Knowing the difference between real and fake food is the best place to start when making healthier choices during pregnancy, or in life in general.
It’s a lot easier to define what fake food is, so let’s start there.
Fake foods come from a factory. You can’t find them in nature. Think, Doritos, potato chips, candy bars. They’re considered fake because they have little nutritional value but are high in calories that can easily be converted and stored as fat, if they’re not used for energy.
Fake foods are often packaged and have long ingredient lists with ingredients that are hard to pronounce. I would save these foods for an occasional treat but avoid them on a daily basis because the worse thing about these foods is that they’re addictive. They can taste good, fill you up for a short period of time, but they'll leave you wanting more a few of hours later.
On the hand, real foods look exactly how they would in nature, from the plant or animal they come from. Think, fruits and veggies, fish, eggs, lean meat, nuts and seeds. These foods deliver nutrients, without the empty calories that you find in processed or “fake” food, so excessive weight gain during pregnancy is less likely. Eating an abundance of real food during your pregnancy – or before you get pregnant – is key to optimal nutrition. My goal is to make these foods the basis of my every day diet.
Then you’ve got your foods that float somewhere in the middle.
These foods do exist in nature but they’ve been somewhat processed to look the way they do when they end up in your kitchen, like bread or hummus. In the case of bread, flour has been milled and baked to form bread. In the case for hummus, chickpeas have been mashed with tahini, lemon juice and salt to form hummus. These foods can still be considered a whole food that’s been minimally processed.
What makes these foods beneficial or not, is the question, what else has been added?
Has sugar, artificial flavors and preservatives been added to extend its shelf life and make it taste better?
Does it have hidden trans fats to make it taste fresher?
Or has it been overly processed so there’s little nutritional value left?
In the case of rice crackers, rice cakes and most cereal bars on the market today, they’ve been so processed that none of the fiber or nutritional value from the grain remains. These products are sold as “healthy” but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, you’ve got calories that are low in nutritional value, but high in simple carbohydrates and sugars that can be easily converted and stored as fat if they're not used for energy.
Why does it matter?
Real food delivers real nutrients that your body will happily receive and use to support the little life growing inside of you. Real foods are nutrient-dense, with a higher nutrition to calorie ratio, compared to packaged foods. Your pregnancy weight gain will more likely to be slow and steady, and within the normal range.
On the flip side, if you’re always eating processed foods to satisfy your hunger, you’re more likely to put on excess weight because these empty calories don’t deliver real nutrients. When you eat fake foods, you might feel full for the moment but you’ll find yourself hungry for more, shortly afterwards. You might find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle of eating fake food, getting hungry shortly afterwards and doing it all again.
What you can do today
Have a look at what you’re eating for breakfast, lunch, dinner and your snacks in between. Are your meals from real food ingredients? If not, what can you do to change them, so that they are? If you’re having a bowl of cereal or a cereal bar for breakfast, can you change it to a bowl of wholegrain oatmeal and berries? Can you have a pre-made frittata muffin instead of an energy bar if you’re rushed for time? It all starts with one small change at a time. You’ve got this, bella mama!