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Dear Mark: Pregnancy Diet Tips for Inquiring Minds

Posted By Mark Sisson On January 7, 2008 @ 5:16 pm In Dear Mark,Diet,Health,Nutrition,Raising Healthy Children,Supplements,Women's Health | 20 Comments

It’s been a good long while since I opened up the proverbial mail bag. Maybe it’s resolutions for the New Year or the extra time off everyone’s had the last week or so, but my inbox has been working overtime with your questions and comments. They’ve run the gamut—questions about everything from herbal supplements to strength training tips to farm policy.

As always, thank you for your thoughts and questions—and, of course, for reading. I try to answer as many messages as I can, but know that the good folks in the forum community [7] offer great perspectives as well.

This week’s round is for all the expectant moms (and dads) in the MDA community. However many of you fall into this category, I’ve received a string of inquiries lately from the expectant set. Congrats, and here you go!

Dear Mark,

I’m expecting my first baby and would like to make sure I eat the best diet possible. I like your perspective on food and am wondering if there’s anything special to keep in mind.

Thanks, and let me first say that my comments shouldn’t stand in for the professional advice of your doctor or midwife. (He or she should know details of your medical and pregnancy history that I wouldn’t be privy to.) Nonetheless, I know pregnant women are more often than not, with the exception of a prenatal vitamin, advised to follow the standard diet that the establishment suggests for all of us. (And, yes, you all know how I feel about that pyramid of hooey [8].)

In essence, I’d suggest that the evolutionarily-based Primal Blueprint [9] diet I regularly propose applies to expectants moms too: lean, clean protein, wreckless amounts of veggies, a wide variety of fruit, healthy fats like olive oil and avocado, and the optional addition of useful, true whole grains like quinoa. Cut out processed foods, and go organic whenever possible. Cells are dividing and systems are developing so quickly for your baby that there’s more reason than ever for you to avoid those extra antibiotics, hormones, chemical additives and pesticides.

A prenatal vitamin [10] is a good start, but (as always) get as many nutrients as possible from real food. Remember that you need twice as much iron as you normally do, and you’ll very likely need more fiber in your diet to counteract the, ahem, constipation [11] associated with that extra iron. (Remember, I’m just the messenger!)

I’d also limit caffeine well below the 4 cups a day found to be safe in that Danish study a few years ago. It’s definitely one of those times in life when you don’t want to take a chance.

To this, I’d add the absolute necessity of omega-3 rich fish or fish oil. The FDA has danced around this issue like a horse around fire, but even they recently settled on a recommendation of regular (but limited) fish servings for prenatal development despite contaminant fears.

I believe those fears (e.g. of mercury, PCBs, etc.) are well founded, but fetal development requires these fatty acids, and there’s much you can do to limit exposure to contaminants. For example, forget farmed fish, as I’ve said many a time in the past. The feed and farming conditions are miserable. Go for wild, fatty fish like wild salmon and sardines. Likewise, look for omega 3 supplements [12] that are purified. One last note: flax seed and flax oil are sometimes touted as a vegetarian alternative, but flax and other plant sources (with the exception of certain algaes—more on this later), don’t contain DHA, and not enough of their ALA is converted to DHA to make it an acceptable alternative to fish or fish oil.

One last thing, the American Academy of Pediatrics very recently revised their suggestion that women avoid common infant allergy associated foods during pregnancy. So, feel free to go for that nut butter, but I’d still choose almond over peanut.

Dear Mark,

I’m usually a total veg-head, but since my second month of pregnancy, I can’t stand to even look at a salad or veggie plate!

I can’t claim personal experience here, but I understand from very close and credible female sources that this is all too common. There’s a theory that this sort of aversion keeps the fetus safe at a key point in development from the naturally occurring pesticides in vegetables. I don’t present this as my thinking. Perhaps there’s some evolutionary kernel of truth there, or perhaps it’s as random as the proverbial ice cream and pickles craving. Though it’s a common aversion, it’s nowhere near a universal experience.

Be confident that you’ll be back to your broccoli in no time. These kinds of aversions, like their craving counterparts, typically don’t last long. In the meantime, raid the fruit side of the produce aisle. You might also look up some recipes for cooked vegetables [13]. I’ve been told that cooked veggies often don’t register so strongly on the revulsion spectrum.

Dear Mark,

My wife is 5 months pregnant and eating the most bizarre food combinations. I’m the happy chef in our house, but lately I feel like I’m a short order cook for either a mad person or a small circus. Some perspective here?

Wait until you’re cooking for the tastes and fixations of your child! (But that’s another entry.) And that circus—it won’t just be limited to the dinner table. Enjoy the ride, and be sure to write it all down to read someday with the kids.

meemal [14] Flickr Photo (CC)

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