Healthy Tips For A Preconception Diet
Trying to conceive and wondering what to eat? Here are a few tested ideas for a diet pre-conception diet. Let’s find out what makes it different from a ‘normal’ diet.
Research indicates that nutrition, stress, and exposure to a toxic environment during pregnancy can affect the health of your family up to 4 generations. Experts explain that birth defects can be linked to poor diet prior to conception. Therefore, ‘improving women’s and girl’s nutrition could prevent common chronic diseases in future generations’, says Caroline Fall from the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre, University of Southampton, Southampton General Hospital Southampton, UK.
So, there is an explanation for genetic diseases or malfunctions after all – DIET. The idea of this article is to empower future mothers and help them make an informed decision when it comes to eating healthy before and during pregnancy. First of all, reproductive health concerns both men and women, so guys, this is for you too!
Factors Determining Pre- and Post-conception Health
As it all starts with what you put on your plate, diet is an important factor, specifically the amount and quality of nutrient-dense foods that you eat. Other factors that may impact the health of your offspring include pollutants, drugs, infections during fetal development, which combined with stress do not make a healthy alliance.
Keep Your Mind on Food, Not Supplements
If you’re looking forward to having a baby, and quick, then think again! Lifestyle and food choices are vital. Think of what you can do to improve your preconception health. Preconception health has as much to do with preparation for pregnancy and motherhood as it has with fatherhood.
Ideally think food first and supplements only if needed. Supplements are only a health booster some may need on top of a healthy diet. Plus, supplements cannot and will never replace food! But ‘what to eat and how much?’ you may ask.
Preconception Diet Tips & Tricks
Go Low Sugar
The first and foremost thing you need to do if you’re planning to have a baby is make sure that the food you eat has a low-glycemic index. The glycemic index measures the impact of food on your blood-sugar levels. An optimal ratio is 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat and 30 percent protein.
A low glycemic index ratio is associated with reduced risk for developing critical conditions such as diabetes or metabolic syndrome. It also regulates your blood sugar levels and keeps your cravings (usually sweet) at bay.
Low GI foods (55 or less) you may wish to include into your preconception diet are:
pumpernickel bread or 100%stone-ground whole wheat
oatmeal (steel-cut or rolled), oat bran, muesli
pasta, barley, bulgar wheat, converted rice
sweet potato, corn, yam, lima/butter beans, peas, lentils, and legumes
fruits, non-starchy veggies and carrots
These are all “must-eats” if you wish to become a mother (or a father). You can also eat medium Gl foods (56-69), but do not go overboard with these. Medium Gl foods include:
whole wheat, rye, pita bread
brown, wild or basmati rice, couscous
Eat with moderation, but the following are totally no eats if you wish to follow a baby-friendly meal plan:
White bread or bagel
Puffed rice, corn flakes, bran flakes, instant oatmeal
Short grain white rice, rice pasta, macaroni, mix-based cheese
Russet potato, pumpkin
Pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, saltine crackers
All these goodies, unfortunately, are high Gl foods (70 or more) and likely to make your blood sugar levels jump. To stay safe, it’s better to avoid them.
No Junk Food
Junk all the ‘good stuff’ you usually crave for. Cut back on refined sugars and white flour, which usually takes the appealing form of cookies, doughnuts, Danish cake, candy, and pretty much everything you can grab from the vending machine, coffee cart and convenience store. The pastry shop is included in here too! Say ‘no’ to saturated fat (i.e.: French fries, deep-fried meats and the like). Have instead a salad with grilled chicken and a blueberry smoothie for dessert. Furthermore, fats increase the risk of severe pregnancy nausea and vomiting (maybe this will encourage you to strike off those goodies off your shopping list).
Feast on Oysters
High in zinc, an essential mineral which (guys, all ears!) stimulates semen and testosterone production, while boosting ovulation and fertility in women. Numerous studies indicate that zinc deficiency in both men and women affects fertility. Maintaining the daily recommended intake of this mineral (15 mg per day) can help your reproductive system in good function. Plus, oysters are not only delicious but also known for their aphrodisiac properties, so are you ready to set your baby factory in motion? Grab a plate! (Just make sure once you are pregnant, not to eat raw or undercooked shellfish!)
Eat Fruits, Veggies, and Whole Grains
Sticking to a healthy diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and dairy products will provide you with the just about enough vitamins and minerals that you need to conceive.
Yellow fruits and veggies like carrots, apricots, papaya and mango supply your body and your baby-to-be’ s with riboflavin, folic acid, and vitamin E, as well as beta-carotene that promotes proper tissue and body development.
Baby Prep Dietary Tips
Ideally, start making healthy dietary changes between 3 months to 1 year before actually getting pregnant. The American Pregnancy Association recommends following a diet rich in:
Folic acid: According to the US Public Health Service, women of childbearing age should get 400 micrograms of folate or folic acid (0.4 mg) daily. This type of vitamin B lowers the risk of neural tube defects in newborns such as spina bifida. If there’s a history of neural tube defects running in your doctor may increase your daily dose. Folic acid can be naturally obtained from leafy greens (especially the dark greens like spinach and asparagus), citrus fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fortified bread, and cereals. You can also take prenatal vitamins, which usually contain 800mcg of folic acid. But eat these foods first!
Calcium: The recommended daily intake for women of childbearing age is 1,000 mg (3 x 8 oz glasses of skim milk) of calcium daily if they are considering having a baby. Calcium may be obtained from yogurt, salmon, sardines, rice, cheese, and eggs.
Supplements and vitamins: In addition to a healthy diet, many health care professionals will encourage women to take supplements to maximize the chance that they get the right amount of nutrients required for a healthy pregnancy.
While including on foods reach in calcium and folic acid into your preconception diet, experts advise to wean off of the following:
Caffeine: It is vital to cut back on coffee and chocolate (unfortunately) from your diet if you’re considering getting pregnant, experts say. Studies have shown that anything more than 200-300 milligrams of caffeine on a daily basis can reduce fertility by 27 percent. Additionally, caffeine (and chocolate also contains plenty of it even though not as much as coffee) reduces your body’s ability to absorb calcium and iron. Furthermore, caffeine also crosses the placenta and gets to the baby. While you can manage the amount of caffeine you fuel your body with, your baby cannot. Your baby’s metabolism is not matured yet and cannot process caffeine.
Moreover, any amount of caffeine can impact your baby’s sleep pattern and/or normal movement pattern in the later stages of pregnancy. As caffeine is a stimulant and hence can keep both you and the baby awake.
While there is no conclusive scientific evidence whether caffeine may or may not account for ADHD syndrome in children (as some say), it’s best to stay on the safe side and reduce it to less than 200 milligrams (1 x 12 oz cup) a day (if you can’t quit).
Apart from coffee and chocolate, caffeine can also be found in good amounts in tea and even in some over-the-counter medications that are usually taken to relieve headaches.
Don’t Skip Meals
Are you always on the run and the first thing you do in the morning is run to the bathroom, splash some water on your face brush our teeth and jump in your jeans to catch the 8:30 am train? No time for breakfast? If this is you, you’d better think twice before doing it again. Once you’re pregnant it’s not only yourself you need to look after but above all the little ‘alien’ who’s only just beginning to take shape inside your womb and needs good healthy food. So, stop rushing through meals because you’re too busy and have no time to eat. Find time!
Some studies have shown that occasional alcohol can reduce your chances of getting pregnant. Women having less than 5 alcoholic drinks a week are twice as likely to conceive as other women. Plus, once you are pregnant, alcohol can have a damaging effect on your baby, so it is better to cut back pre-conception so your body has time to adjust.
Feast on Full-Fat Raw Dairy
Not many people can get raw milk, yogurt or butter, but when you do get the chance, grab a glass or a spoon. According to the WAPF, pregnant and women of childbearing age should drink a quart of raw milk daily. Leaving quantity aside, all you need to make sure of before you grab a glass is that the milk you’re about to be drinking comes from grass-fed cows.
If you can’t get raw milk, aim for organic yogurt or butter made from grass-fed cows’ milk. Butter is particularly rich in vitamin K2, which essential for the skeletal formation and genetic expression. Head to the health food store and get some!
Coconut oil just like butter is a good source of healthy saturated fat, but it is also rich in antioxidants and is reputed for its anti-inflammatory properties. Use it for cooking, add it to your salad dressings and even in your mild coffee.
Look for eggs that come from organic farms. Most of the nutrients normally found in eggs come from pasture-raised hens. Choline is an essential compound in eggs that contributes to the development of the neurological system. Eggs are also packed with vitamins A and E (vitamin E is concentrated in the yolk).
Seafood Twice a Week
Not only oysters are rich in essential nutrients that participate in the fetus development process. Apart from oysters, fish, mussels, crabs, and shrimp are nutrient-dense and highly recommended for women of childbearing age. All these are rich in essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as DHA and EPA, which are not found in any other food and are essential for eye and brain health development in babies. However, shellfish are even richer in nutrients than fish, nutritionists suggest for the mere fact that you eat a whole animal (with organs and all the good stuff inside!) when slurping down the shell, whereas with fish, you don’t. Organs are a lot more nutritious than muscle meats.
Another delicious and nutritious seafood you can eat plenty of as part of your baby-making diet is fish roe. Spread it on a slice of bread or cheese cracker! Fish roe is said to be one of the most potent fertility foods you can have.
(Again, once you are pregnant, it is not recommended to eat raw or undercooked shellfish as it can cause severe illness to you and the baby.)
The liver is the supreme food of all fertility and preconception foods. 3-4 ounces of liver 1-2 times a week will do the trick. Considered to be one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the face of the Earth, the liver was in ancient times given to women before marriage or when they were ready to conceive, so they could build up stores of the essential nutrients found in it. If you need more convincing to add liver on your food shopping list, remember that it is a rich source of essential fatty acids, such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and AA (arachidonic acid), as well as vitamin B12, all of which contribute to brain health.
If you’re not really a fan of the famous liver and onions, try mixing it with ground beef at a ratio of 1:5 liver to beef or take it up another notch and eat it alongside butter-sautéed apple.
Nothing compares to a delicious and nutritious homemade broth! A broth made from 24-hour slowly simmered bones is loaded with essential minerals that are overall health and fertility boosters like calcium and magnesium. It is also rich in gelatin, which contains plenty of collagen, which supports tissue growth and development and, beauty-concerned ladies, you need to read this, it provides elasticity to expanding bellies preventing stretch marks! A cup of soup made with bone broth at lunch or dinner is a way to get a good dose. Alternatively, you can simmer your broth longer until it turns into a gravy and add it to your steak and veggies or use it to make a stew.
Cod Liver Oil
Loading your system with plenty of vitamins A and D is crucially important in preparation for a healthy pregnancy. These two vitamins work best in a couple – they need each other in a specific ratio to set things in motion. Vitamin A is an antioxidant vital for a healthy pregnancy. It plays a crucial role in supporting the body maintain homeostasis, preventing anemia, aiding metabolism during pregnancy, tissue maintenance and cell growth, and last but not least, fetal development (i.e.: bone, teeth, skin, and vision development). The recommended daily dose of vitamin A for women preparing for pregnancy and for those who are pregnant is 20,000 IU, combined with 2,000 – 4,000 IU vitamin D.
The best natural source of both vitamin A and vitamin D is cod liver oil. Aim for natural cod liver oil at the health store, which is not destearinated (full-fat version).
A Few Exotic Preconception Recipes
This traditional Rajasthani dish is packed with protein, iron, folic acid, and fiber.
½ cup bajra (black millet) soaked in water for 8 hours and drained
½ cup yellow moong dal (split yellow gram) (washed and drained)
1 tablespoon ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera)
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder (Haldi)
½ teaspoon asafetida (Hing)
Salt to taste
Add the bajra, moong dal, salt and 2 cups of water into a pressure cooker, mix well together and cook for 4 whistles.
Allow the steam to escape, open and set aside.
Warm up the ghee in a deep pan and add the cumin seeds on top.
When the seeds begin to crackle, add the asafetida, turmeric powder and sauté for a few seconds.
Add the cooked bajra, moong dal, and salt. Mix well and cook over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes while stirring occasionally. Enjoy immediately!
Broccoli, Carrot & Paneer Subzi
This exotic dish is not only colorful and a joy to look at and munch on because of the different textures of the veggies it combines, but it also brings a lot of folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, as well as fiber, calcium, and protein (found particularly in paneer) to the table.
1 cup blanched broccoli florets
½ cup diagonally cut and blanched carrot
½ cup paneer (cottage cheese) cubes
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped tomatoes
½ cup coarsely chopped onions
2 dry Kashmiri red chilies (broken into pieces)
1 tablespoon broken cashew nuts (Kaju)
2 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon ginger-garlic (adrak-leshun) paste
¼ cup milk
Salt to taste
Mix the tomatoes, onions, dry red chilies and cashew nuts together. Blend well until smooth and set aside.
Heat the oil and a deep, non-stick pan, add the ginger-garlic paste and sauté over medium-high heat for 30 seconds.
Add the tomato and onion magic mix, stir well to combine and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Throw the milk and salt into the mix, stir to combine and cook for 1 minute over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally.
Toss the broccoli, carrot, and paneer in, mix gently to combine and cook over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Enjoy it while it’s hot!
Tomato & Moong Dal Soup
This soup brings to the table vitamin C and protein (moong dal).
5 cups chopped tomatoes
1/3 cup yellow moong dal (split yellow gram)
1 finely chopped onion
1/3 cup warm milk
2 teaspoons butter
Salt and black pepper to taste
Add the tomatoes, moong dal, and 3-4 cups of water into a pressure cooker and cook until the moong dal is soft.
Allow it to cool down at room temperature and blend in a liquidizer. Set aside.
Melt the butter, add the onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes and add the mashed mixture.
Add the milk, salt, and pepper and bring it to a boil. You may toss a small handful of finely chopped parsley on top for the aspect. Enjoy hot with cream and bread croutons.
Tomato, Spinach & Carrot Vitamin Bomb in a Glass
2 cups carrot cubes (washed, unpeeled)
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach leaves
½ cup tomato cubes
Crushed ice (or cubes) for serving
Add the carrot, spinach, and tomato into a juicer with a 1 cup of water and blend until smooth.
Strain the juice. You may wish to add a dash of salt and pepper for the taste.