With the exception of occasionally indulging in cravings for foods like ice cream and pizza, most moms-to-be try to eat nutritiously throughout pregnancy. But a healthy diet means different things to different people.
For Angela Liddon, mom-to-be in Ontario, Canada, for example, a healthy pregnancy started long before the test results came back positive. That’s because Liddon, the creator of the popular Oh She Glows blog (ohsheglows.com), follows a strict vegan diet. She spent months researching the proper balance of vitamins, minerals and macronutrients and creating a prenatal nutrition regimen in collaboration with her doctor.
Between allergies, intolerances and personal preferences, women like Liddon are practicing specialty diets throughout their pregnancies in record numbers. From gluten-free to paleo, here’s how to safely nourish both yourself and baby while abiding by a specialty diet.
In recent years, gluten-free lifestyles have become trendy, and many women claim to feel better after eliminating wheat, barley, rye and other forms of gluten from their daily plate. However, you may want to put plans to go gluten-free on hold for now; pregnancy is the wrong time to try something new when it comes to your diet, says Danielle VenHuizen, RD, CD, owner of Food/Sense Nutrition Counseling in Seattle.
Adapting to a new diet places increased demand on your body, which is already dealing with a variety of changes to grow a healthy baby. “It can take a while to adjust to a new way of eating,” VenHuizen says. Instead of cutting out gluten, she recommends sticking to healthy foods that your body is already familiar with. “Often, I find people will resort to more of the foods they already know and like instead of branching out … to keep good balance and variety in their diet.”
If you still are interested in going gluten- free, VenHuizen recommends starting the diet several months before conceiving to give your body plenty of time to adjust or waiting until after baby arrives to begin. Of course, those with celiac disease or a gluten-intolerance should maintain their current diet and continue to avoid gluten diligently. VenHuizen says expectant women with gluten sensitivities should also remember to up their magnesium intake, get a variety of B vitamins and eat plenty of gluten-free grains like amaranth and quinoa, in addition to healthy sources of protein, fruits, vegetables and other legumes.
Women who are lactose-intolerant cannot properly digest or break down lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products. Fortunately, avoiding dairy during pregnancy will not affect baby’s growth or your ability to breastfeed in any way—as long as you are getting plenty of calcium from other sources, says VenHuizen.
She recommends eating a good amount of plant-based foods as a smart way to meet your quota. Examples of calcium-rich vegetables include broccoli, butternut squash, collard greens and sweet potatoes. Soy, legumes, lentils, beans and orange juice will also provide calcium, and VenHuizen advises consuming several servings daily.
As far as calcium supplements go, talk to your doctor. It’s important to note that if you are also taking a prenatal vitamin containing iron, you may need to take your calcium supplement at a different time of day or several times throughout the day in order to absorb the necessary nutrients.
Veg-heads who rely on prenatal vitamins to supply an adequate amount of nutrition during pregnancy should be sure to check the label. They are usually missing out on one key nutrient: choline.
Choline plays an important role in supporting fetal and infant brain development, and good sources of it include eggs, peanuts, beef and milk. Vegetarians who still eat some animal products may not need a supplement, but the goal is to get 450 milligrams per day during pregnancy and 550 milligrams each day while breastfeeding. (Remember: One egg contains around 130 milligrams.) Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re worried about meeting the recommended amount.
Moms-to-be also need around 80 grams of protein each day, so vegetarians may need to get creative with their daily intake, VenHuizen explains. She recommends adding flax oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds and omega-3-enriched eggs to round out a vegetarian diet during pregnancy.
The paleo diet is modeled on the eating habits of Paleolithic humans, who relied on a hunter-gatherer approach to eating. Today, that translates to eating plenty of grass-fed meats, fish, nuts, fruits and other unprocessed foods.
“The paleo diet emphasizes eating nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory foods that are close to their natural and un-processed state,” explains Komel Crowley, RDN, CLT, LD, of the MindBody Dietitian clinic in Minneapolis. That means grains, soy, processed sugar and oil are off-limits. Some paleo advocates also avoid eating dairy and legumes.
Crowley doesn’t think there’s any harm in practicing the paleo diet during pregnancy as long as you have a proper nutrition-focused plan in place. “It’s extremely important to have a good under- standing of what you’re doing as [this diet] requires a lifestyle change.” She recommends transitioning slowly and method- ically away from processed foods to give your body plenty of time to adjust.
No matter your dietary needs or preferences, “Work with your body to find the healthiest foods you can eat, rather than limiting your perspective by focusing on the foods you can’t,” says Crowley. “Remember that ensuring optimal nutrition during pregnancy is one of the best gifts you can give your baby.”