10 Pregnancy Super Foods
Eating healthy for pregnancy and beyond
Moms usually know best, especially when it comes to food. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: “Eat your vegetables!” I never really understood the importance of eating my vegetables until I was well in adulthood and taking a health promotions class in graduate school. The truth is that fruits and vegetables can actually save your life. And what better life to save than your unborn child’s?
Eating healthy during pregnancy and beyond is vital to your baby’s health. Even the slightest deficiencies during pregnancy can have serious, lasting effects on your unborn child. The concept that birth defects may be the result of vitamin deficiencies is becoming more and more accepted. The best and most efficient way to gain the necessary vitamins and minerals is to eat a healthy, whole foods, plant-based diet.
Whole foods, plant-based diet. This is a newer phrase that you may have already heard, but if not, get ready to hear it more. The phrase describes food in its natural state, without being processed, packaged or stripped of its natural ingredients. For example, a real pineapple is the whole food, (which, most recently, I found at Aldi’s for $0.99) compared to a can of pineapple that is packaged in sugar water and processed with chemicals so that it will have a long shelf life. When fruits, vegetables or whole grains are in their natural state, they are packed full of micro-nutrients called antioxidants and phytonutrients. The antioxidants and phytonutrients work synergistically to form and repair DNA. DNA is the blueprint of our body that guides and instructs all cells in their formation and functions.
Examples of antioxidants are vitamins C and E and beta-carotene. Most of us know the importance of these antioxidants. They do have positive effects on our bodies when eaten or taken in isolation, but they are much more effective when eaten in combination—much like a basketball team works better when all five players are on the court, not just the best shooter. Examples of phytonutrients are lutein, probiotics and zeanxanthin. Just like antioxidants, they work well when eaten in conjunction with other antioxidants and phytonutrients. In fact, some scientists would suggest they work even better.
The phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” isn’t far from the truth. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of antioxidants and phytonutrients (some that aren’t even named yet) in one apple. Even though one apple has only 7 mg of vitamin C, we receive much more for our immune system from one apple than if we took 1,500 mg of vitamin C in a tablet. Because of this synergy found in certain foods, they have been denoted “super foods.” The following is a list of super foods for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.
Examples: walnuts, pistachios and almonds. Almonds in particular have 37 percent of your daily value for vitamin E and deliver some calcium, fiber, folate and flavonoids. They also help to lower cholesterol. Walnuts are full of alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based omega-3 that helps boost brain function and memory. One serving of walnuts provides 2.5 grams of omega-3s.
Not only nuts are super foods, but nut butters as well. That’s right, don’t forget about peanut butter. It is an excellent source of quick protein and a cheap way to get the many benefits from tree nuts, like improving cholesterol and lowering the risk of heart disease.
Examples: Oranges and kiwi. You can get your entire days’ worth of vitamin C in one orange, as well as folic acid and fiber. Folic acid is important in preventing neural tube defects in the unborn child. Kiwi contains about 70 mg of vitamin C, more than an orange. It also contains more potassium than a banana and is one of the few fruits that has vitamin E, all helping to improve eyesight, lower cancer risks and improve heart health.
Hands down, kale is a super food. It has 10 times the daily value of vitamin K and three times the daily value of vitamin A….not to mention the hundreds of phytonutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin.
Oats are a wonderful way to have a moving experience! They are a great way to get soluble fiber (about 3 grams per serving). By increasing your soluble fiber intake, you could drop your cholesterol by 5 percent. Steer clear of the packaged oatmeal that is loaded with chemicals and sugars and opt for quick-cooking or steel cut oats, which are best.
Examples of berries would be raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and cranberries. Berries pack a powerful punch in a small package by delivering antioxidants and phytonutrients in a low-calorie, high-fiber container. Blueberries and raspberries lead the pack. Raspberries are the main source of ellagitannins, an antioxidant that may have anti-cancer effects.
Examples of super beans are black, red, kidney and northern. Beans are loaded with insoluble fiber, which fills you up and helps rid your body of waste. They are a great source of low-fat protein, carbohydrates, magnesium and potassium. Edamame is also a wonderful bean due to the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Spinach/green leafy vegetables
These are excellent sources of vitamins K and E, iron and calcium. All help with bone strength and growth.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which reduces your risk for heart disease, ovarian and cervical cancers. Watermelon, just one cup, has twice the lycopene found in a serving of tomatoes.
Cruciferous vegetables and diets high in them are linked to lower rates of cancer. They are excellent sources of vitamins C and K, while delivering a lot of fiber and detoxifying sulfur compounds. Red cabbage is high in anthocyanins, which keep your brain (and your baby’s brain) sharp.
This is one of the best whole grains you can buy. It is high in protein, fiber and a great source of iron. It also provides zinc, vitamin E and selenium, which helps control weight, heart disease and diabetes. Other great whole grains include barley, buckwheat and whole wheat.
The best advice for a whole foods, plant-based diet is variety. The key concept is to incorporate many foods from this list into your diet, as well as other varieties of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Finally, if you can leave out the junk, you will find more money in your wallet!
Melanie Yunger is a local mother of two and nurse practitioner who enjoys a variety of whole foods.