01 Feb Paleo Pregnancy
The Benefits of a Paleo Pregnancy
On September 22nd 2014 my wife and I welcomed our beautiful daughter to the world and our lives changed forever. While many unknowing physicians may tell you this lifestyle is unhealthy for moms-to-be, I’d like to discuss ways that a balanced Paleo diet can help create a healthy and enjoyable pregnancy!
Our initial visit with my wife’s obstetrician included brief dietary advice AND a handy pamphlet discussing healthy eating while pregnant. This pamphlet was conveniently created by the Dairy Council of California and (surprise!) the “healthy” diet included: 3 cups of milk products, 2 ½ cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 6 ounces of grains and 5 ½ ounces of meat and beans each day. Listed among the options for “healthy vegetables” included corn, potatoes and oven baked French Fries! When my wife mentioned that she was following the Paleo diet her doctor looked quite concerned and made every effort to educate my wife about the “importance of consuming a balanced diet, particularly while pregnant”. Interestingly, I know of no diet more balanced than a well-planned Paleo diet; void of the empty calories and potential triggers for leaky gut and inflammation found in the Standard American Diet.
Rather than following the recommended diet of fortified grains, low fat dairy and soy products, my wife continued eating our typical colorful array of organic & grass fed staples with watermelon, tomatoes and fermented pickles (her three cravings) thrown in almost daily. Many will give into their cravings of nutritionally-void foods while pregnant thinking that they are “eating for two”. However, bear in mind that your future kiddo needs nutrients rather than tons of extra calories for optimal development; most women really only need an extra 300-500 calories per day (depending on energy expenditure). While it can be tempting, allowing oneself to excessively give in to cravings during this time can set a woman up for gestational diabetes, unhealthy weight gain (which can be difficult to lose after giving birth), additional problems during labor and can even increase a child’s risk of developing weight issues later in life. (a.) (b.)
What about all those fortified or “enriched” foods that we’re led to believe are necessary during pregnancy? Well, let’s start with one of the most well-known nutrients recommended during pregnancy – Folate or Folic Acid. Folate or B9 is the name of the basic group of water soluble b-vitamins naturally found in foods while Folic Acid refers to the synthetic compound used in many supplements and enriched foods. Interestingly human exposure to Folic Acid was non-existent until its chemical synthesis in 1943, and was introduced as a mandatory food fortification in 1998. (a.) One of the problems with this new synthetic folic acid lies in those lacking the ability to methylate and convert the folic acid into it’s bioavailable form allowing it to be optimally utilized by the body. This can lead to increased levels of unmetabolized Folic Acid causing further possible health complications including several types of cancers and atherosclerosis (to name a few). (c.) (d.) (e.) (f.) (g.) (h.)
As Folate is well known for its role in preventing neural tube defects in newborns, women of childbearing age must be sure to have adequate intake prior to and during pregnancy. Although even those taking the synthetic form through “folic acid” will likely have some benefit, I strongly recommend obtaining Folate naturally though dietary sources such as spinach, asparagus, greens, cruciferous vegetables and liver to avoid possible complications mediated by unmetabolized folic acid. When selecting a pre-natal vitamin I recommend selecting those with Folate as “5-methyltetrahydrofolate” or “5-MTHF” on the label and avoiding anything with “folic acid” on the label. Also, I often recommend MTHFR genetic testing for addressing these potential methylation problems.*
Another concern when pregnant is calcium and vitamin D consumption. Pregnant women should shoot for 1000mg of Calcium and up to 5000 IU of Vitamin D daily. Those who can tolerate dairy can certainly include organic/hormone-free dairy products in their diet but for the rest of the population, foods like canned salmon, sardines, dried figs, molasses, kale, greens, and seaweed are all abundant sources. Supplementing with Vitamin D is recommended as this vitamin is extremely difficult to obtain through the diet (a quality pre-natal vitamin should contain adequate amounts of Vitamin D in addition to the Folate mentioned above and some calcium).
When it comes to protein, fat and carbohydrate intake, I really just recommend women listen to their bodies. Pregnancy is not a time to restrict calories, however it also isn’t a time get lax with dietary choices. The beauty of most Paleo foods is that they are pretty much all abundant in at least one vitamin or nutrient. Thus my recommendation is to simply eat what sounds good while keeping it Paleo and enjoying a wide variety of foods daily and keeping in mind that protein, carbohydrates and fats are all equally vital in healthy fetal development.
Interestingly, the Dairy Council of California recommends restricting fat intake by consuming only low fat and fat free dairy and lean meats, yet doesn’t see a problem with consuming nutritionally-void foods like pretzels, muffins and noodles. Women following these recommendations will be more likely to experience increased food cravings, constipation and hemorrhoids, weight gain and risk of developing gestational diabetes. On the flip side, women who enjoy a diet rich in healthy fats and fiber rich fruits and vegetables will include will have fewer food cravings and will thus have an easier time making healthy food choices and preventing many complication of pregnancy, not to mention healthier, more supple skin from all of those wonderful fats.
While I’m on the subject of skin, lets talk about those pesky stretch marks that often accompany pregnancy. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman so terrified of stretch marks as my dear wife. As a former bodybuilder with a strong “family history” of severe stretch marks, she was determined to do everything in her power to avoid these pregnancy scars. Her strategy included plenty of healthy fats (about 40% of total caloric intake), adequate fluids (up to 90 ounces per day), lathering coconut and vitamin E oil on her belly daily and consuming 8-12 ounces of bone broth at least three times per week. The result- Not one stretch mark! With fats being essential for skin health and bone broth being rich in collagen-boosting vitamins, minerals and amino acids; it makes sense that a balanced Paleo diet is the perfect solution for those hoping to avoid stretch marks during pregnancy!
I could go on for days discussing additional benefits of a Paleo diet during pregnancy, but the bottom line is for all those future mommy’s out there wondering if they need to give up their Primal ways for the health of their future son or daughter, when followed properly, there really is no better lifestyle for a healthy and enjoyable pregnancy!
*For more on MTHFR genetic defects, see my past article in the Oct/November 2013 issue of Paleo Magazine and click here
-Jason M. Kremer, DC, CCSP, CSCS
(a.) Endocrine Society 2011 annual meeting, June 4-7 in Boston. OR38-3
(b.) Jami Josefson, MD, pediatric endocrinologist, Children’s Memorial Hospital; assistant professor, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.
(c.) Solomons NW Food fortification with folic acid: has the other shoe dropped? Nutr Rev. 2007 Nov;65(11):512-5.
(d.) Ulrich CM, Potter JD. Folate supplementation: too much of a good thing? Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006 Feb;15(2):189-93.
(e.) Kim YI. Folic acid fortification and supplementation–good for some but not so good for others. Nutr Rev. 2007 Nov;65(11):504-11.
(f.) Powers HJ. Folic acid under scrutiny. Br J Nutr. 2007 Oct;98(4):665-6.
(g.) Hirsch S1, Sanchez H, Albala C, de la Maza MP, Barrera G, Leiva L, Bunout D. Colon cancer in Chile before and after the start of the flour fortification program with folic acid. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2009 Apr;21(4):436-9.
(h.) Antoniades, C et at.:mthfr 677C>T Polymorphism Reveals Functional Importance for 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate