Top 2 Tips To Feel Great Pregnant
There tends to be an assumption that pregnancy is a challenging (maybe even miserable) time, but it doesn’t have to be! It can be a time of feeling empowered by being proactive in optimizing your nutrition and lifestyle. The dietary suggestions below can help to reduce exposure to medications to treat symptoms, by addressing the root causes. You can feel great while pregnant and afterwards, all while optimizing health outcomes for your baby.
So if you’ve got a baby bump (or you’re planning to conceive soon) and you’re wondering how to increase your chances of having a healthy, more natural, and enjoyable pregnancy, then read on for our top nutrition tips to support you and your baby.
Tip 1: Balance Blood Sugar
During pregnancy, insulin resistance naturally increases. This is the body’s wise way of making sure your growing baby receives an adequate energy supply from the foods you eat. (1) When you’re insulin resistant, it means that the glucose in your blood has a harder time making its way into your cells where it can be used for energy. Insulin resistance during pregnancy ensures that the baby gets enough glucose to fuel their growing energy needs by shifting mom’s physiology to absorb less of it (2).
The body learned to adapt this way when carbohydrate-rich foods tended to be more scarce, before industrialization. Now, modern diets tend to be too high in carbs, especially the refined and processed kinds. Furthermore, many of us are already insulin resistant or prediabetic before pregnancy. Therefore, this natural adaptation can quickly get out of hand and become problematic. This makes it important to monitor blood sugar levels during pregnancy to make sure they stay within a healthy range.
Unstable blood sugar during pregnancy is linked with increased risk of:
- neural tube defects (3)
- having larger babies, which can lead to birth complications (4)
- high blood pressure in mom (5)
- gestational diabetes (6)
- a dangerous pregnancy-specific condition called preeclampsia (7)
- preterm delivery (8)
- increased risk for metabolic disorders during your baby’s childhood (9)
How To Balance Blood Sugar
The good news is that you can use nutrition to keep your blood sugar sailing smoothly. As a result, you will reduce your risk of many of these negative outcomes. Even if you do develop gestational diabetes, research shows that managing your blood sugar afterwards may prevent the negative outcomes associated with it. How’s that for empowering?
In addition, keeping your blood sugar balanced also helps you avoid or minimize uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms. Most people think that nausea, fatigue, irritability, and insomnia are just part of pregnancy. But in reality, they’re usually a response to blood sugar swings! This is why morning nausea is so common, because glucose has dropped due to fasting overnight. Adjust your diet to account for the insulin resistance, and you can actually feel great pregnant.
To keep your blood sugar balanced, eat protein, fat, and fiber at all your meals, along with any carbs you have. Protein, fat, and fiber slow the release of glucose from the carbs you eat so that your blood sugar doesn’t spike. In addition, the process of your body digesting the food slows the release of its carbohydrates. Therefore, prioritize whole foods and minimize processed ones. For example, berries, beans, lentils, and vegetables will have less impact on your blood sugar than foods like juice, crackers, tortillas, and bread.
Finally, check labels for added sugars. These can hide in cereals, yogurt, snack bars, beverages, sauces, dressings, etc. If you think your cravings will challenge you on this task, find healthy ways to satisfy them with our blog post here.
Tip 2: Maximize Nutrient Density to Feel Great Pregnant
While your overall calorie needs don’t actually increase very much in pregnancy, your nutrient needs do. In general, calorie needs in the first trimester are about the same as pre-pregnancy. In the second trimester, they increase by about 300 calories per day. To illustrate, this is about ¼ cup mixed nuts and a medium apple. Last of all, in the third trimester you need about 450 more calories daily (10). Some women need less, some need a little more, but overall this is a far cry from needing to “eat for two.” Sorry to burst that bubble!
On the other hand, many of our nutrient needs do go up significantly. Also, unlike calories, some of these increased needs are more important in the first trimester. For example, folate is critically important for healthy growth of the neural tube which finishes developing at only four weeks gestation, in some cases before you even know you’re pregnant (11). Beyond folate, pregnant women have a higher need for vitamin D, vitamin A, all of the B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, selenium, zinc, choline, DHA, and glycine (10).
Since our calorie needs don’t increase very much but our nutrient needs do, that means we need to really maximize the nutrient density of the foods we choose so we can get the most nutritional mileage out of each bite. This helps the baby get a steady supply of raw materials for healthy growth and development.
Just as important, nutrient density makes sure you get enough supplies to fuel the processes required for your own health. If the body has to choose, it will preferentially give nutrients to the baby, even if you’re getting low for your needs. As a result, symptoms that you could experience are fatigue, brain fog, hair loss, low mood, and a poor immune system. Maximizing nutrient density helps grow a healthy baby and keep you feeling great while pregnant and afterwards.
How To Maximize Nutrients
Nutrient dense foods are those in their whole food form (see the theme from our talk about blood sugar above? Read more here). Some examples to seek out with your next grocery trip:
- Healthy fats: extra-virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut, eggs from pasture-raised chickens, and grass-fed ghee
- Colorful vegetables: dark leafy greens, broccoli, radish, purple cabbage, summer and winter squashes, and bell pepper
- Lower sugar fruits: berries of all kinds and citrus
- High quality protein: organic poultry, 100% grass-fed beef, eggs, and low-mercury fish such as Alaskan salmon, trout, and cod
- Whole food carbs: potatoes, yams, plantain, parsnip, turnip, beans, lentils, steel cut oats, brown rice, and quinoa
It may seem overwhelming and confusing at first, but when we boil it down it’s pretty simple. Eat a variety of whole foods in a balanced way that both keeps your blood sugar stable and fills your body with nutrients. A healthy diet combined with a high-quality prenatal helps fuel all the change happening in your body and your baby, so you can feel great pregnant!
- Normal Pregnancy- A State of Insulin Resistance. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290225
- Determinants of Maternal Insulin Resistance during Pregnancy: An Updated Overview. 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6885766/
- Effects of hyperinsulinemia and obesity on risk of neural tube defects among Mexican Americans. 2001. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11679789/
- Gestational diabetes mellitus and macrosomia: a literature review. 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26045324/
- Insulin resistance and its potential role in pregnancy-induced hypertension. 2003. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12788833/
- The Pathophysiology of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. 2018. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30373146/
- Maternal Insulin Resistance and Preeclampsia. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3127262/
- Increasing insulin resistance predicts adverse pregnancy outcomes in women with gestational diabetes mellitus. 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31808991/
- Hyperglycemia During Pregnancy and Long-Term Offspring Outcomes. 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7008468/
- Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation. 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5104202/
- Prevention of Neural Tube Defects and proper folate periconceptional supplementation. 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3279093/