As a parent, I am constantly trying to balance time, cost, and nutrition when it comes to feeding my family. I am most interested in providing healthful meals, but even with a degree in nutritional sciences, it’s not always easy to know what makes the most sense for my family. Just like clothing, food goes through trends over time.
At different points in your life, you might have wondered which diet to follow. What will keep you full longer, give you the most energy, or help you lose or gain weight the fastest? Low carb? Low fat? High protein? It’s hard to know who and what to believe. There is even debate among dietitians and health practitioners about which diets are most beneficial. So, during pregnancy, when your main concern is the healthy development of your baby, where does this leave you? I recently read a book that will help you figure out what to eat while pregnant.
About the book
If you’re like me, you like to understand the “why” behind what you’re doing. Why should I limit carbohydrates? Why are some fats okay, while others should be avoided? In the book Real Food for Pregnancy: The Science and Wisdom of Optimal Prenatal Nutrition by Lily Nichols, you will find evidence-based nutritional information for pregnant women broken down into digestible pieces that you can use to give your baby the best chance at a healthy start.
The author, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and certified diabetes educator, beautifully explains the importance of not just growing another being but allowing that baby (and you) to thrive during development by embracing a nutrient-dense diet during pregnancy. She has thoroughly examined an extensive amount of research on nutrition for women and pregnancy so that you won’t have to. She describes the physiology behind how your body changes during pregnancy and uses nutrients to produce the cells and makeup of your baby.
Real Food for Pregnancy by Lily Nichols is an informative read for pregnant or pre-pregnant women, but is eye-opening to any consumer of food. When it comes to feeding my family, I know that the cost of illness is far greater than the cost of food, so I opt for more quality food to nourish our bodies as a sort of preventative healthcare. This aligns with Nichols’ philosophy on “real food” and her analysis of the research that shows,
…inadequate nutrition during pregnancy can impair the development of your baby and lead to lifelong metabolic changes that increase the risk of diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and the risk of obesity.
Adequate nutrition for pregnancy diet
So what is adequate nutrition for pregnancy? Don’t be so quick to rely on the dietary recommendations put out by the FDA. Nichols highlights why food guidelines alone aren’t the full picture and her pregnancy diet recommendations are probably not what you would expect. Leave the fat on your meat? Add the salt? Select the full-fat option? This advice may seem counterintuitive but, after reading the explanations Nichols provides, these recommendations will make complete sense.
She illustrates the true value of the nutritional values you see on the side of a package and why it’s preferable to choose nutrient-rich foods that don’t come with food labels at all. Nichols describes “real food” as food that is as close as possible to its form found in nature. Eating this label-less “real food” is a lifestyle that is traditional among many cultures and has outlived many other diet trends.
She stresses the importance of consuming real food products such as meat, dairy, and eggs from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals. These foods provide far greater amounts of vitamins and minerals necessary for pregnancy and fewer traces of pesticides than grain-fed animals. To fully benefit from the food, you should not separate from the meat. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble and cannot work in your body unless you eat the fat.
The science makes evident that caloric needs increase only slightly during pregnancy, while micronutrient (or vitamin and mineral) needs increase significantly. In Real Food for Pregnancy, you’ll find meal plans that will actually meet those dietary needs and incorporate real examples of what Nichols considers “real food.”
Easy does not mean effective
Since diet alone is not sufficient to reach optimal nutrient levels, Real Food for Pregnancy also addresses prenatal vitamins and how to determine which type of supplement will suit your specific needs. Nichols points out, “…a supplement is rarely superior to what’s available in real, whole foods.” She goes into great detail about which ingredients to look for in your prenatal since the synthetic forms of some vitamins are not as well absorbed and/or utilized by your body as those found in food.
Before children, my husband and I prepared meals, but I wouldn’t say we really “cooked” much. Once I had children, I felt I had to learn how to cook (it turns out kids get hungry…a lot.) Cooking is not something that came naturally, and I’ve certainly come a long way, but I don’t relish hours spent in the kitchen. Between school, sports and activities, and work, time is one of the determining factors for what to prepare for our meals. Technological advances make food more accessible, cheaper, vitamin-enriched, and ready-made, but many of these processes mean breaking down or eliminating the nutritive aspect of foods.
In Nichols’ professional involvement with women experiencing gestational diabetes, the result of implementing her whole food in contrast to a conventional nutrition approach was vast. Her patients’ blood sugar levels and pregnancy outcomes were greatly improved, so much so that she wrote another book, Real Food for Gestational Diabetes, to help other pregnant women face the same challenges and educate physicians and nutritionists about her findings.
Higher quality and real foods, according to Nichols’ research, contain higher levels of micronutrients and fewer harmful substances. One way I cut down on cooking time, yet include the higher quality and real foods was to make meals that result in leftovers that I could convert or combine into other meals. Included in Real Food for Pregnancy is a collection of recipes loaded with micronutrients, such as vitamin A, choline, DHA, and iron, essential to the development of your baby.
Best foods to eat while pregnant
To make selecting the right pregnancy food easy, Real Food for Pregnancy contains recipes of the best foods to eat while pregnant that will help you meet your prenatal dietary goals. My kids are good eaters but can be picky, so when I can add extra nutrition to our dishes, I take the opportunity. I decided to add one of the book’s recipes to my repertoire as each of the recipes can certainly benefit you and your growing family well beyond pregnancy.
Crustless spinach quiche
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
- 1 onion chopped
- 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach thawed and drained
- 6 eggs ideally from pasture-raised chicken
- 3 cups shredded cheese (Muenster, cheddar or jack)
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Sauté onions in butter or coconut oil in a large pan until soft.
- Add spinach to pan and reduce until the liquid is cooked out. If using fresh spinach (or other green, such as kale or chard), cook until wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk eggs. Add cheese (I used cheddar) and season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in cooked spinach and onions.
- Pour into a buttered 9 in pie pan and bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes until the eggs are set. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.
This recipe is the exact balance I need for my family. It’s quick, inexpensive, and packed with nutrients (like protein, calcium, and folate) to fuel my family. I like to double the recipe so that I can serve it for dinner before an evening busy with sports schedules and then have leftovers to reheat for breakfast later in the week (or the following morning).
To mix it up, I add different spices like garlic powder, chives, and parsley. There’s also room to sneak in some extra veggies when making healthy pregnancy meals. In the taste department, the whole family agrees the recipe is a keeper.
Real food for pregnancy
- Prioritizing "real foods" has its benefits
- Embracing a nutrient-dense diet while pregnant allows your baby to thrive in development
- Food guidelines alone aren’t the full picture