This isn’t your mother’s pregnancy. Things have changed drastically in terms of what we know to be healthy for mom and baby during pregnancy; what they were afraid of in the past might not be so scary anymore and what they viewed as okay, might not be as benign as once thought. You should probably hold off on the red wine. Definitely want to avoid smoky rooms. But, you can lift heavy weights. You can walk up stairs. You can definitely eat fish. And, you can drink coffee. I know this first hand as my wife and I ate sushi at least once a month and drank coffee almost every day.
For the most part, you can do whatever it was that made you healthy before pregnancy. And while this means you can include a lot of things, there are still some food sources you’ll want to try to limit or avoid.
In the previous installment, we drew contrasts between Power Athlete HQ’s nutrition philosophy and the foods women should eat during pregnancy. And, intuitively, there was a nearly perfect overlap. But that makes sense. If food is good for you, it’s good for baby. Nutrient dense, whole food choices, regardless of quantity, are better than other options. This week, we’ll check the other end of the equation and discuss the choices that women should either limit or avoid during pregnancy. As with last week, we are looking through the lens of promoting health in both mother and baby.
Limit: nuts, seeds, and fruit.
Let's Get Fruity
We can quickly address this portion of our philosophy: disregard it. When John developed this philosophy, the limit category was created because these foods aren’t necessarily unhealthy. In fact, they serve as excellent sources of healthy fats and micronutrients. However, they are more calorically dense than other nutrient dense options, and when we’re fueling for performance, we are pretty stingy with our calories. When you’re pregnant on the other hand, we’re are not SO worried about the whiteboard. Nuts, seeds, and fruits are given the green light. On the note of fruits though, they still contain sugar. In their whole form, that typically isn’t an issue. But juiced or dried fruits are a slippery slope...a sweet, sweet slippery slope, and excessive sugar intake (yes, fructose included) may lead to excessive weight gain (1), development of gestational diabetes (2), and a predisposition of asthma (3) or ADHD-like behaviors (4) for baby.
Avoid: Cereal grains including: all varieties of wheat (spelt, einkorn, emmer, durum), barley, rye, oats, triticale, corn (maize), rice (including wild rice), sorghum, millet, fonio, and teff and legumes.
Much like John’s reasoning for avoiding these foods when trying to improve performance, we like to avoid these foods during pregnancy. For starters, they are foods with a high glycemic index, meaning they digest and absorb rapidly, causing a spike in blood sugar. And this isn’t just white bread we’re talking about; these spikes have been shown to occur in whole grain sourdough bread that has been fermented traditionally (5). Secondly, they aren’t nutrient dense. Primarily made up of carbs and, if they are in a refined state, lacking much of their fiber content after processing, they serve more as filler than a source of nutrition. Simply put, the more of these refined carbohydrates you consume, the less nutritious your diet will be (6). And, if it’s fiber you’re after, you can get it a number of other places. The same amount of fiber in a cup of rice (~3-4g) can be found in about half a cup of berries, a quarter of an avocado, or a couple tablespoons of coconut flour. Or, if you're like my wife and I and find yourself in Hawaii during your 36th week of pregnancy, and açaí bowl works as well.
In addition to the fiber, many people feel the need to eat whole grains because they are often fortified with other vitamins and minerals, specifically B-vitamins. And yes, these are important, but when compared to whole food options, these micronutrients can be found in more plentiful amounts. Specifically, seafood, meat, and vegetables. In fact, research has shown that, compared to those three sources, whole grains are less dense in the top 13 vitamin and mineral deficiencies Americans face (7). So rather than adding some pasta or bread to your meal, just bump up the serving size of your proteins and veggies and you’ll reap greater rewards for you and baby!
Is Gluten-Free the Way to Be?
Finally, let’s talk gluten. There is no need to consume gluten when looking through the lens of nutrient density. While not everyone is a full blown celiac patient, there is a wide spectrum of disorders that come from a non-clinical level of gluten sensitivity (8). It may be of benefit, if you haven’t before, to experiment with removing gluten from your diet. When replaced with nutrient dense options, not simply gluten-free grain substitutes, you will net a more nutritious diet overall (9). Now, this being said, you’re likely not going to cause much of an issue if you have a slice of bread here and there. But remember, just like when eating for performance, we are striving to keep our choices micronutrient dense so we get the most bang for our buck.
Borrowing a line from our friends at BIRTHFIT, birth is the most intense athletic event a woman can go through. When viewed in that light, it only makes sense that fueling for giving birth would look similar to fueling for performance in other athletic arenas. By using the guiding principle of nutrient density, and choosing foods that promote gut health and digestion while decreasing inflammation, you will find that whatever choices you make will push the needle closer to optimal, vice moving the other way. However, while food sources look similar, there are some special considerations that one needs to keep in mind while giving nutrition advice to women who are pregnant, and we’ll cover that next time.
BLOG: Eating for Two with Abandon - Part 1 by Ben Skutnik
BLOG: Just Tell Me What to Eat by John Welbourn
PODCAST: Power Athlete Radio Episode 276 Lindsey Mathews BirthFit
BLOG: Mindfulness in the Kitchen by Ben Skutnik
BLOG: The Female Athlete Triad by Ben Skutnik
- Clapp III, James F. "Maternal carbohydrate intake and pregnancy outcome." Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 61.1 (2002): 45-50.
- Zhang, C., & Ning, Y. (2011). Effect of dietary and lifestyle factors on the risk of gestational diabetes: review of epidemiologic evidence. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 94(suppl_6), 1975S-1979S.
- Bédard, A., Northstone, K., Henderson, A. J., & Shaheen, S. O. (2017). Maternal intake of sugar during pregnancy and childhood respiratory and atopic outcomes. European Respiratory Journal, 50(1), 1700073.
- Choi, C. S., Kim, P., Park, J. H., Gonzales, E. L. T., Kim, K. C., Cho, K. S., ... & Ryu, J. H. (2015). High sucrose consumption during pregnancy induced ADHD-like behavioral phenotypes in mice offspring. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry,26(12), 1520-1526.
- Korem, T., Zeevi, D., Zmora, N., Weissbrod, O., Bar, N., Lotan-Pompan, M., ... & Suez, J. (2017). Bread affects clinical parameters and induces gut microbiome-associated personal glycemic responses. Cell metabolism, 25(6), 1243-1253.
- Goletzke, J., Buyken, A. E., Louie, J. C., Moses, R. G., & Brand-Miller, J. C. (2015). Dietary micronutrient intake during pregnancy is a function of carbohydrate quality. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 102(3), 626-632.
- Cordain, L., Eaton, S. B., Sebastian, A., Mann, N., Lindeberg, S., Watkins, B. A., ... & Brand-Miller, J. (2005). Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 81(2), 341-354.
- Catassi, C., Bai, J., Bonaz, B., Bouma, G., Calabrò, A., Carroccio, A., ... & Francavilla, R. (2013). Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: the new frontier of gluten related disorders. Nutrients, 5(10), 3839-3853.
- Quero, J. S., Jaime, B. E., Martínez, A. R., Martín, F. A., Jiménez, R. G., Murillo, M. R., & Martín, A. P. (2015). Nutritional assessment of gluten-free diet. Is gluten-free diet deficient in some nutrient?. Anales de Pediatría (English Edition),83(1), 33-39.
Currently, Ben is finishing his PhD while serving a clinical faculty member at the University of Louisville, molding the minds that will be the future of strength and conditioning coaches. He also helps support the Olympic Sports side of the Strength and Conditioning Department there as a sports scientist.