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How To Nutritionally Support Your Body with Plant Foods During Pregnancy

How To Nutritionally Support Your Body with Plant Foods During Pregnancy

February 17, 2022

Eating well is a basic must for any and all times of life. Not only is food creative and fun and brings us a lot of joy, it's also essential for good health, growth and the never-ending cycle of repair our bodies undergo throughout a lifetime.

We need a good diet to provide our body with all the right ingredients it requires to fuel the incredible amount of activities each and every living cell is doing every millisecond of every day and night.

When we are pregnant and blessed to be creating a new life, good nutrition is at the top of our list. For many of us, this extra focus on nutrition means we are at our healthiest.

We prioritise our own nourishment and nurturing out of the incredible love we have for the new life we carry within.

Whatever a person's dietary preferences, research shows there is a significant move to vegetarian and vegan style diets with the growth in awareness around a link to improved health. Data shows that low-fat diets (particularly referring to the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats) enriched with fruit, vegetables, and fibre can lead to a reduction of risk factors for coronary heart diseases, a better lipid profile, lower body mass index and lower blood pressure. In addition, vegetarian diets appear to help prevent cancer and type 2 diabetes. Plant-based diets are reported to contain less saturated fatty acids, animal protein and cholesterol, and more folate, fibre, antioxidants, phytochemicals and carotenoids.

Research also shows pregnancy requires an increased intake of macro and micronutrients and a balanced diet. With a focus on balanced maternal nutrition during pregnancy being essential for the mother’s health status, and consequently for offspring, it is crucial to maintain an adequate environment for optimal foetal development.

Knowing when to receive outside support:

Of course, sometimes the incredible journey of pregnancy and all the extra functions our body is doing means we don’t always feel amazing, or sometimes have complications that add an extra intensity to our pregnancy journey. If this is your experience, we strongly suggest you work with a healthcare practitioner to explore why. They can help you work out deficiencies or holes in your diet and then prescribe customised supplements and herbs. Even physical support such as acupuncture, kinesiology and massage are of incredible value and benefits. Take the time to create a network of experienced practitioners around you and your partner to support the journey. Give yourself permission to receive.


So the big question is:

How do we actually make sure we’re getting all the nutrients we need during pregnancy? Or, what are the basic ingredients, the building blocks, that make up the foods we can thrive on through pregnancy?


We’re here to break it all down for you…

Vitamins

Vitamins help our body to grow, repair and function. Essential to help our body resist infection, keep nerves healthy, our blood vital and able to clot or not as needed and our bodies building healthy tissues.

Vitamins can be fat-soluble or water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are able to be stored in our body while water-soluble ones are easily depleted. This means we require more of the water-soluble vitamins and not as much of the fat-soluble.

A, D, E and K are examples of fat-soluble vitamins our body stores in the liver and fatty tissues.

Water soluble vitamin examples are vitamin C and the B complex vitamins - folate, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.

You will have heard how sailors discovered that bringing oranges on long voyages prevented scurvy, a disease that develops with a deficiency of vitamin C.
Because humans rely on our food sources of Vitamin C (our bodies aren’t able to make it) the deficiency developed and the sailors fell ill with a variety of symptoms from anaemia, bleeding gums, exhaustion, spontaneous bleeding and bruising, muscle aches, pain in the limbs and swollen legs and joints. Imagine how their skin would have looked without any vitamin C for collagen synthesis?!

We need to ensure a daily intake of the water-soluble B complex vitamins as they are vital for normal body growth and development, energy and protein metabolism, eyesight, healthy skin and joints, the proper function of nerves and the heart, and red blood cell formation.

Antioxidants (like vitamins A, C and E) are types of vitamins that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage through their ability to counteract oxidative stress. Such as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium.

Antioxidants are vitamins that protect the body from damage caused by harmful molecules called oxygen-free radicals. Oxygen-free radicals are normal by-products of cell metabolism. In a healthy body, we are able to maintain a balance and prevent free radicals from being dominant. At high levels, they can cause damage to cells. Oxidative stress can be influenced by lifestyle, environmental pollution, stress and trauma. Antioxidants help to protect the body from premature ageing cell damage.

Vitamins can be depleted or denatured with cooking or exposure to light and heat making it important to include raw foods or lightly cooked foods, and not relying on over-processed fast foods as a source of nutrients.

All fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables are a rich and natural source of vitamins.

Minerals

Minerals are natural elements eroded from rocks into our soils. Plants absorb minerals from the soil to thrive which is why it is so important to have healthy, rich in a fertile microbiome, chemical-free soils. If our plants are nutrient deficient, so will we be.

Minerals are required in either trace amounts (such as iodine and fluoride = microminerals), or large amounts (such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium = macrominerals). Minerals are essential for brain function, energy, growth, enzyme creation and hormones. As well as essential with our ability to heal, they assist with the absorption and function of other nutrients such as vitamins. Like vitamins, minerals also function as coenzymes that allow the body to perform its biochemical functions. And like vitamins, minerals need to be in the proper balance for other minerals to be effective.

The requirement for iodine increases during early pregnancy, which is due to increased maternal thyroid hormone production and the transfer of iodine to the growing baby. Mum and bub share almost everything! It is important that mum has a good source of essential minerals such as iodine and calcium for example in order to maintain levels of calcium in her bones and not become depleted as the mother's stores may be diverted to support the growing baby. It’s advised to increase the intake of calcium and iron-rich foods to support the stages of pregnancy.

Minerals are very stable and resilient with cooking, exposure to light and heat, maintaining their nutritional value pretty much no matter what you do to them.

Nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, seaweeds, grains, legumes are all wonderful sources of minerals.

Healthy fats

Healthy fats are saturated and unsaturated fats that are essential in the appropriate balance to support brain and nerve health, heart health, glowing skin, immune system, gut and thyroid health.

Enjoying healthy fats during pregnancy is beneficial in supporting the baby’s developing brain and nervous system, heart health as well as being wonderful for Mum’s skin health and elasticity. If you eat seafood, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are a wonderful source, but be aware of mercury contamination.

Healthy fats support good, healthy cholesterol levels, build hormones and nourish our nervous system. They help build resilient cell membranes, help the blood to clot, keep our skin plump, youthful and resistant to infection, rashes, sensitivity and reduce systemic inflammation and allergies.

So while fats are extremely important, there is a world of difference between unhealthy fats and healthy fats!

Wonderful sources of healthy fats are avocados, fish, nuts and seeds, coconuts, hemp, olive oil, sunflower oil and macadamia oil.

Fibre

Fibre isn’t necessarily of nutritional value, but it is of value to our gut health and our ability to detox waste and keep our colon clean.

Fibre isn’t digested or absorbed by the intestinal tract. But fibre carries with it all the stuff your body doesn’t want or need, kind of like a garbage removal service, and limits the time that toxins or waste stays in the body. If your digestion is slow and sluggish, then you will have toxins, fermentation, bloating, gas and acidity negatively affecting your energy levels, weight and your health. On the other hand, beneficial bacteria thrive on healthy amounts of fibre in the diet = prebiotic and this helps to keep our gut microbiome in balance.

Fibre in our diet also helps to lower any excess of hormones such as oestrogen.

Enjoy whole grains such as oats, brown rice, quinoa and sourdough and fermented breads to provide healthy fibre. Don’t peel your kiwifruit or apples but do ensure they're spray and wax-free, preferably organic, before eating. And eat the pips and pith as well.

Legumes, fruits, vegetables - particularly sweet potatoes -also provide wonderful fibre. Eating vegetables raw in salads, smoothies or sides increases the level of useful fibre as well as the available minerals, vitamins and enzymes. But remember to also drink plenty of fluids. Aside from the fact that you’re drinking for two and need extra water for the amniotic fluids + placenta, fibre without water can dehydrate the digestive tract, but with water helps to keep us regular, avoiding uncomfortable bloating, reflux, and possible haemorrhoids from straining.

Enzymes

Enzymes act as a catalyst to bring about various actions and reactions in the body. They are produced in living cells of plants, animals and microorganisms. All living organisms require enzymes for growth and for the production and utilisation of energy which is essential for life itself. Every one of the gazillions of cells in our body has enzyme activity happening.

Having a healthy level of enzyme activity and function ensures that most of everything else happens as it should in our bodies and therefore with our health. They help to build and to break down.

Three key types of enzymes in different parts of our digestive system help break down the food to provide the energy our body needs to grow and repair. They are called carbohydrase enzymes - break down carbohydrates into sugars, protease enzymes- break down proteins into amino acids and lipase enzymes - break down fats into fatty acids.

Our saliva, organs and intestines all have enzymes and because of enzyme activity, our food is turned into substances we can absorb. Good foods, fruit and vegetables all have enzymes too, (like amylase in mangos and bananas, papain in papaya, amylase and protease in honey). Eating fresh foods with enzymes can help our own digestion.

Digestive health is often compromised during pregnancy. Many women experience reflux, constipation, feeling overly full and even gallbladder pain from the increased production of oestrogen. Digestive support in the form of enzyme-rich foods during pregnancy can drastically improve digestion and even allow for greater absorption of nutrients for the development of a healthy baby. As well as mum feeling a whole lot more energetic and happy.

Phytonutrients or Plant Nutrients (Phyto = Plant)

Phytonutrients protect the plant from threats in its natural environment such as disease and excessive sun. Australian Native fruits such as the little but mighty Kakadu Plum have evolved into incredibly concentrated nutrient-dense fruits in their response to surviving the harshness of the Australian climate.

When humans eat plant-based whole foods, phytonutrients protect us from chronic diseases, fortify our immune systems and enhance our life force through the many beneficial phytochemicals they offer our body chemistry.

Phytonutrients have potent anti-cancer and anti-heart disease effects. Eg Gallic & Egallic acid (found in Kakadu Plum) with literally 1000’s of unique plant chemicals identified through research. A fresh crisp apple has over 400 alone!

You can identify phytonutrients by colour - eating the rainbow is real!

Red: Rich in the carotenoid lycopene, a potent scavenger of gene-damaging free radicals that seems to protect against prostate cancer as well as heart and lung disease.

Found in: Strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cherries, apples, beets, watermelon, red grapes, red peppers, red onions.

Orange and yellow: Provide beta cryptothanxin, which supports intracellular communication and may help prevent heart disease.

Found in: Carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, oranges, bananas, pineapple, tangerines, mango, pumpkin, apricots, winter squash (butternut, acorn), peaches, cantaloupe, corn.

Green: These foods are rich in cancer-blocking chemicals like sulforaphane, isocyanate, and indoles, which inhibit the action of carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds).

Found in: Spinach, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, barley, wheatgrass, alfalfa sprouts, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, collard greens, green tea, green herbs (mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil).

Blue and purple: Have powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins believed to delay cellular ageing and help the heart by blocking the formation of blood clots.

Found in: blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, acai berries, Concord grapes, raisins, eggplant, plums, figs, prunes, lavender, purple cabbage.

White and brown: The onion family contains allicin, which has anti-tumour properties. Other foods in this group contain antioxidant flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol.

Found in: onions, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, mushrooms

(Eat the Rainbow reference: Harvard Medical School April 25 2019)

Amino acids

Amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins. Amino acids and proteins are the building blocks of life.

When proteins are digested or broken down, amino acids are left. The human body uses amino acids to make proteins, neurotransmitters, hormones and to help the body break down food, grow, repair and maintain body tissues. When we eat protein, our body breaks it down into amino acids and then uses them for various processes, such as building muscle, wound healing and the reproductive system and regulating immune function. The body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function properly.

While all 20 of these are important for our health, only 9 are classified as essential.
Hemp is an example of a bioavailable, complete plant source of protein. Having all 20 amino acids including the 9 essential aminos. They are considered essential as the body can't make these itself and must source them from foods. During pregnancy, amino acids glycine and arginine, are considered conditionally essential because a pregnant person needs more of these amino acids to support their own health and the health of the growing baby.

Choosing a variety of plant-based proteins, such as beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and vegetables, can ensure that you meet your essential amino acid needs, even if you choose to exclude animal products from your diet. Especially if you include whole and complete amino acid sources such as quinoa and hemp protein.

***

If you got down this far and feel your head spinning with all the information, know that you don't have to try to consume all of the foods we listed to get everything your body needs! In whole foods, we naturally find a good balance and the appropriate profile of these nutrients.

A healthful, whole food, well-planned, plant-based diet can provide all the nutrients you and your developing baby need to thrive on. Plant-based diets offer all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health, and are often higher in fibre and phytonutrients with perhaps a B12 supplement recommended to support.

Having a living source of food compared to over-processed, dead food is the secret to success with nourishing and nurturing a living being. Our food needs to be fresh, whole and unprocessed, free from contaminants - alive, in order to be of benefit to our health and wellbeing.

But whatever your dietary choices - plant-based, pescatarian, vegetarian, meat-eating and so on - the important takeaway is to know what suits you and your body, your family history, and to hold the goal of balance and appreciating the value of whole foods and fresh foods in your day.

Most importantly, to enjoy nourishing your incredible self always, most especially throughout the journey of growing a beautiful baby, with delicious foods!

Here are some more helpful resources for this incredible part of your journey in life:

Berry Easy Overnight Oats Recipe

4 Nutrient-Rich Drinks Recipes to Get your Body Started Right

Detoxifying and Energising Green Smoothie Bowl Recipe

How Kakadu Plum Can Help Boost Your Health, Immunity and Wellbeing

 

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