One of my birth-y friends overheard a conversation in which an obviously pregnant woman told her friend that the lettuce on her fast-food hamburger was her serving of vegetables. I can only hope she was joking!
There are numerous diets in the world; some are geared towards pregnant women, many are not. There’s the official USDA My Pyramid diet, which can be customized for your height and weight and pregnancy status; the Brewer Diet; and many fairly vague, “just eat right, and make sure you take your vitamins” diets. Well, if the average American “ate right,” then we wouldn’t be having the rates of obesity we’re having now.
I don’t particularly like “one size fits all” diets, because we’re all individuals, and what works for one might not work for everyone. After all, not everyone is allergic to peanuts or kiwi or strawberries, but some people are! I’m not so sure about the “official” USDA diet, because it’s sort of “one size fits all” — you can customize the diet based on your height and weight, but there’s not much other variety. Also, I remember watching something years ago on 20/20 or one of those “news magazine” shows (pre “My Pyramid,” with the older pyramid model I remember learning about in school), in which the man demonstrated that people who followed the supposedly “healthy” pyramid diet ended up getting fatter and less healthy. And there was a conversation on a forum I’m on between a couple of nurses or other health professionals, who both noted that when they went on the “right” diet they learned about in nursing school, that both they and whatever other schoolmates also went on the diet started gaining weight. Perhaps it’s changed since that time, though. It still allows over-processed white flour and white rice and other partial grains as counting towards your “grain intake,” while just suggesting that you “make half your grains whole grains.” And, fwiw, here’s a USDA pdf titled “Nutrition During Pregnancy Resource,” which has tons of links, including many to studies and stuff. I’ve not looked at them, but thought it would be interesting, and it’s certainly “official” “good diet during pregnancy” advice.
The Brewer Diet is one that is frequently recommended by midwives and childbirth educators. I like it for several reasons — namely, it emphasizes “whole foods” which just have to be better than the commercially-prepared, extruded, processed, over-salted, fake ingredient foods many Americans consume — whole grains instead of white flour, white rice, etc; an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, etc. It is a “one size fits all” diet, which has its drawbacks, but I still think that people would be better off eating like this instead of the all-too-common french-fries-and-hamburger, fried chicken, pizza, and whatever other fast food and junk food we as a society constantly eat. I’m reminded of a former coworker of my husband’s who died of malnutrition weighing 400 pounds (at my husband’s estimation), because he never consumed food that had anything like real nutrition in it — it was all over-processed junk! And the comment at the top of the post, unfortunately, could be all too real, with some people probably thinking that the wilted, half-dead tiny portion of iceberg lettuce (which I’ve heard called “solid green colored water,” because that’s about the nutrition that’s in it!), counts as a serving of vegetables! So, the emphasis on real food, instead of white-flour hamburger buns with a tiny amount of an almost-vegetable, is a definite bonus.
When people look at all the food listed as a “daily requirement” on the Brewer Diet, I think they get a bit overwhelmed — and it does seem like a lot of food! However, it is also important to note what is not listed — namely, sugar (and other empty calories). Often, it’s not so much eating meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains that adds unhealthy weight (pregnant or not), it’s eating processed and/or highly-sugared foods — like potato chips, ice cream, candy bars, etc. — the Standard American Diet (SAD). Just for kicks, I used the nutrition/calorie analyzer function on the USDA’s website (you have to register), and put in the following foods:
In case you can’t read it, it’s 2 slices of bread (as in a sandwich), 1 large carrot, 1/4 c. cottage cheese, 2 boiled eggs, 1 c. romaine lettuce (as for a salad), 1 whole grapefruit, 1 c. milk, 3 Tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 c. peanuts, 1 c. cooked rice (which is 1/2 c. uncooked), 1 oz. swiss cheese, 4 oz. cooked turkey, 2 waffles, and 1 c. yogurt. The total calories was 2348, which might be a lot for some people, but isn’t really that bad, especially if you’re (moderately) active. This might work out to being…
- Breakfast – two waffles with 1 Tbsp. olive oil (or butter), and milk to drink
- Morning snack – the grapefruit and yogurt
- Lunch – turkey sandwich with cheese and lettuce, plus a salad with the remaining lettuce, the carrot, 1 egg, and another Tbsp. of the olive oil for dressing
- Afternoon snack – peanuts and the other egg
- Supper – remainder of the turkey, rice drizzled with last Tbsp. of olive oil, cottage cheese
For my part, I simply cannot eat that much dairy — it makes my lactose intolerance kick in. Sorry for the TMI, but somehow I don’t think that if I drink a quart of milk a day and it causes peristalsis to kick into overdrive (ok, “raging diarrhea” until it gets out of my system), that I’ll actually get much if any nutrients from milk or any other food I have eaten. I can handle small amounts of dairy every day, or large amounts every few days, but there is a point at which my body tips into imbalance, and I go from normal to in pain. A quart of milk is definitely overdoing it; yogurt is supposed to be easier to digest, but I don’t think I could handle much more than a cup per day, and perhaps some cheese. It’s good that there are some “calcium substitutions” on the Brewer diet, for non-dairy ways to keep calcium intake up, for those of us who are lactose intolerant.
Actually, many people are now suggesting that instead of calling it “lactose intolerance,” which makes it sound like a problem or a disease, we should call the ability to handle dairy after childhood, “lactase persistence” because the norm worldwide is to be unable to digest lactose! Europeans have a high incidence of lactose tolerance, thanks to a gene mutation; but most people from other cultures — Asians, Africans, etc., by and large are lactose intolerant. But our medical and scientific system arose from the European culture, and doctors decided what “normal” was based on those they were around, which was mostly people of European descent. As we’ve gotten more global in our understanding, we can see that many times “normal” isn’t “normal” at all — and with lactose intolerance being truly the norm, those of you who have no problems with dairy are actually the weird ones! 😉
Last summer, I had gone on the Blood Type Diet and then the Genotype Diet, and had good results from it. On both, I just feel healthy and clean internally. Plus, on the Genotype Diet I lost about 15 pounds just by changing the types of food I ate, without even exercising much. I saw tremendous benefits in my husband who has more obvious health complaints than I do (muscle aches and pains, phlegm, sleep, restless legs, heartburn, etc. all gone as long as he ate compliantly); and one of my friends has her whole family on it, and is a HUGE believer in it. (Plus, she was on the GTD since before she got pregnant this last time, and only had a 45-minute labor!)
In my other two pregnancies, I let myself “eat for two” far too much! — my second pregnancy, in particular, since I was pregnant during Thanksgiving and Christmas: “I can’t ‘diet’ and I shouldn’t lose weight. Oh, I’ll just help myself to one of these homemade chocolate covered cherries, since it’s Christmas. Aaaand another one, since I’m ‘eating for two’!” Bad!! Bad idea! Sigh…
During this most recent pregnancy, I was combining the GenoType Diet with the Brewer Diet somewhat — choosing the types of food from the GTD, but eating quantities more along the lines of the Brewer Diet. Since I hadn’t quite gotten the non-dairy calcium intake down (the links I had to the Brewer Diet website were broken, and I only recently found a replacement website), I was taking extra calcium in pills at night; but I was writing down my protein intake, and also staying strictly away from sweets (except for Thanksgiving). It’s a good idea to write down what you eat, to make sure you’re getting the minimum requirements. The above list of foods I chose yielded the following nutrients, according to the USDA:
It was well over on many nutrients, but under on others — for instance, it was about 80 mcg short of folate; folic acid (folate) helps to prevent conditions like anencephaly and spina bifida. Of course, a prenatal vitamin will help to make up for the lack. Let me insert here, though, that I did not specify that I was pregnant, when I filled out this information and “daily diet” — the “recommended or acceptable range” might be different for a pregnant woman, or a man vs. a woman, or it might vary based on height and weight as well.
I don’t know if any of these nutrients would have a detrimental effect, if consumed in too high of quantities in the diet and/or vitamin pill. I know things like vitamin A can be toxic to fetuses, but I’m speaking specifically of getting “enough” in the diet by eating carrots (I don’t think you can overdose on carrots to the point of harming your baby, because you’re not actually consuming “vitamin A” but a precursor to it, and I think your body just discards what it doesn’t need/use); and if you’re getting enough vitamin A in the diet, might you then be getting too much by taking a prenatal vitamin with 100% RDA of Vitamin A for pregnant women? Not sure. Other things, though, it might be considered (within reason), “the more the merrier,” with many people saying that the RDA is the minimum amount the government has determined to be necessary to avoid major illnesses (like rickets or scurvy), but that we may need more of certain nutrients for optimum health, not just minimum health.
Still, as with all diets, it really comes down to “choose wisely,” and try to eat foods as close to the way nature made it rather than a bunch of processed junk food — whole potatoes, not potato chips, as an example. Different people have different ideas about what constitutes “the best diet,” but I think we can all agree that the more “whole” foods are bound to be healthier, so we should consume more of them, and less of the other.