Nourishing Foods for Expectant Moms
Not surprisingly, the most important thing a woman can do when she finds out she is pregnant is eat nutrient dense foods. Despite the fact that food cravings are real, and that most women will gain at least 30 pounds while pregnant, pregnancy is not an excuse to eat whatever you want- it is instead the most important time to truly nourish yourself and your baby.
Ideally, it's best to plan ahead and start preparing your body (and your partner's body) about 6-12 months prior to conception, but often this is not possible for everyone. So whether you are planning on getting pregnant or already are, here are my top foods to eat to ensure a healthy mama, healthy baby and healthy birth.
To preface the top foods for pregnancy, it is important to recognize that these are the exact foods that heal and boost fertility. Women experiencing infertility often turn to doctors, hormonal treatments and IVF, when the first, least expensive, least invasive, and most effective place where women and men should start is to take a good look at their diets. Leah Morton, a family physician, observes, "Some women want to be pregnant immediately once they start trying. I see this desire as part of a wider idea in our culture that we can and should be able to control our lives. We should be able to control crime, pollution, educational discrepancies, gender inequalities, our finances, and our fertility. Indeed, technology now may be used to help us control lovemaking, pregnancy prevention, conception, labor and delivery, even raising a child. But really, technological controls have nothing to do with fertility, with being in the unknown, the mystery of life. It’s up to us to respond to the joy, darkness, and awe that we experience." Dr. Morton also says, "If a couple is having difficulty conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy, my first concern is whether or not they’re eating food that’s not genetically modified, that is organic, whole and low glycemic (this means with little or no refined sugars or starches). Improving one’s diet is one of the hardest things to do in our culture, but it also makes for healthier parenting!"
Our bodies are designed to reproduce. If they are incapable, this is often, though not always, indicative of nutritional deficiencies. Not surprisingly, the following foods that are part of a Nutrient-Dense Pre-Conception Diet that can reverse infertility are also the very same foods that can insure a safe and healthy pregnancy and give your newborn the very best start in life.
Foods for Pregnancy Were Sacred and Revered Foods
The dictionary defines sacred as “reverently dedicated to some purpose. . . regarded with reverence. . . ” Imagine a group of indigenous people living off their native land and thriving on their native foods. Elders of the group impart their wisdom to young men and women about to be married, to married couples and pregnant women, and to young mothers raising their infants and children. They will talk about specific foods needed to properly nourish their bodies during these critical periods. This counsel is not questioned or perceived as mere suggestion: these truths are revered.
What Weston A. Price discovered when evaluating these revered foods was that they were rich in minerals and extremely high in what he called “fat-soluble activators.” Minerals are the nutrients most people are familiar with—such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and iodine—that play many roles in building a beautiful, fully-developed body and maintaining its function throughout life. On the other hand, the “fat-soluble activators” are less understood and were a mystery even to Dr. Price when he first began his work. But what science has uncovered is the fact that these “activators” are the animal forms of vitamins A (retinol isomers), D (vitamin D3 and isomers) and K (vitamin K2).
The role of “fat-soluble activators” is best described by Dr. Price himself: “A question arises as to the efficiency of the human body in removing all of the minerals from the ingested foods. Extensive laboratory determinations have shown that most people cannot absorb more than half of the calcium and phosphorus from the foods eaten. The amounts utilized depend directly on the presence of other substances, particularly fat-soluble vitamins. It is probably at this point that the greatest breakdown in our modern diet takes place, namely, in the ingestion and utilization of adequate amounts of the special activating substances, including the vitamins [A, D and K2] needed for rendering the minerals in the food available to the human system. It is possible to starve for minerals that are abundant in the foods eaten because they cannot be utilized without an adequate quantity of the fat-soluble activators.”
If we compare the body to a house built of bricks and mortar, think of the minerals as the bricks and fat-soluble activators as the mortar. In other words, we can consume a certain diet of fantastically nutrient-dense foods, but the value of such a diet comes down to what is actually absorbed. Without fat-soluble activator nutrients— namely vitamins A, D3, and K2—our efforts to consume the “right” foods will be futile.
Generations ago, sacred foods were revered, non-optional and non-negotiable additions to the diet. Today, the burden rests on all of us to reestablish these truths in our nutritionally confused culture. Only with our effort will inclusion of sacred foods in the diet become a common practice, passed down to future generations for the health of their own families, communities, and nations.
Sage Advice for Sacred Foods
Back to our elders’ sage advice. The wisdom bestowed would sound something like this. At least six months before trying to conceive, both parents-to-be should ideally begin to consume ample amounts of sacred foods. However, those who have consumed the typical Standard American Diet (SAD) since childhood would need a longer period of time to correct nutritional deficiencies—at least two years before attempting to conceive. The SAD is laden with many foods that are counterproductive to producing vibrantly healthy babies: foods such as damaged fats (those overheated and extracted with solvents), commercially raised meats (if any meat is consumed at all, as many fall victim to the deception of vegetarianism), and an abundance of pesticides and chemicals via conventionally farmed foods, fast foods, processed ingredients, body care products, cleaning supplies and municipal water sources.
Rediscovering Ways to Enjoy Ancient Traditional Wisdom
Fish roe, liver, and bone marrow are a few examples of sacred foods honored by traditional cultures around the world, for nourishing not only babies, but mothers-to-be and growing children as well. We know from the travels of Weston A. Price that these sacred foods are undeniably nourishing, offering high levels of minerals and fat-soluble activators to support optimal development. For adults, these foods provide similar benefits, allowing efficient nutrient absorption and protection against disease. Granted, sacred foods are not your typical, everyday fare found in today’s urban homes, and perhaps they do not appeal to everyone’s taste buds—especially at first bite. But with some suave kitchen moves and an open mind, you may find them better received than you expected, and nutritionally they can’t be beat! Once the miracle of life has begun, sacred foods should be maintained throughout pregnancy. Mom should continue with the same diet during breast feeding, which should go on at least one year. Somewhere around four to six months, baby will be able to supplement breast milk with his first foods, ideally pastured egg yolk and liver (see the article “Nourishing a Growing Baby” at www.westonapirce.org for more on feeding infants). Yolks supply choline for brain development and cholesterol to nourish the brain and build the intestinal system, while liver supplies needed iron—which drops considerably around six months of age—plus vitamins B12, B6, A and C, and almost every mineral the baby needs. Not surprisingly, egg yolks and liver are both sacred foods.
The sacred foods we are familiar with in the western world include raw dairy products from pastured cows, egg yolks from pastured chickens and cod liver oil. Four less commonly known sacred foods are small fish, fish eggs (fish roe), bone marrow and liver. With a little ingenuity, these nutrient-dense foods can be incorporated into the western diet in many delicious ways.
First, let me say that throwing out the yolks and eating the egg whites is entirely counter-productive, as the bulk of the vitamins and minerals in an egg are contained in the yolk! That’s liquid gold, baby! Eggs from pastured hens are high omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, vitamins A, E, D, and K, as well as choline. Choline is essential for proper liver, brain and nervous function. Eating the pastured egg yolks raw is the best way to preserve all the nutritional benefits-try them in smoothies and soups.
Coconut Oil and Organic Butter
I grouped these two together because they’re sort of similar in the sense that they’re both amazingly nutritious and also two fats I regularly cook with. Coconut oil is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial. It is rich in lauric acid, which boosts mama and baby’s immune system. Butter is also rich in vitamins A, E, D and K. It is high in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has strong anti-carcinogenic effects.
Fermented Cod Liver Oil
In the context of the western diet, where the sacred foods are largely absent, cod liver oil provides a vital insurance policy. Until the Second World War, parents and health professionals understood that cod liver oil helped ensure optimal growth and development in children.
FCLO is high in vitamins A, E, D and K. Vitamin A encourages proper development of the kidneys, lungs and face. It also promotes a full-term labor. FCLO is extremely high in D, which helps develop bones. I recommend Green Pastured Butter/Cod Liver Oil Blend.
Bone Marrow and Bone Broth
“Traditional peoples who consumed large animals did not ignore the marrow hidden away in the bones; in fact, they valued the marrow as an extremely nutritious food,” explains Sally Fallon Morell in her piece titled “Bone Marrow” (found at www. westonaprice.org). There are many examples from cultures around the world: Alaskan natives regularly eat the marrow from caribou and moose, Indians enjoy the traditional dish called nalli nihari from slow-cooked marrow, a Mexican dish featuring beef bone marrow (called tuetano) is used as taco and tostada fillings, and in the Philippines bone marrow is the primary ingredient in a soup called bulalo. Interestingly, the literal translation of bone marrow in Russian is “bone brains,” which indicates that its value was long ago understood. Bone broth is wonderful in so many different ways- the perfect soup stock. It’s rich in collagen too, which helps prevent and reverse cellulite and stretch marks. It is rich in calcium, phosphorous and several other vitamins and minerals. It plays a vital role in immune system functioning by helping to seal and heal the lining of the gut.
Liver from poultry (goose, duck, turkey or chicken), fish, cow, lamb, game and pig is recognized the world over as a superfood. All liver is rich in iron and other minerals, choline, and B vitamins, especially all-important B6 and B12. Liver from ruminant animals (cow, lamb and game) is our best food source of vitamin A; pig liver is loaded with vitamin D; liver from poultry contains about half the vitamin A as beef or lamb liver, but may be the best of all the livers with its nice balance of vitamins A, D and K2. Because mother’s milk is low in iron, liver is a valuable first food for baby, as around six months a full-term baby’s iron stores begin to decrease. In many traditional cultures, pre-chewed liver is a common first food. It is no wonder this food is revered for its nutritional gifts—compared to other foods, it outdoes most others in terms of vitamin and mineral concentration. Ideally, purchase liver from animals that have enjoyed their lives on chemical-free pasture. The second best choice is organic chicken, beef, or calf liver. Third choice, non-organic calf liver, since these younger animals typically spend the first months of their lives on pasture. The amount of time on pasture varies from ranch to ranch, so do some investigative digging. Avoid livers from conventionally feed-lot raised chickens, hogs or cattle.
Like butter, grass-fed beef if high in vitamins A, E, D and K as well is CLA. It has a better omega-3 to omega-6 ratio than grain-fed cows. It is a great form of easily absorb-able iron and is also easily digested. For a more in depth article on all the benefits grass-fed beef, read my article “The Many Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef.”
Small fatty fish, both fresh and dried, are exceptionally nourishing foods because they are eaten whole with the bones and sometimes— even better—with the heads and organs. There is no need to skin or de-bone these tiny critters; one consumes the whole kit and caboodle. And when dried, certain features—especially the eyes—become even more pronounced (which many kids think is pretty darn cool!). Dr. Price described several societies that preserved the high nutrient content in fresh fish through drying. Anchovies, sardines and whitebait make a lovely addition to the family’s fish intake. They are rich in calcium and other minerals, and vitamins A, D and B12. They also have lower levels of mercury and other contaminants compared to larger fish, such as shark and tuna, because they are so low on the aquatic food chain, munching mostly on plankton. (See the Environmental Defense Fund’s website for more details on contaminants in ocean-going foods, www.edf.org).
In traditional cultures, seafood was highly prized. Tribes would often travel long distances to obtain these delicious, nutritious sea creatures. Seafoods, particularly fatty fishes like salmon and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. This is great for mama and baby. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, increase circulation, and help with proper brain, nerve and hormonal development.
Fish Eggs (Fish Roe)
Fish roe or fish eggs have been a sacred food across the globe since ancient times. In his writings, Dr. Price detailed the great lengths the natives of the Andes went to carry dried fish roe from sea level back to their villages high in the mountains—sometimes hundreds of miles—to supply those of childbearing age with the nutrients needed to make the healthiest of babies. These nutrient- dense eggs are rich in vitamins A, D, and K2 (Activator X) along with zinc, iodine, and the brain-building fatty acid DHA, making them a powerful superfood for babies and adults alike. According to a recent WAPF-funded analysis by UBE Laboratories, fish eggs contain 17,000 IU vitamin D per tablespoon!
Every culture on the planet has had a tradition of “culturing” foods –from Korean kimchi to Russian kvass, our ancestors learned how to live harmoniously with the bacteria that live in and around us, discovering ways that foods that could be stored for lean times. They also discovered that these time-tested fermented foods enhanced the nutritional value of the food and improved their health. You can learn how to make your own fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, kvass and kombucha or easily buy them at most natural food markets. “Bubbies” naturally fermented sauerkraut and pickles is a brand we have tried; remember most sauerkraut sold in traditional grocery stores is pasteurized and void of beneficial bacteria. I suggest eating fermented foods with every meal to assist with digestion and naturally boost your immune system, as they provide the good bacteria or “probiotics” that are so essential to our GI tract. This is crucially important for babies. Babies need their mother’s good bacteria, and is has been discovered that a healthy gut can in fact reduce the risk of autism. The creator of the GAPS diet, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride explains, "What I see in the families of autistic children is that 100 percent of moms of autistic children have abnormal gut flora and health problems related to that. But then I look at grandmothers on the mother's side, and I find that the grandmothers also have abnormal gut flora, but much milder."
Obviously, eat your veggies. Veggies are great for mama and growing baby, particularly the leafy greens. Eat your kale, eat your spinach, eat whatever you like. Make sure to douse it all in butter or another traditional fat for the added health boost as all those fat soluble vitamins A and D help the body absorb and properly use all the vitamins and minerals in the greens. Remember that baby is only as healthy as the mother, and that whatever a pregnant woman craves can be made healthier. Want a burger? Make it yourself with grass-fed beef! Craving dairy? Go to your local farmers market or whole foods market and get some good quality organic cheese, yogurt or ice cream. Eat when you are hungry, eat what you crave, just be aware that WHAT you chose to eat will have a direct effect on your baby’s development and health, and decide to choose the very best QUALITY possible.
A Cultural Imperative
Following revered sacred food practices of long ago is not only sensible, but more important-essential. Whether you have plans to grow a baby, maximize your child’s brain and physical development, or optimize nutrient uptake during your adult years, sacred foods must be regular meal-time features. It is imperative that we passionately pursue ancient dietary wisdom for the sake of our families and make sacred foods more of a commonplace addition to our current culinary traditions.
1. Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 6th edition.
2. Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods. Essential Guide for the healthiest way of eating. Sardines 2007.
3. Gordon, Meredith. Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On: The Story of Caviar, from Prehistory to the Present. Found at http://leda.law.harvard.edu/leda/data/504/Gordon.html
4. Forristal, Linda Joyce, CCP, MTA. In the Kitchen with Mother Linda. The Roe of Health. First published in Wise Traditions, Spring 2002.
5. Morell, Sally Fallon. Honoring the Sacred Foods, presentation given at Wise Traditions, November 14, 2009.
6. Baumslag, Naomi, MD, MPH. Tricks of the Infant Food Industry. Wise Traditions, Fall 2001.