Newest Studies on Pregnancy and Diet
It makes sense that when a woman becomes pregnant, her body’s nutritional needs change. For some time now, we have known that a woman’s protein requirement increases during pregnancy. A recent study has shown that when a mother experiences nutritional stress, meaning malnourishment, the development of her child is affected at a genetic level.
Using mice, the study looked at the effects of malnutrition on the leptin gene. Leptin is a protein hormone and plays a significant role in obesity and hunger. (1) What we know about leptin:
- It is a protein hormone.
- Regulates energy intake and appetite.
- Regulates energy expenditure and metabolism.
- Produced mostly by adipose tissue, or fat.
- Required for both male and female fertility.
- Elevated levels are associated with obesity.
- It is an inflammatory marker.
In the study, offspring of mothers fed a protein deficient diet showed signs of a metabolic disorder. Researchers determined that this metabolic disorder was rooted in the leptin gene.
- When mothers received a diet of 10% protein, the leptin gene was not expressed. In other words, this genetic signal was not turned on. This affected the offspring permanently into adulthood.
- However, when protein was raised to 20% of the diet, this important hormone found genetic expression.
Eating protein with fermented foods during pregnancy will support digestion and strengthen the immune system for a healthy mom and baby!
Eating the right amount of protein is important. Metabolic dysfunction is a common issue that largely has to do with dietary habits. We already know that excessive amounts of fructose in the diet will cause leptin levels to rise and leptin receptors to become resistant. This is similar to what happens with insulin in type II diabetes. Leptin has a relationship with obesity, chronic inflammation, and fertility. Therefore, the stability of this hormone is important.
Another study done in 2009 showed that when mothers eat a diet low in protein, it also affects fetal brain development. In this study, also done with mice, protein restriction at 10% actually affected fat metabolism in the liver. Not only did offspring have a low body weight, they also were deficient in two very important fatty acids, arachidonic (AA) and docosahexanoic (DHA) acids. (2)
- AA is a necessary component to build healthy cell membranes and is found in large amounts in the brain, muscles, and liver.
- DHA is concentrated in sperm, brain phospholipids, and in the retina of the eye.
Pregnancy and the Body Ecology Principle of Expansion and Contraction
According to the Body Ecology Principle of Expansion and Contraction, a woman’s body is naturally contractive. The Principle is based on the elements of yin and yang in Chinese medicine. Yin corresponds to what is yielding and yang to what is outward moving. These forces oppose each other and yet also depend on one another.
Because a woman’s body has a naturally contracting nature, the best foods for her are foods that bring balance, or in other words, foods that are slightly expansive. Generally speaking, these are:
- Sour fruits
- Leafy vegetables
When a woman eats too many foods with a contracting nature, like animal meats, eggs, cheese, and salt, this contributes to her already contractive nature. Too many animal proteins will lead to dark, clotted menstrual blood. This is an outward manifestation of expansion and contraction imbalance. Beneficial foods are expansive, and they balance out the contracting nature of the feminine body.
During pregnancy, levels of the hormone progesterone are high. High progesterone slows the transit time of waste in the colon - which is why pregnant women so frequently find themselves constipated. From a Body Ecology perspective, this makes sense because during pregnancy the gathering and storing nature of a woman’s body is heightened.
- An increased need for protein during pregnancy contributes to the gathering and storing, or contractive force, in a woman’s body.
- During pregnancy, more than any other time, it is essential to nourish this contractive energy.
Both studies that looked at the relationship between protein and fetal development found that a lack of protein, contractive in nature, led to a deficiency in important fats and limited the expression of leptin.
What do fatty acids and the hormone leptin have in common? From a Body Ecology perspective, these are expansive elements in the human body. As we mentioned before, leptin regulates metabolism and appetite, while fatty acids DHA and AA contribute to optimal brain development.
“Enough” protein is roughly around 20% of your diet. When consuming any animal protein, always be sure and practice proper food combining and the Principle of 80/20. This means:
- 80% of your meal is non-starchy vegetables and seaweeds.
- Include a fermented beverage or cultured vegetables with your meal.
- If you find that you have trouble digesting protein, take 1 capsule of Body Ecology Assist Dairy & Protein before eating. Assist Dairy & Protein has betaine and pepsin, two essential nutrients that help to break down proteins.
By following the Body Ecology Principle of 80/20, your meal will move quickly through the digestive tract, and your body will not be overburdened with the job of digesting too much protein. This also supports the immune system, which can become weak during pregnancy. Including fermented foods with every meal also gives the immune system that extra boost it needs to support you during your pregnancy.
3 Protein Foods for Pregnancy
1. Bone Broth: In addition to animal meats and eggs, a great way to get enough protein, minerals, and healthy fats is to make a bone broth at home. Bone itself is one of the most contractive parts of an animal because it is rich in minerals. The gelatin and collagen extracted from bone is protein dense. The marrow in bone is fatty, nourishing, and deeply expansive. It balances out the contractive elements of bone and animal protein. Bone is also at the deepest level of the body, and therefore most contractive.
- Be sure and choose free-range hens or organic, grass-fed animals when making a bone broth. Incorporating animal flesh, bone, joints, connective tissue, and skin is ideal.
- You can also make a stock from fish, using the entire fish carcass and head. You can ask your butcher to separate out the fillets from the rest of the fish for you. When using fish, choose a wild-caught, cold water fish.
Bone broth is exceptionally nutrient-dense. Gelatin, which comes from animal skin and bones, is restorative and has profound medicinal applications. (3) It is able to help your body maximize whatever protein you eat. When using bone broth as a soup base, add plenty of non-starchy vegetables and ocean vegetables.
2. Fermented Dairy: Cultured dairy like milk kefir is a good source of both fats and protein for pregnant women. Be sure that your body can tolerate dairy. Use the Body Ecology Kefir Starter Culture to ferment raw, grass-fed dairy.
- If dairy has been fermented, the amount of lactose or sugars has been greatly reduced.
- Fermentation predigests the protein casein in dairy, making it more bioavailable.
3. Fermented Spirulina: A good vegan source of protein is found in microalgae. Spirulina in particular has a substantial amount of protein and contains all of the eight essential amino acids. However, raw Spirulina is very difficult to digest and properly absorb, so it must be fermented to gain all the health benefits.
- Spirulina is over 60% protein.
- It is full of chlorophyll, vitamins, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, minerals, and trace minerals, making it truly a complete food.
Body Ecology Super Spirulina Plus is completely fermented. Super Spirulina Plus is 50% fully fermented Spirulina, making Spirulina the most abundant ingredient in Super Spirulina Plus.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
A pregnant woman needs more protein than ever before to care for her growing baby. A woman who is protein deficient will have a metabolic disorder, causing the protein hormone leptin not to be signaled, which will affect her baby into adulthood. A low-protein diet for a pregnant woman can also affect fetal brain development.
For a pregnant woman, protein should make up 20% of her diet combined with 80% non-starchy vegetables and seaweeds. The top three protein foods to support a healthy pregnancy are bone broth, fermented dairy, and fermented Spirulina. Fermented foods will support healthy digestion during pregnancy and will strengthen the immune system to protect both the mother and the baby!
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- Perinatal undernutrition affects the methylation and expression of the leptin gene in adults: implication for the understanding of metabolic syndrome. FASEB Journal. June 13, 2011, doi:10.1096/fj.11-181792
- Protein restriction during pregnancy affects maternal liver lipid metabolism and fetal brain lipid composition in the rat. APS. November 2009, doi: 10. 1152/ ajpendo. 00437. 2009
- Fallon, Sally. “Beautiful Broth.” http://editor.nourishedmagazine.com.au/articles/beautiful-broth
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