Research is clear that consuming the Standard American Diet isn’t a recipe for giving birth to a healthy baby who grows into a healthy adult. Eating like our ancestors did, however, is. While there isn’t one optimal human diet, we’re genetically adapted to eat whole, nutrient-dense plant and animal foods. An ancestral diet rich in these foods can help you avoid deficiencies in the nutrients outlined below—nutrients that are critical for a developing fetus and that may influence gene expression, tipping the scales either toward health or disease. Here are a few of my pregnancy diet recommendations.
- Favor the Fat-Soluble Vitamins A, D, and K2. Unfortunately, vitamin A has developed a reputation for being dangerous in pregnancy, but it’s actually a crucial nutrient for fetal development; for example, it prevents deafness and internal organ displacement. It can be toxic in extremely high doses when vitamins K2 and D are inadequate, but when these vitamins are sufficient, the toxicity threshold for vitamin A is very, very high. Vitamin D helps placental function, plays a role in fetal lung development, and also protects a newborn’s cardiovascular health, while vitamin K promotes healthy development of the face, skull, and nervous system. Vitamin A, D, and K2-rich foods include liver, beef, goose, cod liver oil, salmon, and dark leafy greens.
- Focus on Folate. Folate is a general term for a group of water-soluble B-vitamins, also known as B9, that are naturally found in foods. Folic acid refers to the synthetic compound used in dietary supplements and food fortification. Although folic acid is effective in preventing neural tube defects, it doesn’t have all the beneficial effects of natural folate. Folate-rich foods include dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, beets, lentils (and other legumes), liver, calf, and chicken.
- Concentrate on Choline. Choline plays essential roles during growth and development, especially in regards to cognition. The body’s need for choline increases during pregnancy. Yet sadly, an estimated 90 to 95 percent of pregnant women fail to meet recommended choline intakes. Choline-rich foods include beef, liver, and muscle meat, whole eggs, cruciferous vegetables, and potatoes.
- Opt for Omegas. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, are required for healthy brain development. DHA concentrates in babies’ eyes and gray matter, protecting their brain from oxidative damage. It’s a misconception that we can meet all of our DHA needs from plant foods like flax; we need DHA from seafood sources. And while it’s true that mercury levels in fish can be potentially harmful, low-mercury fish and fish high in selenium (which prevents the adverse effects of mercury toxicity) are good options, with data indicating that the benefits of eating fish during pregnancy far outweigh any risks. Pregnancy-safe omega-3-rich foods include salmon, sardines, cod, and cod liver oil.
Insist on Iron. Anemia is a common problem during pregnancy, one that can be avoided by adequate iron intake. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should supplement: indiscriminate supplementation during pregnancy has been shown to be harmful. Instead, amp up the amount of iron in your diet. Iron-rich foods include liver (especially duck and pork), cooked clams, spinach and other leafy greens, and dried herbs.
If you would like more information regarding any of the treatments, therapies, or services offered at The Institute of Natural Health, please contact us at (314) 293-8123 or visit us at the theinstituteofnaturalhealth.com. Dr. TJ Williams is the Clinic Director for the Institute of Natural Health and the host of the radio program Wellness 101, which provides common-sense, science-based strategies for a healthy life. Wellness 101 airs Sundays at 2:00pm on FM NewsTalk 97.1.