1. Chia Seeds: These tiny black and white seeds are chock full of calcium (to help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, aid in the development of the baby's bones and teeth, and an aid to muscle contraction and enzyme and hormone functioning), protein, healthy fat, magnesium, and iron (WHO). Throw them into a salad, blend them in a smoothie, sprinkle them over yogurt or oatmeal. For a healthy treat, check out this Chia Seed Pudding recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Oh She Glows.
2. Avocados: These fruits, native to Mexico and Central America, are well known for their high content of healthy fats but also contain a huge dose of vitamin C, helpful for strengthening the amniotic sac and boosting immunity, and vitamin B-6 as well as a decent amount of iron and magnesium and a bit of protein too (Casanueva). Go classic with guacamole, dress up a salad with slices, eat with scrambled eggs, or put into a wrap. Or check out this awesome vegan chocolate avocado mousse from MindBodyGreen.
3. Fermented Foods: It's hard to go anywhere now in a natural foods community without being bombarded with the benefits of a healthy gut flora. But it's true! The beneficial bacteria from fermented foods can help strengthen the immune system by reducing the presence of "bad" bacteria and help balance the production of stomach acid, reducing reflux and heart burn so common in pregnancy (Williams). In addition, fermented foods are high in enzymes for aiding digestion and reducing constipation, B vitamins for mental clarity, heart health, bone strength, good vision, high energy, and elevated mood, and omega-3s for brain and eye development in your baby (Whitaker). Saurkraut, miso, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, yogurt, lacto-fermented pickles, and kefir are all great options and often simple to make at home. A great recipe for mason jar sauerkraut from The Kitchn can be found here.
5. Nettles: This amazing herb that grows wild all over sets the foundation for a healthy and well nourished pregnancy. Packed with iron, calcium, potassium, silica (a mineral crucial for growth and development of the bones, muscles, connective tissues, and ligaments), vitamin A, vitamin K - an important clotting factor in the blood, and anti-inflammatory properties (Wolf), it is great to drink as a strong tea or infusion throughout pregnancy (Weed). Steep a small handful of dried nettle leaves in boiled water in a quart mason jar, covered, for 30 minutes to four hours. Drink hot or iced and consume what's prepared within 48 hours.
6. Lentils: Just one cup of cooked lentils provides almost a full serving of folate, in addition to iron, copper, fiber, and protein ("Lentils"). Folate, the naturally occurring form of folic acid, is crucial for brain function, mental and emotional health, aids in the production of genetic material (incredibly important in pregnancy), and helps prevent neural tube defects. Lentil soup is a favorite in our house. Here's how we do it - give or take depending on what's in our frig.
Hearty Lentil Soup
Lots of garlic, chopped
Lots of onion, chopped
A pound or so of kale or other dark leafy green, chopped
Four cups of uncooked lentils
Thyme (fresh or dried)
Basil (fresh or dried)
A few bay leaves
Turmeric (a healthy dash for it's anti-inflammatory properties)
Water or vegetable stock, to an inch from the top of the pot
Sautee the garlic, onion, carrots, and celery until softened, about five minutes. Add in the kale, lentils, dried spices, and continue to stir for a few minutes. Add the water or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, stirring infrequently. Once the soup has simmered for an hour or so, add in the nutritional yeast, and simmer for a bit longer. Sometimes we will use an immersion blender to blend the soup a bit once it has cooled, to create a thicker consistency. I often find I need to divide it up into two pots as well. Save some for the week and freeze the rest.
7. Citrus: These fruits have amazing health benefits ranging from reducing risk of stroke and cancer to boosting immunity, increasing nerve cell function in the eyes, and reducing stress ("6 Health Benefits of Citrus Fruits"). Just two clementines provide the body with about 70mg of the 80 to 85 mg of recommended vitamin C in pregnancy (which will aid in iron absorption if eaten with iron-rich foods) (Perinatology.com). Toss them into a salad or just keep them as a quick snack in your bag or in the car.
8. Raw Almonds: With your internal organs being squished up a bit higher to make room for your growing baby in addition to hormonal changes that relax smooth muscles and slow digestion, heartburn can fast become a reality for many pregnant women ("Heartburn in Pregnancy"). A small handful of raw almonds after every meal and snack can help alleviate this common issue as well as provide calcium, protein, healthy fats, and iron in the diet.
9. Pastured Eggs: Let me start with saying that a vegan diet can be completely healthy in pregnancy and there is not a need to consume animal products to grow a baby. However, if eggs are a part of the diet, understanding the benefits of pastured eggs versus conventional or even cage free eggs is important. Pastured eggs means that the chickens have been free to roam in the grass, complementing their grain-based diet with bugs and grasses, which increase the amount of Vitamin A and healthy fats in the eggs. Eggs are a good source of protein, iron, omega-3 fats, and vitamin A. The darker yellow the yolk, the higher the vitamin A content. Vitamin A supplementation in pregnancy is not recommended as it can increase the likelihood of birth defects but consuming vitamin A from food sources is a healthy way to increase immune function (Azais-Braesco). As protein requirements in the third trimester near 80 grams daily, adding eggs into the diet can be an easy way to get closer to the recommendation. Hard-boiled eggs as a snack or in a salad or scrambled eggs with greens in the morning are just a few ways you can incorporate them.
10. Dark Leafy Greens: And last but not least, my favorite all around food for health and vitality - dark leafy greens. Dark leafy greens are chocked full of antioxidants such as carotenoids (which help decrease the risk of cancer),, vitamins such as folate, C and K, minerals including iron and calcium, fiber, and even protein (Adams). They are incredibly nutrient dense, meaning calorie for calorie, they top most other foods for the amount of nourishment they provide. Midwife, herbalist, and doctor, Aviva Jill Romm, recommends two big handfuls of dark leafy greens per day to aid in circulation. They are also huge helpers in decreasing the discomfort of heartburn, particularly when they are a consistent part of the diet. Herbalist Susun Weed recommends cooking greens well to ease the nutrient absorption; simmer them away in a soup where the broth will absorb any nutrients the greens themselves lose and the nutrients still left will be super easily broken down. In addition, the fat soluble vitamins in the greens will be more well absorbed if a bit of fat is eaten with them; sautee greens in some coconut oil or drizzle raw olive oil over them to maximize the absorption. Another great way to eat greens is to incorporate them into sauces - increase the nutrient density of pesto sauce by cutting back on the basil and adding spinach and a few leaves of kale or collards. The strength of the garlic and basil will overpower the bitterness of the greens and no one will be the wiser.
**This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. Please consult a nutritionist or your care provider for more information.**
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