and during pregnancy because we've seen again and again how much of a difference good nutrition makes in the health of mom and baby, including a reduced risk of c-sections, easier labors, quicker postpartum healing, and so much more. And the benefits aren't just relegated to the childbearing year. Babies who receive good nutrition in the womb are at a lower risk for many serious diseases in their child and adulthoods, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, autism, and ADHD. Science is finding the crucial role nutrition plays in epigenetics, or the factors, such as chemical reactions, that influence gene expression. Cutting edge studies are finding the importance of the gut microbiome in overall health for both babies and adults.
So in that spirit, here are five foods that you might not find on the list of best pregnancy foods but are actually some of the best foods you can eat when expecting (and when planning to conceive).
1. Traditional Fats:
We went through a phase in our collective history during which everyone feared fats. And we still haven't quite recovered. But many kinds of natural fats are not only good for you, they are essential to your wellbeing. Across cultures, you will find fats emphasized in fertility and pregnancy diets. Good fats include ghee, butter, dairy fat (full fat dairy products), avocados, and coconut oil. Used in moderation, these healthy fats can do a world of good for you and baby. They can support maternal skin health, optimizing your body's response to the stretches and effects of gravity that pregnancy impose. Healthy fats in pregnancy also lower the risk of childhood allergies for baby, research shows. Additional studies show that health fat consumption in pregnancy can lower the risk of baby later developing autism.
2. Organ meats:
Okay, we are not a culture that commonly enjoyed organ meats. In fact the words alone may turn people off. But meats like liver are super foods when it comes to baby making (we're talking pregnancy here, folks). Organic, grassfed and/or free range organ meats are some of the most nutrient dense foods absolutely loaded with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fat. They are particularly rich in the nutrients that help keep our brains healthy and grow healthy well-functioning baby brains-- i.e. the essential fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docasahexaenoic acid), and AA (arachidonic acid). Liver is one of the best sources of folate, which is SO crucial in pregnancy (and supplemental folic acid pales in comparison to food-sourced folate in terms of health). Liver and other organ meats are also tremendous sources of:
- high-quality protein
- fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
- vitamin A, which is rapidly depleted during periods of stress
- All the B vitamins in abundance, particularly vitamin B12
- A highly usable form of iron, so important in pregnancy
- Trace elements such as copper, zinc and chromium
- CoQ10, a nutrient that is especially important for cardio-vascular function
- Purines, nitrogen-containing compounds that serve as precursors for DNA and RNA
One of the easiest and tastiest ways to eat liver is through liver pates. Here is a tasty recipe for Chicken Liver Pate. Here is one for a delicious Beef Liver with fig, bacon, and caramelized onion. While not as ideal as consuming as food, desiccated liver in capsule form is also available.
3. Bone Broth
Beloved by the burgeoning paleo health movement, bone broth has numerous benefits for both mamas and babies (and the rest of us!) Bone broth has shown to offer the following benefits:
- builds, rebuilds and repairs our connective tissue, including joints, tendons and ligaments
- improves hair, skin and nails
- strengthens bones
- heals and promotes a healthy digestive system
- supports optimal nerve health
- great for the immune system
- good source of protein
- supports brain health
- boosts fertility
- and much more
Because broth supports the nervous system, endocrine system and brain function, consuming it while pregnant helps the developing fetus build healthy organs.
Bone broth is cheap and easy to make yourself. You can use the bones from a whole chicken you have cooked or can get soup bones from the coop. It is best to use high quality bones to make bone broth-- those from healthy (grassfed or free range), organic sources. This is not a difficult thing to do in Minnesota! There are many great recipes out there for bone broth. Here is one simple way to make and enjoy bone broth throughout the week.
4. Fermented foods
Fermented foods are some of the best sources of probiotics one can get from food (which is a superior source of all nutrients, compared to supplements, in virtually all cases). Fermented foods are great for maintaining a healthy digestive system in pregnancy, which many of us know can go awry when we are expecting. Eating these probiotic-rich foods is also great for gut health and the immune system and can positively impact your child's gut health and overall wellbeing. Fermented foods also increase your body's ability to absorb the maximum level of nutrients from the foods you eat. You can make your own fermented foods or there are some great (and quite tasty!) options available at co-ops, Whole Foods, and other health markets. Examples of fermented foods include:
- Plain yogurt
Here's to you and your family's health, mamas!