healthy weight gain

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.

 

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

Real vs fake food

doughnuts

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 theyre 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 thats 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 theres 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 couldnt 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!

Broccoli cheddar frittatas

PROTEIN + CHLOLINE

Pregnancy Myth #1: But I'm pregnant, I'm supposed to eat whatever I want!

icecreaminarow

If you’re like me, your idea of what a pregnant woman should eat is probably from what you've seen in the movies and on TV… the pregnant mama chowing down on her third packet of Oreos… or screaming for Doritos and ice cream at 3 o’clock in the morning. It makes us feel like we could, or should be doing exactly that when we're pregnant.

And while you could eat whatever you like during pregnancy, being mindful about what foods you eat during your pregnancy will have payoffs - for both you and your baby.

By no means is pregnancy a time for restrictive eating... your body has additional energy requirements because you are afterall, growing a human being inside of you and that takes a lot of work!

However, it is a time to be intentional about the choices you make when it comes to food.

Real food vs junk food

If you choose to eat real, whole foods most of the time, you’ll get the nutrients your baby and your body needs, without worrying about excessive weight gain during pregnancy and the complications that may bring. 

Real foods allow your body to naturally put on weight where you're biologically programmed to. The beautiful thing about mother nature is that you'll be biologically programmed to lose weight from these places once you've given birth.

On the other hand, junk or processed foods don't contain the nutrients your baby needs so you're left hungry for more - and more susceptible to the cycle of cravings. Someone once told me that if eating junk food before you were pregnant made you put on weight, wouldn’t the same thing happen while you were pregnant? Food for thought...

So, while you can eat whatever you want during pregnancy, not everything is going to benefit your baby’s development - or give your body what it needs to stay healthy and strong after your pregnancy. 

Instead, make healthier choices when you can, and focus on eating real, whole foods that don’t come out of a packet or box. Choose meals with real food ingredients, that you have to put together yourself.

As a quick and easy snack (or breakfast), I love to make whole-wheat toast topped with nut butter, bananas and chia seeds. It's quick to make, satisfying to eat and full of nutrients that'll look after your baby and your body.

bananachianutbuttertoast

BANANA CHIA + NUT BUTTER TOAST 

PROTEIN FIBER OMEGA 3