At Parsley Health, we recommend taking a year to prepare your body to conceive; our founder/CEO Robin Berzin MD calls this a “fertility year.”
A large component of your fertility year is focused on diet. Diet directly impacts hormone and immune health, which in turn affect your fertility. Attention to diet prior to becoming pregnant is also a great way to get into the habit of making healthy choices; once you are pregnant, what you eat will influence your baby’s development and future health.
Managing Your Blood Sugar
High blood sugar levels during pregnancy can result in Gestational diabetes, and will increase your baby’s susceptibility to developing diabetes later in life. An easy way to keep your blood sugar in check is making sure that each of your meals and snacks include fat, fiber and protein . For example, you could begin your day with a breakfast of eggs (protein) with avocado (fat) and greens (fiber) and later snack on a green apple (fiber) with almond butter (protein and fat).
When it comes to pregnancy diets, I recommend patients focus on what I call the “pregnancy superfoods.” Each of these foods is packed with the vitamins and minerals that are critical for embryonic and fetal development.
- Fermented Vegetables. Fermented foods provide the probiotics needed to build a healthy microbiome (the good bacteria) that a mother passes on to her baby starting in the third trimester . Research shows that children on the autism spectrum have less healthy bacteria than children who are not on the spectrum. More generally, studies show that exposure to bacteria in utero, can affect whether or not a child will develop allergies or asthma. Sauerkraut, pickles, fermented beets and carrots are all good sources of the probiotics you need. You should aim to eat 2-3 tablespoons per day. Try them mixed into salads or as a side for your favorite protein.
- Pastured and Organic Eggs. Eggs are a great source of protein and contain vitamins A, D, K2, E, iron, selenium, lecithin, folate, biotin, zinc, and choline. Choline is essential for your baby’s neurological and spinal cord development while folate is critical to DNA production. You should aim for 2-4 eggs each day; if that sounds a bit overwhelming, try adding eggs into other dishes like soups.
- Wild Fatty Fish. Fatty fish like salmon, anchovies and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is critical to the brain health of both mother and baby and vital to the development and functioning of the central nervous system. You should aim for 2 servings per week.
- Leafy Greens. Leafy greens (ex: kale, arugula, chard, beet greens, mustard greens, spinach, romaine, collard greens, and broccoli) are high in antioxidants which help combat free radicals in the body and contain iron, calcium, folate, vitamins A, C, E, K and B vitamins. They also provide fiber which keeps you regular and balances blood sugar and have a high concentration of beta-carotene which promotes growth and repair of connective tissue. You should aim for 1-2 cups of greens with at least one (ideally two) of your meals each day.
- Pastured and Organic Ghee. You may have heard a lot about ghee recently and for good reason, it is rich in vitamins A, K2, C, D, E, DHA, selenium and iodine. Pastured ghee also contains butyrate which improves colon health and supports healthy insulin levels. Short chain fatty acids like ghee have also been shown to protect against leaky gut . You can use ghee in a variety of ways, from a cooking oil to a spread. However you choose to eat it, you should aim for 1-3 tablespoons each day.
- Organic Bone Broth. With the increased popularity of collagen , you may already be eating bone broth. If not, now is the time to start! Bone broth contains glucosamine and gelatin, both of which strengthen and repair the digestive tract, bones, tissue and joints. It is also a source of glycine which is essential for fetal and placental growth. You should aim for 1-2 cups daily.
Foods to Avoid
As you munch on my pregnancy superstars, take care to avoid the following foods and beverages. That said, if one of these slips in every now and then, don’t worry.
- Non-organic fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are part of the Dirty Dozen .
- Refined sugars and carbohydrates
- Any containers that have BPA
- High mercury fish (ex: tuna, shark, largemouth bass, swordfish, marlin, halibut, pike, king mackerel, tilefish, sea bass, Gulf Coast oysters, walleye)
- Non-organic dairy
- Soft cheeses (ex: Camembert, feta, Brie, blue cheeses like Roquefort and Gorgonzola, Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and panela)
- Raw fish
- Artificial sweeteners
- Deli meats
- Processed oils (ex: canola, soybean, palm, peanut, vegetable oil)
- Processed foods (ex: chips, candy bars, cakes, cookies)
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Keep it In Perspective
While your nutrition needs will increase each trimester, the increase in caloric need is actually no greater than the equivalent of a cup of full fat yogurt and an apple with almond butter. This means that you don’t need to give into daily ice cream cravings. But hey, we’re all human and it’s ok to have a treat every once in awhile.
Wondering how this looks in practice? Here’s a sample day to get you started:
- Upon Waking: Bone broth with chopped scallions
- Breakfast: Rebuild Shake , 1 tablespoon coconut oil, 1 cup blueberries, 1 tablespoon flax, 1 cup of fresh almond milk
- Lunch: Chicken breast served with 2 cups of arugula tossed in olive oil (½ tablespoon) and roasted squash with ghee
- Snack: 1-2 hard boiled eggs with avocado
- Dinner: Wild salmon served with steamed broccoli (1-2 fists), spaghetti squash (1-2 fists) or brown rice (1 cup) with tahini sauce (½ tablespoon)