COLUMN: Nutrition choices during pregnancy can be essential to a baby’s health

In her latest column, nutritionist Nonie De Long looks at some of the deficiencies to avoid during pregnancy

Dear readers,

Today’s column is a deep dive into the top five nutrients for a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. The gestation and first two years of life lay the groundwork for children’s health for life – and there are some things that, had I known about, I would have done entirely differently. I can only imagine the impact this would have had. These are super useful takeaways for any woman expecting or trying to conceive. If you know anyone in this camp, please share the information for her benefit.

What you eat during pregnancy is essential to baby’s health

The research is now conclusive that it’s imperative to not only eat well – meaning, natural, whole foods – but also to keep a low to normal blood sugar during pregnancy. Consider these statements from studies:

  • Pregnant women with blood sugar levels in the higher range of normal are more likely to have cesarean birth and larger birth size with difficulties during birth.(source)
  • Repeated exposure to insulin (released when we eat sugar) predisposes babies to low blood sugar at birth, may cause breathing problems at birth, and may predispose them to develop obesity in childhood and type 2 diabetes later in life.(source)
  • Higher maternal intake of sugar in pregnancy may increase the risk of allergy and allergic asthma in the offspring.(source)
  • Rat studies have shown that high fat, high sugar diets can cause genetic mutations that increase risk of heart disease and diabetes in offspring – for up to three generations! (source)
  • Rat studies also show that eating junk food during pregnancy predisposes offspring to want those same foods as adults. (source)
  • Vegan and vegetarian diets that are not closely monitored can cause deficiencies in B12, fat soluble vitamins, fatty acids, and often zinc, iron, and complete proteins. These are essential for the health of babies while they develop. This study captures some of the concerns, including brain and developmental abnormalities. (source)

Clearly, what we eat during our pregnancy should be balanced and nutritious, avoiding as many processed and sugary foods as we can. If the mother wants a treat, preference should be given for homemade goods with limited ingredients and natural sugars. Homemade ice cream from coconut cream is one suggestion. Homemade organic popcorn with organic butter is another. Homemade haystacks with palm sugar and organic oats are another. I strongly suggest staying away from food dyes, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners, as well as vegetable oils (in all take out), and all processed meats to ensure the highest quality nutrients are available for the developing baby. As always, organic and ethically raised, pastured animals are best.

There are important supplements to consider and they can have a huge impact

We only have data on a few nutrients as they pertain to the health of developing babies, as this type of investigation is limited. It’s unethical to deprive pregnant women of nutrients to study the outcomes, so studies are done on rats typically, and this is an imperfect system, rife with its own ethical issues. Other studies are observational in nature after a crisis has been identified in a specific group and the outcomes are studied and reported on. There is a bit of conclusive data to go on. We know the following deficiencies are very important to watch out for during pregnancy.

Top deficiencies to avoid during pregnancy

  1. Folate: Folate needs go up during pregnancy, as it’s essential for the creation of red blood cells and cellular division. Folate deficiency during pregnancy has been shown to cause anemia and birth defects in babies. It can also predispose the mother to Gestational diabetes. Women who have celiac disease may need more folate, as do many anemic women. It’s best to get tested to be safe. (source)
  2. B12: B12 deficiency during pregnancy has been shown to cause depression in adult children, and to hinder children’s growth and development. B12 deficiencies are very common in those who don’t eat meat regularly. (source)
  3. Protein: Protein needs during pregnancy are surprisingly higher than current medical recommendations. The first ever study to measure it was done in 2015. It found that protein needs are 39 per cent higher in early pregnancy and 73 per cent higher in late pregnancy than current nutrition regulations. (source) To understand the current recommendations and why they’re insufficient, go here.
  4. Zinc: Zinc deficiency during pregnancy has been shown to cause low birthweight in babies. (source) It can result in lifelong growth impairment. “The clinical manifestations of zinc deficiency include growth retardation, hypogonadism in males, neurosensory disorders, cell-mediated immunological dysfunctions, and skin changes.” Adequate zinc is necessary for DNA synthesis, cell division and protein synthesis…A deficiency of zinc also affects proliferation and maturity of lymphocytes adversely.” (source)
  5. Iron deficiency during pregnancy has been shown to cause a host of health problems to developing babies. “Low maternal gestational iron intake is associated with autism, schizophrenia and abnormal brain structure in the offspring. Newborns with iron deficiency have compromised recognition memory, slower speed of processing and poorer bonding that persist in spite of postnatal iron repletion.” This study also concluded that fetal iron deficiency and the results of that continued long term into adulthood.(source)
  6. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy is not well published but there is strong data that especially in the first trimester it’s imperative. Iodine needs increase about 50 per cent during pregnancy and there are estimates that >70 per cent of the North American population are deficient in iodine. Populations deficient in iodine experience lower overall IQ test scores consistently. “Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can cause maternal and fetal hypothyroidism and impair neurological development of the fetus. In moderate-to-severely iodine-deficient areas, controlled studies have demonstrated that iodine supplementation before or during early pregnancy eliminates new cases of cretinism, increases birthweight, reduces rates of perinatal and infant mortality and generally increases developmental scores in young children by 10-20 per cent.” (source)

Other essential nutrients during pregnancy include healthy fats and fatty acids from fish oils, as well as vitamins A and D. An omnivore, whole foods diet will supply these abundantly.

I hope this empowers expecting parents to give their babies the best chance at good health for life and to avoid the pitfalls so many of us make when relying only on outdated pregnancy recommendations or thinking that pregnancy is a good time to binge eat unwholesome foods.

As always I welcome reader questions. You can write to me anytime. While you’re at it, sign up for my free newsletter at hopenotdope.ca to be advised of upcoming online cooking classes and workshops wherein we’ll explore the role of delicious, whole foods in good health. Subscribers will also get their names on the list for a $200 Christmas homeopathic first aid kit giveaway!

Namaste!

Nonie Nutritionista