I was overwhelmed with what to eat during pregnancy.
Although I had a healthy diet to begin with, I was constantly concerned about not getting enough nutrition or eating something that could harm my baby. This left me googling what I could / couldn’t eat for months, and with all the conflicting research out there, I was often left more confused than informed.
Eventually, in my second trimester, I became so discouraged by the opposing views on pregnancy nutrition, that I stopped looking for answers. Instead, I ate what I craved, didn’t overdo it on the calories and settled on a prenatal vitamin that tasted good and didn’t make me feel nauseous.
However, even when I stopped obsessing over everything I was eating or whether or not my prenatal was the best, I still had some underlying anxiety about if my diet was providing my baby with the nourishment she needed in the womb.
Through working for Expectful, I’ve learned that many women feel the same way when it comes to nutrition during pregnancy. Even though, like me, they want to do what’s best for their growing baby, they don’t know where to turn to for accurate information so they end up “winging it.”
Discovering how common this is and knowing how difficult it to find credible sources on eating well during pregnancy, I decided to reach out to the founder and CEO of Parsley Health, Dr. Robin Berzin to find out everything there is to know about nutrition during pregnancy.
It’s my hope that Dr. Berzin answers will provide you with all the confidence you need to have a thriving and nutrition packed pregnancy.
- What are the “DO’S” of pregnancy nutrition, the things you definitely want in your diet and why?
First, you want to balance blood sugar because when you’re pregnant, you make more glucose which makes you more likely to get Gestational Diabetes. Although the temptation for many women is to eat a lot of carbs during pregnancy, we must avoid carbs and sugars to avoid Gestational Diabetes.
Instead, we want to feed ourselves and our baby a nutrient dense, low carb diet. Unfortunately, most standard diets today are nutrient poor, high-carb diets, and that’s the opposite of what we need. So, focus on lots of fruits and veggies, lots of bright colors in your diet, lots of lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats.
You also want to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids in your diet which are things like fish oils, walnuts, and flaxseeds. These fatty acids are essential for your baby’s brain and for breastfeeding. It’s because of this that we made sure to include omega-3 fatty acids in our Parsley Health prenatal vitamin.
Lastly, drink plenty of water. Hydration is very important during pregnancy.
So to summarize it’s all about protein, hydration, fruits, vegetables, fiber and healthy fats.
- What are the “DON’TS” of pregnancy nutrition, the things you definitely don’t want in your diet and why?
Often times, we’re focusing on the scary things to avoid during pregnancy, which is why at Parsley we really help our members optimize their diet towards what grows a healthy baby as opposed to just avoiding the bad stuff.
But, of course at the same time, there’s a number of things we want to avoid during pregnancy. So first of all, mercury. There’s a lot of mercury in our fish these days, especially in tuna and swordfish, but there’s also a guide from the Natural Resources Defense Council that I recommend here.
Next is unpasteurized food, which are foods that haven’t been heated enough to kill off bad bacteria. In the OB/GYN world, it’s recommended to avoid everything unpasteurized but I tend to think that’s a little extreme because the reality is we’re swimming in a world of bacteria and you’re not going to live a sterilized life nor do you want to. So, I highly recommend taking a probiotic during pregnancy, avoiding unpasteurized dairy and raw sushi generally speaking, but when it comes to having something like a bit of kombucha here and there, I think it’s low risk.
In terms of other things to avoid, I would say a lot of foods that are common in the American diet like carbs and sugars, meaning pastas, cookies, breads and cakes. Avoiding processed foods, particularly the ones that contain dyes, preservatives, chemicals and other products that we not only don’t need in our bodies, but that have also been shown to be hormone disruptors.
- What are some things vegan / vegetarian women should consider when it comes to their eating habits during pregnancy?
Generally, pregnant women are fine as long as they are eating well and taking a good prenatal vitamin. Unfortunately, not all prenatals are created equal. It’s important to make sure that your prenatal vitamin isn’t filled with chemicals, dyes and other poor quality ingredients. Many prenatals out there don’t have a good nutrient panel across them and only have a couple of the basic things, so make sure you look into the one you take.
For vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters, it really comes down to quality of food and quality of ingredients. However, the truth is that at the end of the day, it’s important to test your nutrient levels throughout pregnancy. This is why at Parsley we run a pregnancy panel around week 10, 20 and 30. That way, three times during pregnancy can make sure that nutrient levels like B12, omega-3 and folate levels are optimized.
We also check your iron levels to make sure that you’re not anemic. Most women tend to get a little bit anemic towards the end of pregnancy, which is why most prenatals include iron.
Many women ask about calcium. Generally, we all get enough dietary calcium. What’s more important is taking vitamin D, because a lot of people are low in vitamin D and without vitamin D, you’re not able to absorb calcium from the diet. If you are dairy free, you might be eating enough calcium but then if you’re really low in vitamin D, you might not be absorbing it right. So in truth, it’s really about just testing and seeing where people are and then optimizing from there.
- How much protein is recommended during pregnancy and why?
Protein needs are highly variable, and it really depends on your goals and your activity level. I don’t think that there’s an exact number. However, if you’re vegan and you’re not getting any source of animal protein whatsoever, it can be really difficult to get good sources of complete protein. Plant proteins are rarely complete proteins in themselves, although you can combine certain plants to get complete proteins.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, it’s not that you can’t get enough protein to have a healthy pregnancy. It’s just that you have to work a little harder at it and think about it a little bit more. I recommend working with a nutritionist, or with one of our health coaches at Parsley if you’re worried about making sure you get enough protein in your diet.
Most people get too much protein or get plenty of protein in this country. But in some cases they’re not getting enough and in those circumstances, it’s really about quality and being mindful about how your proteins are coming in rather than shooting for an exact number.
- Is there a recommended amount of calories to consume per day while pregnant? If so, what is the recommendation and why?
The same number of calories that you consume otherwise. I think we’ve all been sold on the idea that we need to eat for two and we know now that that’s really not true.
In the first trimester, you don’t really need additional calories. However, as the baby begins growing, building muscles, bones and so forth, it’s said to add up to 300 additional calories per day, which is the equivalent of a handful of almonds.
I encourage women to eat regularly, keep their blood sugar balanced, focus on proteins, greens and healthy fats, and avoid the temptation to snack on unhealthy stuff, like refined carbohydrates because that creates other issues. eat normally and know that you don’t need to massively up your calorie intake in order to have a healthy pregnancy.
Interviewing Dr. Robin Berzin, I was blown away to hear about all of the revolutionary work she’s doing at Parsley Health to support pregnant women and new mother’s throughout their journeys.
Wanting to help more women through their pregnancy journey, we’ve decided to partner with Parsley Health to gift all of our Expectful users $100 off of their Complete Care annual membership or $50 off their one-time Parsley Assessment.
About Parsley Health’s Complete Care annual membership:
Our annual membership is for people who want to address a specific health concern and want advanced testing and regular tracking, and unlimited access to a world-class medical team.
As part of the Parsley membership, each patient receives a personalized health plan to guide them through lifestyle and nutrition interventions that we use in conjunction with prescription medications and referrals to specialists. Members receive five annual visits with a doctor (totaling nearly four hours) in addition to five sessions with a certified on-staff health coach, unlimited direct messaging with their health team, online access to their health data, exclusive perks and entry into a broader Parsley wellness community.
Click here to get $100 off your Complete Care Annual Membership and your coupon will be automatically applied during checkout.
About The Parsley Assessment:
This one-time physician + health coach assessment is for people who are generally feeling well but want to optimize their health. Think of this as a modern, in-depth annual physical that helps you be proactive, connect with your body, and identify issues before they become more serious. Includes in-depth biomarker testing, 75 min. history and physical exam, a personalized health plan for the year ahead with protocols for nutrition, lifestyle, mental health and medication, and a 45-minute health coaching session to tie it all together into actionable next steps.
Click here to get $50 off your Parsley Assessment and your coupon will be automatically applied during checkout.
It’s our hope that just as Expectful’s meditations nourish your mind, that Parsley Health’s nutrition coaching provides your body with everything it needs during pregnancy and beyond.
About Dr. Robin Berzin
Dr. Robin Berzin is the Founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin went to medical school at Columbia University – where she co-founded the physician communication app Cureatr – and later trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is a certified yoga instructor and a meditation teacher, writes for a number of leading wellness sites, and speaks regularly for organizations including Stanford Medicine X, The Clinton Foundation, Health 2.0, Summit at Sea, and Further Future, on how we can reinvent health care.
Pregnancy can be a time of great excitement but also one filled with a lot of uncertainty, especially when it comes to things like what you can and cannot eat. It’s my hope that providing education around nutrition during pregnancy in this interview with Dr. Robin Berzin helps you to feel empowered throughout your pregnancy journey and informs you of the choices you have when it comes to your and your baby’s health.
Want to hear what other top experts in the pre and postnatal world have to say? Now, in addition to having access to Expectful’s guided meditations when you sign up at expectful.com, you’ll also receive exclusive interviews like this made specifically for you – delivered straight to your inbox – right when you need it.