HEALTHIER CHOICES

Healthy eating for a healthy pregnancy

healthy real food

In today’s world, there's a lot of "diets" and ways of eating that claim to be the healthiest. Low fat, low carb, vegan, vegetarian, keto or paleo are just to name a few... Maybe you yourself have tried some or all of these ways of eating and now that you’re pregnant, you might be wondering is one way of eating better than the other?

Pregnancy is an important time where you need more than the usual amount of nutrients to nourish your baby’s growing body. For this reason, I don’t like to prescribe a certain way of eating other than a wholefood diet: real, natural food.

Eating real, natural food is the best thing you can do for you and your baby while you’re pregnant. If you focus on eating real food you’ll be getting more of the nutrients your developing baby needs without worrying about the empty calories that come from processed foods, which contribute towards unhealthy levels of weight gain during pregnancy. 

 

What is real food?

 

Real food is food that's as close to its natural state as possible. Potatoes compared to potato chips. Whole-wheat toast compared to a bagel. Corn on the cob compared to a packet of Doritos.

 

A good question to ask yourself is how much time did this food spend in a factory?

 

For example...

 

An apple = no time at all

Apple sauce = a little time to get processed into sauce and packaged

Apple pie = a longer time especially for the crust to be made and added

 

Brown rice = little time to get washed and packaged

White rice = a little longer for bran to be stripped and packaged

Rice crisps = a longer time for the bran to be stripped and then converted into crisps and then packaged

 

Choosing foods that've spent no time in a factory is always the best option. Choosing foods that’ve spent only a small amount of time in a factory is the next best thing. I believe that if you can eat real foods most of the time throughout your pregnancy, you don’t have to worry about calorie counting or restrictions. These foods have real nutrients that serve a purpose.

During my first pregnancy, I was hungry all of the time. Some days, I would have two lunches just to get me through to dinner and most days, I’d have to eat something every 2-3 hours. However, since I was eating real food when I was hungry, I didn’t worry about counting calories. The only time I had to be mindful about portion size was when I was indulging in a craving that wasn’t “real food” (for me, it was the occasional ice-cream or slice or two of pizza!).  

In a nutshell, pregnancy is not a time to deny your hunger but it’s not a time to go crazy on food that doesn’t deliver nutrients to your body or your baby. Does that mean you can’t occasionally have a chocolate bar or a dessert? Not at all. Sometimes, it’s just better for your emotional health to go on and treat yourself. But a treat should be exactly that… a treat. Not a replacement for a wholesome nutritious meal. And when it comes to sweets and treats, portion control is everything.

 

So how can you making choosing real food easier?

Here are five tips that worked for me in both my pregnancies that helped me choose real food as often I could.

 

1.   Meal prep

If you can take the time to prepare your meals, do it. Cook ahead if you can so you have meals ready for when your hunger strikes. For me, I would cook a big batch of brown rice pasta with lots of veggies and grilled chicken and I would take servings of it to my office where I could have a serving of it as my “3pm snack” when I was hungry. This kept me full and helped me avoid the usual snack foods like chips, chocolate and candy. In my opinion, having a second serving of brown rice pasta with grilled chicken and veggies is very different to having a bag of chips, a muffin or a chocolate bar.

 

2.   Look for the least ingredients – or better yet, no ingredient list at all

If you’re on the go and need a quick snack, the healthiest options will always be food that comes without an ingredient list: fruit, nuts, seeds and hard-boiled eggs are just to name a few... If they’re not available, then foods that have as few ingredients as possible, are the next best thing. For example, an energy bar with less than five ingredients is more nutritional than one with a long list of ingredients you can't pronounce. Likewise, unsweetened yoghurt or salted potato chips with 3-4 ingredients are better for you than their counterparts with a long list of ingredients.

 

3.   Avoid anything artificial 

Avoid foods that have colors, preservatives and artificial sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup. Any food with these things added to them are a huge red flag to me. These foods have spent a long time being processed in a factory and they’re as far from natural, real food as possible. Research has confirmed that artificial sweeteners have a toxic effect on our bodies and that high-fructose corn syrup triggers weight gain. The hard thing with artificial sweeteners is that food manufacturers are sneaky by hiding sweeteners in everything from ketchup to crackers so always read your ingredient lists.

 

4.   Don’t have junk food in your home or in your office

If it’s not there, the likelihood of you eating junk food is a lot less than if it was within reach. This is especially important when you’re pregnant and hungry most of the time. I’ve learnt this the hard way!  If I crave junk, I have to really make an effort to go to the store and get it. Occasionally, I would satisfy a craving for hot chocolate or French fries and go out to indulge, but because I don’t have sweets or junk at home, if I’m hungry I have to eat what I have available: nuts, fruits, dried fruits such as dates and figs which are great for satisfying a sweet tooth… so are pre-made cacao balls that you can keep in the fridge or freezer for later.

 

5.   Don’t get too hungry between meals 

 

I find myself thinking about sweets or junk food when I haven’t had a good meal beforehand. To feel full and satisfied, I need high-quality protein at each meal or snack, otherwise I’m hungry and craving junk or processed food an hour later. I try to include a serve of protein in each meal or snack in the form of eggs, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans, lentils or lean meat. A high-protein breakfast always helps me stay on track for the day so I’ll most likely have eggs in the morning, avocado toast or nut butter on whole-grain bread. If you’re more of an oatmeal or granola girl in the morning, try making your own granola so it has more protein and fiber than the store-bought varieties. I love this grain-free granola by Minimalist Baker which uses lots of walnuts, almonds and pecans so it's nutrient-rich without any refined sugars.

 

Why organic matters

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Yes, organic produce is more expensive, there is no denying that. Sometimes I catch myself comparing prices in the grocery store wishing that organic produce wasn’t double the price. Like most people with a limited disposable income, I want to make sure that I’m spending my money on things I really need. So, if you’re like me, here are five reasons why organic will improve your health.

1.     More nutrients

Research has shown that organic fruits and vegetables can have up to three times more nutritional value than conventional (non-organic) produce (GOOP).  Organic fruits and veggies have more nutrients because they’re grown in soil that hasn’t been depleted of all the important minerals and enzymes needed to make nutrient-dense foods (Harvard). Eating organic helps you get more of the important vitamins and minerals that you and your baby need.

2.     Less chemicals

 Did you know that at birth, over 200 different chemicals can be found in the baby’s umbilical cord and amongst other things, herbicides and pesticides from food were part of the mixture (EWG). These pesticides and other toxins can create health risks for babies. Many studies link pesticides to low birth weight, birth defects, neurological and behavioral problems, disrupted hormone function, autism, and cancer. If pesticides can cross the placenta, it’s best to avoid them at all cost and switching to organic produce can significantly reduce the amount of toxin exposure your baby has while in utero.

3.     No growth hormones

The meat and dairy industries use growth hormones on animals so they grow faster and produce milk all year round. Unfortunately, these hormones don’t break down at high heat, so they still remain present after the meat is cooked. These hormones can disrupt your own hormonal balance, which could make you gain weight, break out or bloat. One way to avoid these growth hormones is to only eat organic meat and dairy.

4.     No antibiotics

Just like hormones, we ingest antibiotics through non-organic meat and dairy. More than 80% of all antibiotics produced in the US are for the meat and dairy industry, so animals grow faster and survive the unsanitary conditions of concentrated feedlots (FDA).  These antibiotics can interrupt your own gut bacteria balance, which is essential for a healthy immune system. Eating organic meat and dairy is one way of avoiding antibiotics in our food.

5.     Guaranteed non-GMO

In the US, food manufacturers don’t legally have to label genetically modified (GMO) food, so unless a label says it’s organic or that it’s non-GMO, you can’t always be sure of what you’re getting. However, to be classified as organic, farmers can’t use genetically modified seeds or feed GMO food to animals so you can always know that your organic produce is non-GMO.

And as a bonus to your health, organic farming practices do not use fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and chemicals that poison our soils, water and air. Pesticides and herbicides don’t break down in water so they can stay in our water systems and in our land for years.

 

HOW CAN YOU START EATING ORGANIC?

 

To be honest, it took me a while to get the importance of eating organic. Selfishly, I didn’t start to eat organic for environmental reasons… I simply enjoyed the taste of organic eggs and organic fruit better. However, when I was pregnant with Elijah, something shifted in me. Pregnancy was a time I became mindful of a lot of the choices I made in my life and that included the food I ate. After all, I couldn’t always control the chemicals I was exposed to each day, but I could control what was on my plate.

Slowly but surely, I started replacing conventional produce like berries or eggs, with their organic counterparts. Now with Elijah in my life, we eat organic whenever we eat at home. It is definitely more expensive so I do my best to make informed decisions and save where I can.

If you’re like me, here’s how you can start eating organic, even if you’re on a budget.

 

1.     Buy organic for the Dirty Dozen

 

The Dirty Dozen is a list of the top 12 most heavily sprayed crops in the US. I recommend always buying these organic and being a bit more relaxed about the Clean Fifteen because they’re the least sprayed crops. For example, I always buy organic strawberries and spinach (the top two most sprayed crops in the US) but I don’t stress about bananas, avocados and grapefruit so I often buy these conventional.

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2.     Buy frozen

 

Frozen fruit and vegetables are a lot cheaper, so I will opt for a bag of frozen organic blueberries over a fresh punnet of conventional blueberries, especially when organic berries aren’t in season. The same applies with broccoli and bell peppers, especially when they’re not in season and too expensive to buy organic. The added bonus with frozen produce is that it’s pre-cut so its super easy to meal prep and cook!

 

3.     Reduce meat and dairy  

 

Personally, organic meat and dairy has become non-negotiable for me, especially when I’m pregnant or nursing. I make the financial sacrifice there and I buy conventional fruits and vegetables from the Clean Fifteen list to save money.

However, if you can’t afford organic meat, try swapping out meat for beans and lentils a few times a week. 1 cup of lentils has 17g of protein compared to 25g in the same amount of meat. Not only that, but lentils are full of fiber, folate, iron and minerals such as calcium. Maybe experiment with meatless meals that have beans or lentils 1-2 times per week and see how much you save and how you feel? The great thing with beans and lentils is that you’ll be getting lots of protein, minerals and vitamins, along with lots of fiber to help keep things moving during pregnancy.

 

STRAWBERRY & PEACH SMOOTHIE

Vitamin C

Pregnancy cravings & healthy weight gain

donuts in bed

Before I was pregnant, my biggest perception about pregnancy was that pregnant women got uncontrollable cravings for pizza and ice-cream at all hours of the day. I thought that those cravings would control you for the nine months that you were pregnant and that you had no choice but to give in and eat exactly what you were craving.

What I learnt through my own pregnancy, was that firstly, every woman is different and secondly, you can turn your cravings into healthier options, at least most of the time.

Some women crave pizza and others crave watermelon. Other women, like myself, crave cheese burgers but can't stand the thought of cupcakes (for some reason, anything too sugary made me feel sick).

While I indulged most of my cravings, I always looked to how I could turn them into healthier, more nutritional options when I could.

When I craved cheese burgers, I would order burgers on a whole-wheat bun – or skip the bun if whole-wheat wasn’t available and indulged in a few French fries instead.

When I craved Mac n cheese, I would make my own version using brown rice pasta, and throw as many vegetables in there as I could. I would also use organic cheese.

When I craved something salty, I would buy roasted and salted almonds before reaching for the potato chips.

When I craved chocolate, I would have some raw cacao truffles that I had stored in the fridge or freezer. These cacao truffles are made with ground walnuts so they’re packed with fiber, protein and Omega 3 fatty-acids that will benefit both you and your baby. They’re also sugar-free and naturally sweetened with dates.

So how can you make your cravings healthier?

Can you choose whole-wheat?

Whole-wheat grains such as brown rice, whole-wheat flour, whole-grain oats, barley and faro, have fiber and protein in them so they slow the absorption of glucose (or blood sugar) into your body. This is key to weight management and healthy hormones because a spike in blood sugar means a spike in insulin, which signals your body to store excess glucose as fat.

Can you choose whole-wheat dough for your pizza or whole-wheat bread for your grilled cheese sandwich? Better yet, can you sub in quinoa or buckwheat instead of grains because both quinoa and buckwheat are protein-packed seeds and not grains.

Can you cut the sugar?

Just like excess carbohydrates, excess sugar causes a spike in the hormone insulin and signals your body to go into fat-storage mode.

Can you bake it with half the amount of sugar or make an alternative with natural sweeteners such as maple syrup or dates? Check out my recipe for sugar-free raw cacao truffles for a sweet treat or a mid-afternoon pick me up.

Can you have it with protein?

Protein slows the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream to prevent a spike in insulin. Protein can also keep you full for longer because it takes your body longer to digest it.

Can you have your pizza with a serving of grilled chicken and veggies on the side? Or a handful of raw almonds or shredded coconut with your serving of ice-cream?

Can you limit the portion size?

If the above options aren’t available, can you limit your portion size so you’re not over-indulging in a pint of ice-cream or a whole pizza to yourself?

There will be days when you will be very hungry during your pregnancy, but filling up on protein, vegetables and whole-grains instead of the empty calories found in processed food, has nutritional benefits for you and your baby.

And if you focus on eating real, nutrient-dense foods the majority of the time, when you do get a craving for something not-as-healthy, you can indulge in a single-serving of it with no worries.

Raw cacao truffles

PROTEIN OMEGA 3 + FIBER

How to make healthier choices during pregnancy

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Don’t know where to start making healthier choices during pregnancy? Here are two simple ways to start that can really shape your pregnancy for the better.

1. Eat real, whole foods most of the time

Choose real, whole foods when you can, so you don't feel bad about the times you have an insatiable craving. I'm a big fan of the 80/20 principle, which means you eat real, nutritious whole foods 80 percent of the time and leave yourself 20 percent for more-processed meals or snacks.

Real, whole foods are the opposite of food that comes from a factory, which is most food that comes out of a box or packet. However, in our busy, modern-day lives, eating food out of a box or a packet is sometimes unavoidable.

Unless you cook all your meals from scratch, it's inevitable that you're going to eat some packaged food here and there. But the secret to a healthier pregnancy is to make sure you're eating real, whole foods at least most of the time, so you don't feel bad for the occasional treat or meal that comes out of a box or packet.

2. Choosing the least processed option

Processed foods don't contain the same amount of nutrients for your baby's development as real, whole foods. Instead, what these processed foods have are a lot of ‘empty’ calories - calories with little nutritional value that can contribute to excessive weight gain if not used for energy.

For example, if you need to choose an energy bar, choosing one that has whole food ingredients (like a Larabar or Rx Bar) is better than choosing one with a long list of ingredients, especially if that list includes added sugars, artificial sweeteners or preservatives you can't pronounce.

When I was pregnant, I would often go to long work meetings that were catered. (Some of these meetings would go for 3-4 hours at a time!) There would always be cookies and pastries, and sometimes sandwiches and fruit. If the sandwiches were made with whole-wheat bread, I would have a sandwich and a small serving of fruit. If there were no real, whole foods available, I’d always have one of my own snacks that I’d pre-packed in my handbag for when I got hungry. I'd always carry a piece of fruit or a packet of raw almonds or my own home-made trail mix so I would have a nutrient-dense option to eat and not be left hungry… because no one wants that when you’re pregnant!

Try out my pregnancy superfood trail mix below!

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SUPERFOOD TRAIL MIX

PROTEIN CALCIUM MAGNESIUM