On December 11, 2014, I got the big news at my doctor’s office—I was expecting! I was given a large goody bag filled with everything from prenatal vitamin samples to umbilical cord blood banking service pamphlets. As a certified nutritionist, I naturally gravitated toward the packet of nutrition information, which covered topics such as proper weight gain during pregnancy, how to avoid gestational diabetes, and foods one should eat to benefit mother and baby. The pamphlet, a generic one which most likely circulates through thousands of doctors’ offices, listed the following as a daily guide for “good nutrition during pregnancy.”
Daily Recommended Foods and Servings
2 slices of bread
1 cup of cereal
1½ cups of pasta
2½ cups of vegetables
2 cups of fruit or fruit juice
5 ounces of meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, or nuts
3 cups of milk
One may look at these recommendations and nod at the fact that they seem “normal” for today’s standards and yes, they are normal; however, they are extremely faulty and actually contribute to serious medical conditions that run rampant in today’s population of pregnant women, such as gestational diabetes and excessive weight gain. Let’s take this recommended daily intake of food and break it down into macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat) as well as sugar so we can get a better understanding of the implications of these suggested foods.
As you can see, this suggested example of one day of “healthy food” results in 100 grams of sugar, as well as an abundance of carbohydrates from processed gluten-foods. To put it into perspective, this is equivalent to eating ten glazed donuts in one day! One may say that sugars from the above listed foods are different than refined sugar—unfortunately, your body is negatively affected by too much sugar, whether it comes from a refined or natural source. Another possible argument is that these foods do offer a variety of nutritional benefits (unlike ten glazed donuts), thus justifying the sugar and carbohydrate intake. I will explain in later chapters how to get twice the nutrients that this typical plan offers, while consuming less than half the sugar, and no high-glycemic, gluten-containing carbohydrates (your carbs will come from different sources)!
Why is it so important that we reduce sugar and high-glycemic carbohydrate intake? According to the Center for Disease Control, gestational diabetes affects up to ten percent of all pregnant women. Gestational diabetes occurs around the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy and is a result of the placenta releasing hormones that make it difficult for the mother’s body to create and use insulin. Insulin is needed to balance blood sugar levels; if you don’t make and use enough insulin, then sugar or glucose builds up in your blood. Not only is this dangerous to the mother, it can also negatively affect the baby as the excess glucose crosses the placenta, resulting in high sugar levels for the baby. The baby’s pancreas will work overtime to combat the extra glucose which crosses the placenta by releasing insulin. Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are at higher risk of growing into children and adults who develop type II diabetes and obesity.
Conditions such as gestational diabetes put the mother at risk as well. According to the World Health Organization, around twenty-eight women die in the United States for every 100,000 births. This number has more than doubled since 1990, resulting in the United States being the only developed country that has a maternal mortality rate that is on the rise. This is due to a plethora of issues that face pregnant women, including increased rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. What do all of these conditions have in common? It is possible to combat and regulate them through diet alone. Unfortunately, the outdated nutrition recommendations made by the literature provided in the offices of many OB-GYNs may actually cause these conditions—not prevent them!
In addition to nutrition recommendations given in pamphlets that I received from my doctor, I began to explore the information in popular pregnancy nutrition books as well. I came across a best-selling pregnancy nutrition book that boasts examples of daily menus including the sample shown on the next page. Once again, I’ll break this sample menu down so we can understand how many grams of sugar one will consume when following this advice.
Going back to the comparison of sugar in glazed donuts, this day of “healthy food” equates to thirteen donuts! After realizing that these types of recommendations are the primary sources of information for pregnant women, I decided to research titles written by widely popular medical organizations to see if their advice aligned with these faulty guidelines. To no surprise, they, too recommend high-sugar, high-carbohydrate, gluten-filled diets which are disguised as “healthy foods.” One widely relied-upon organization in particular even stated that pregnant women should “stay away from fat such as avocado,” despite the fact that avocado is a pregnancy superfood as the growing fetus thrives on healthy fats for brain development (I’ll get into that in later chapters)!
I decided to write The Whole Pregnancy because the current nutrition recommendations for pregnant women are still based on old frameworks such as the food pyramid from the 1970s. After seeing the advice that is offered in several literary sources and in doctors’ offices, it’s no wonder that millions of pregnant women are suffering from diet-related conditions despite the fact that they are, most likely, following the advice given to them by their doctors and nutritionists. I applied my own research to create my own case study during my pregnancy and I will share in the following chapters the gluten-free nutrition regimen that resulted in a twenty-five-pound weight gain and nine-pound, twelve-ounce healthy baby boy. Despite the fact that I was a woman of “advanced maternal age” which implies that I would be more susceptible to conditions like gestational diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia, my blood sugar levels and blood pressure remained in perfect ranges. I had a completely natural, drug-free child birth and returned to my pre-pregnancy weight before my six-week postpartum check-up—and you can do the same!