Why protein is important for a healthy pregnancy

pregnancy real food protein.jpg

When it comes to prenatal nutrition, we often think of vitamins like folate and minerals like calcium. Although vitamins and minerals are necessary, protein is a macronutrient that is just as important to support healthy fetal development but does not get discussed too often.

Why do we need protein?

Protein forms the building blocks of every cell in your body. Over 1 million new cells are created every 4 minutes while your baby is in the womb. For that reason, we need to make sure we are consuming enough protein, especially in our second and third trimesters when the focus shifts from organ formation to growth. 

Protein is just as important for you, mama, because it will keep you feeling full for longer. Protein is digested more slowly than carbohydrates and it helps prevent spikes in blood sugar (remember, a spike in blood sugar triggers the body to go into fat storage mode). For that reason, I like to have some form of protein in each meal or snack. Even if I have fruit as a snack, I will have a handful of raw almonds to balance my blood sugar levels and to keep me feeling full for longer.   

How much do I need?

During our second and third trimesters, your baby will grow at his or her most rapid rate. For this reason, I recommend aiming for 80-100 grams of protein each day. 

When we think of protein, the first word that often comes to mind is “meat”. And while meat is an excellent source of protein, it’s not the only place to find it. Nuts, yoghurt, tofu and beans are all forms of protein. Instead of an obsessive checklist, I aim to get 100 grams each day by including plant or animal protein in each meal or snack.   

Here’s a quick list of some of the best sources of protein. 

Meat (3 oz)*

*As a good estimate, 3 oz is about the size of the palm of your hand.

Beef –  20g

Chicken – 25g

Turkey – 27g

Pork – 21g

Liver – 26g

Fish (3oz) 

Salmon –  17 g

Halibut – 26g

Cod – 15g 

Shrimp – 19g

Dairy

1 egg – 6g

Milk (1 cup) – 8g

Cheddar (1 oz) – 7g

Mozzarella (1 oz) – 6g

Cottage cheese (1/2 cup) – 12g

Yoghurt (1 cup) –  10g

Beans

Kidney (1/2 cup) – 7g

Garbanzo (1/2 cup) – 6g 

Black beans (1/2 cup) – 7g

Nuts

Almonds (1/4 cup) – 8g

Walnuts (1/4 cup) – 6g 

Peanuts (1/4 cup) – 4g

Almond butter (1 tbsp) – 4g

Peanut butter (1 tbsp) – 4g

Other

Tofu (1/2 cup) – 20g 

Lentils (1 cup) – 18g 

Quinoa (1 cup) – 8g 

 

High-protein snack ideas

Here are some high-protein snack ideas that are more nutritional than high-carb traditional “snacks” like potato chips and pretzels. Packaged snacks are often filled with sugar and “empty calories” that don't have much nutritional benefit for your baby and can attribute to excessive weight gain during pregnancy if you eat them too frequently. Plus, these snacks don’t fill you up for longer than an hour or so, leaving you hungry for more high-carb, high-sugar food as soon as they’re digested.  

1.   Fruit and nut trail mix

Nuts and seeds are high in protein and are full of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin E and calcium. Instead of being high-sugar trail mixes in stores, you can easily make your own trail mix using raw almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds tossed with golden raisins or dried apples. Walnuts are rich in copper, a mineral that boosts collagen production, while almonds are high in protein and Vitamin E. 

Check out my pregnancy superfood trail mix here

2.   Greek yoghurt with berries and chia seeds

Greek yoghurt has twice the protein content of normal yoghurt. Choose unsweetened, plain varieties and naturally sweeten it with berries or chopped banana. Plain yoghurt is best because it doesn’t have added sugars that unnecessarily spike your blood sugar levels. If you can, look for high protein brands like Siigis that have up to 25g of protein per serve compared to 6g in some other brands.

One of my fave mid-afternoon snacks is half a cup of plain, grass-fed yoghurt topped with sliced strawberries, slivered almonds and a tablespoon of chia seeds for extra protein and Omega 3s. 

One of my fave mid-afternoon snacks is half a cup of plain, grass-fed yoghurt topped with sliced strawberries, slivered almonds and a tablespoon of chia seeds for extra protein and Omega 3s. 

3.   Hard-boiled eggs and avocado

This snack is one of my go-tos because eggs are naturally high in protein and low in carbohydrates. They’re also super versatile and you can have them morning, noon or night. I like boiling my eggs for 8-minutes (to make sure they’re cooked through), and then having them on some wholegrain toast or crackers with a few slices of avocado and seat salt. Yum!

Check out my recipe for quick & easy eggs on avocado toast here.

4.   Paleo choc chip muffins

When I feel like a sweet snack, these paleo choc chip muffins always hit the spot. Instead of white flour, these muffins are made with almond flour making them higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than your store-bought muffins. I make a batch over the weekend and store them in an airtight container in the fridge for when I feel like one over the week (sometimes, they don't even last that long!). 

paleo almond flour muffins

Check out my paleo choc chip muffins recipe here

5.   Cheese and wholegrain crackers

Top some wholegrain crackers with cheese for a quick and easy mid-afternoon snack that will keep you full until dinner. If you can, add some avocado for an extra serve of folate and healthy fats. Cottage cheese has about 12g of protein in a half cup serve while 1oz of cheddar or Swiss cheese has about 7g of protein.