Love How You Eat

Learning about our behaviours around food and how to optimize our decision making capacity around foods we love and those that are healthy is key in crafting a balanced relationship with food.

Getting great nutritious food into your body during pregnancy and early postpartum is a lot like making a birth plan. You can research, determine your preferences and shop for all the supplies you’ll need, but actually feeling like eating certain foods and having the time and effort to prepare them is a different story altogether.

At least that has been my experience of pregnancy nutrition thus far. There were months where eating vegetables or cooking meat was not an option due to endless vomitting. There were days when eating a bowl of watermelon for dinner was all I could fathom through gripping nausea.

Because of my experience (and I’m sure there are others out there with similar stories!) I wrote this post to highlight what I have focused on nutrition wise. This is about realistic and great bang-for-your-buck nutrition advice for pregnancy and early postpartum. How can we be smart, get great nutritious food into our bodies and navigate the very real food aversions and low energy we may be facing?

This is how I did it.

1. Choose the lowest stress and most nutritionally dense options.

This is really not a time to stress about food. Why? Isn’t nutrition extremely important in pregnancy and postpartum recovery? Yes, yes it is. But not at the expense of your mental well-being.

For me, pregnancy has been a physical roller coaster of sickness. Many moms report that early postpartum is like a hormonal-zombie (and love infested!) adventure.

So adding more stress to our lives via worrying about food? Not so helpful. I really do not want you to spend your time and effort counting calories or macronutrients. I don’t want you to stress about eating the rainbow each day.

Instead, focus on this:

Choose low stress food options that maximize the nutritional quality of our food and don’t take forever to plan and prepare.

We want:

Real Food + Balanced Macronutrients (protein + carbohydrate + fat) + Extra Nutritional Boosts (chia seeds, hemp hearts, leafy greens, sprouts, extra veggies and fruits)

Here are some of the real life examples that have worked for me:

  • Make a protein shake with your choice of protein powder, spinach, unsweetened almond milk, hemp hearts, chia seeds, avocado, frozen mixed berries and cinnamon. Fast, little to no clean up and simple to sip on if you are feeding a tiny human at the same time.
  • Have a go-to take out order that is delicious and nutritious. When I lived in the city, there were tons of options like this. A kale salad with boiled eggs on top from our local trendy pizza joint, or a piece of broiled salmon with brown rice and broccoli from our local health food store. In the small town where we currently live, my girlfriend Sarah operates Fuze Food, where a Glory Bowl Salad with Chicken will be my go-to order for postpartum eats! Get familiar with what you’ve got in your town and have a couple tasty, nutritious orders at the back of your mind.
  • Spend a bit of time prepping nutritious freezer meals that can be easily re-heated when you don’t feel like cooking later on in pregnancy or when you simply do not have the time early postpartum. I’m talking Shepard’s Pie, casseroles, soups etc.
  • We know that getting enough folate in early pregnancy can prevent some birth defects, so taking a prenatal vitamin (most of mine ended up at the bottom of the toilet) can help if we aren’t able to eat traditional food sources of folate including beans, lentils, spinach and asparagus.

The most important piece of real world advice I can give here is to do your best based on where you are at each day. The only vegetables I ate in my first trimester were tomato and cucumber on a bagel with cream cheese. That was my best at that point in time, and I was lucky if I could even keep that down most days.

So make this your mantra: lowest stress + most nutrient dense + what you can actually fathom eating! It won’t always be perfect, so stop worrying about it.

2. Know how to maximize iron intake & absorption.

Even though I ate poultry, eggs, red meat and tons of leafy greens on the regular before my pregnancy and in my second and third trimesters (not even close during the first 3 months!) my body was dealing with iron deficiency anemia around my 28th week of pregnancy.

Iron deficiency anemia is extremely common during pregnancy and contributes to feelings of fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness (source).

I was very thankful that my eating habits of tons of real food including lean proteins and lots of veggies before I got pregnant helped me through my rough first trimester nutritionally speaking, but a baby will take what it needs and leave little left for mama bear!

I had normal levels of both ferritin (which is essentially stored iron) and total iron as measured by the amount that binds to transferrin (how our body transports iron) during my first prenatal blood test at 11 weeks. By 28 weeks I was lacking in both areas. Pregnancy greatly increases our body’s need for iron to support growing a placenta (it’s an entire organ!) and a baby too.

Here’s what you need to know about iron and our ability to absorb it:

  • There are two types of iron found in food: heme iron and non-heme iron.
  • Heme iron is found in meat, poultry and fish. It has a high bioavailability of 15-35% which means we can absorb it much more readily than non-heme iron (source).
  • Non-heme iron is found in dried fruits, some vegetables, beans and eggs. It has a lower bioavailability than heme iron of 2-20% (source).
  • We need vitamin C in order to absorb iron, so try to pair food sources of iron with food sources of vitamin C. This is especially important if you are getting most of your iron from non-heme sources.
  • Coffee and tea can negatively affect iron absorption, so try to either reduce your intake or consume them a couple hours away from meal time.

Some of my go-to meals to get my iron in and absorbed were scrambled eggs with a side of high vitamin C fruit salad including kiwi, apple and grapefruit. I also had a rib-eye steak with roasted carrots and a kale salad many times in my second and third trimesters.

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This has been an iron packed go-to for me, Mexican casserole filled with lean ground beef, kidney beans and tons of veggies.

Taking an iron supplement is another great strategy to increase your iron levels, and I am taking a liquid supplement called Floradix. Ask your Obstetrician or Midwife about iron supplementation based on your specific health situation and blood test results.

3. It’s really easy to get dehydrated during pregnancy & while breastfeeding.

During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by at least 50% (source). Because blood is largely made of water, we need to keep up with our expanding blood volume during pregnancy and then support the amount of milk we are making while breastfeeding.

While pregnant and breastfeeding, you’ll need at least 2-3 litres of plain water each day to stay hydrated (source).

High levels of pregnancy hormones contribute to constipation during pregnancy, and adequate water intake can help to ease this uncomfortable side effect. As a plain water lover, I was surprised at how much I struggled to get enough water through my pregnancy. I didn’t crave it and nausea made it tough to have anything sloshing around in my stomach. Each visit to the midwife included a significant discussion about how I needed to be drinking more water…

I started making my number one goal each day to get enough water. I had a checklist to start and have been building my way back up to 2 litres and then 3 litres a day as my labor approaches.

We need water to digest food properly, absorb vitamins and minerals, support our immune system and maintain our increased circulation to our growing babe. So yes, it’s really that important!

4. Always balance your blood sugar.

Having balanced blood sugar levels means that we do not need to release a ton of insulin to move blood sugar into storage within our cells when we eat. When each of our meals and snacks contains sufficient protein and fibre, we release less insulin and are able to operate with stable blood sugar levels.

When we eat foods that are low in protein and fibre and relatively high in simple carbohydrates (yes, sugar is included here) we experience greater swings in energy. By not balancing our blood sugar we have energy highs and subsequent crashes. This is common when we have a piece of toast with jam, a low protein muffin or only a juice as a snack.

You can see how unbalanced blood sugar would add to stress during the postpartum period due to energy and mood swings and low blood sugar also contributes to nausea during pregnancy (not cool!).

Balance your blood sugar with protein + fibre packed snacks and meals and you’ll be feeling SO much better than the alternative of headachy, weak, nauseous and fatigued.

Until next time,

Lana

I’ve put all my tips and knowledge about eating during pregnancy and early postpartum into my latest cookbook, Balanced Meals For New Moms.

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The book comes with 15 of my favourite recipes including easy to freeze casseroles, crock pot meals, perfect snacks for busy moms, simple protein packed breakfasts, how to create a strong nutrition foundation for pregnancy, time saving tips for healthy eats and nutrition support for breastfeeding moms.

Cost: $10

Your e-book will be delivered via email after purchase.