Pregnancy Nutrition – The 5 Best Ways to Reduce Processed Food Intake
Pregnancy nutrition can be difficult to navigate, especially for new moms. But eating well is one of the best things that you can do for your growing baby. In fact, substantial research shows that eating well before you get pregnant through your child’s second birthday will set them up for success later in life.
How well or how poorly a mother eats plays a large role in a child’s ability to grow and develop, learn and thrive. During the first 1000 days, your baby will begin to make connections within the nervous system and brain. These first few years- from conception to their second birthday- serve as a window of opportunity. Their brain will grow faster in that period than any other time in their life. Pregnancy nutrition is foundational for their lifelong health and is associated with IQ, mental health, and chronic disease development.
Moms who consume more whole, nutrient dense foods are more likely to have healthier babies that grow into healthy, thriving adults. Yet, even in the US, many women consume calorie dense, ultra-processed foods that offer very few nutrients to the growing baby. Staying away from foods packed with the pleasure trio (added sugar, sodium and unhealthy fats- the combo that make it almost impossible to resist) has never been more important.
With our busy lives, it is difficult to start healthy habits, but it is possible. And one of the best ways to create healthy pregnancy nutrition habits is to start early. Knowing that you are doing this for your child will give you the motivation you need to set yourself up for a healthy pregnancy. It’s the very first gift you will ever give to your baby.
Tip #1: Start now, before you get pregnant
We understand that this is not always possible, and if you don’t, that’s ok. But if you are planning to have a baby in the near future, then start now.
Research suggests it take 60 days to create a habit. Make a pact with yourself to begin to eliminate processed food intake as you begin your pregnancy nutrition journey. If you eat fast food, sugar sweetened beverages or frozen foods several times a week, cut it down to 1 time per week.
You don’t have to go cold turkey. In fact, for some, that isn’t the healthiest strategy. Building a healthy pregnancy diet can be hard, but if you let it, it can also be a fun process. Think of it as a gift to your child. It’s a bonus that your gifting it to yourself as well.
Over time, your ultimate goal will be to eliminate it altogether. But we know that’s really hard to do. Cut yourself some slack. Once you have a few months under your belt, then make a new smaller goal that supports you along the way. Whatever that means for you, just start now.
Order from farm fresh restaurants instead of fast food
Do this in advance when you would normally grab fast food. It will save you time and boost your nutrient intake.
Try to cook at home at least 4-5 times per week
Our schedules don’t always allow for it every day, but making it a priority is important.
Eat at least 3-5 different fresh fruits and vegetables each day
By focusing on variety in what you should be eating, you will begin to naturally decrease the not so good foods.
Tip #2: Meal prep to plan ahead
Anyone else feel a sense of satisfaction after a good meal prep sesh? (I know it’s not just me.) I usually set my son up with a craft or get him interested in his Legos, then turn on Spotify or a podcast. It reduces stress, gives you a sense of accomplishment and gets you ready for the week. It’s honestly something I look forward to after a crazy week!
Meal prep not only saves you time (and money- hello), it sets you up for success when cutting out processed foods. The more fresh foods you have at the ready, the less likely you’ll head to the pantry where all the processed foods live. I really can’t stress this enough. Meal prep, especially in the first 60 days of developing new habits, is so critical to your pregnancy nutrition journey. When I meal prep, I almost always stick to my goals. When I don’t meal prep, I typically falter. Once you develop the habit, you can stray and still eat well. But for those times that I slip up – and this will happen now and then- meal prepping gets me back on a healthy path.
Order enough storage containers and a good knife
Having these on hand make meal prep way less stressful.
Pick two days per week that work best for you
I typically meal prep on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Pick your favorite veggies and fruit
And find 1-2 new ones to try
Chop the rainbow
Including those in the white spectrum- onions, garlic
Make our universal lemon dressing when you prep
It’s as easy as using store bought, but way better.
Line up the ingredients in your refrigerator together in one place
It’s even faster if you do it based on the order you add them in
For faster prep, combine the lettuce with ingredients that won’t give off too much water
Then add the remaining in the day you eat them
If I’m eating outside of my house, I use containers with a section on the top
It keeps the ingredients fresh until I’m ready to eat.
Tip #3: Make it social
Why should social eating be part of my pregnancy nutrition plan?
It has been well established in research that social connectedness supports longevity and healthy aging. For thousands of years, food has brought people together. And though the exact reason hasn’t been pinpointed yet, we do know that those who live the longest, healthiest lives all have a social connectedness component to their daily lives. When we establish healthy habits around others, those habits are more likely to stick. You begin to associate positive feelings with who you are around and the food you eat. Community connectedness sets the stage for good habits, holds you accountable, and helps you feel good about your pregnancy nutrition decisions.
This is one of the happiest times in your life. Letting your family and friends know that you are planning or expecting is such a fun way to include them in your journey. They will be thrilled to support you along the way, so let them know the ways that are most helpful to you. Many of them will be eager to come alongside your during this sweet and special time to support your healthy pregnancy nutrition plan. Though it’s hard during Covid times, include them not only when you’re meal planning or meal prepping, but also while you are eating. Zoom, skype or – dare I say- eat in person with your quarantine pod if it’s safe and you can.
Establishing good social connectedness is also about being with the people who build you up and support you in reaching your pregnancy goals. Those without good vibes rolling in, we’re giving you permission to just leave them off your zoom call. You can play the support role another time. This specific time in your life is about you and your baby, so it’s ok to do what is right for you.
Keep in mind that good pregnancy nutrition is part of a lifelong journey. In fact, what you eat before and while your pregnancy not only determines your path to healthy aging, but is associated with your child’s long-term outcomes as well. If you can keep your pregnancy nutrition habits going beyond delivery, even better. Once you create these habits, keep them going for you and the family you are building.
Decide which friends lift you up and ask them for healthy recipes
Recipe sharing is a great way to help each other out and build a connection around healthy habits.
Facetime or Zoom with those in your social circle
Even during Covid, find ways to keep that support system in tact.
Encourage your friends to offer healthy options when visiting with them
If you are eating with a friend, let them know that you are staying away from processed foods.
Ask your friends to hold you accountable
They will be excited that you let them in and can be a huge source of positive support.
You only need a few really support people in your circle
This is not a popularity contest. Only let in those that really show up for you in a positive way.
Tip #4: Remove temptation, by only stocking fresh food
When it comes to eliminating processed foods, meals are usually the easiest. It’s the snacking that’s hard.
My life had never been busier when my husband and I decided to start trying to have a baby. I was a grad student and commuting into NYC for my job and Baltimore for school. He was a busy fellow in Philly working a ton (yes, we lived together). We both had to work hard to keep our processed food intake at a minimum. Starting my pregnancy nutrition journey was rough. Even though I was studying nutrition, I had to work really hard to keep in on track because our lives were so full.
After getting home each day, I was typically hungry and would snack on whatever was the quickest find. The truth is that for a while my only way to eliminate unhealthy snacking was to make it unavailable. I found that what I didn’t bring into the house, I wouldn’t eat. I tried (and sometimes failed) to keep fresh food in the refrigerator instead. Now it’s easier to say no, but it’s still better to not have it as an option at all.
Snack from your refrigerator
Not your pantry.
When you stock up on groceries, stock fresh foods
Not boxed, processed foods you keep in your pantry.
Meal prep snacks on the two days you’re already prepping meals
Snacks can get you without even realizing it.
For snacking on the go, pack crunchy foods like carrots and nuts
You’ll get the satisfying feeling of the crunch with the needed protein and fats that will fill you up.
Opt for the veggie and hummus or cheese and fruit box when snacking on the go
Avoid the baked goods section at all cost.
Tip #5: Drink more water
It may seem simple, but for some, this may be the hardest one. Water is an important part of pregnancy nutrition. But, drinking 8 glasses of water per day takes work. You have to actively think about getting enough in, because for most people thirst does not drive intake to optimal levels.
And when you’re pregnant, your body (and your baby) will need plenty of water- much more than before pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests up to 12 glasses of water per day during pregnancy. From the very first day, you start to increase your vasculature to support the increased nutrient needs of both you and your baby. That additional water helps you produce amniotic fluids, generate more blood, build new tissue, distribute nutrients that you and your baby will need, support digestion, and flush toxins from your body.
Dehydration is a serious issue during pregnancy, and if left unaddressed, can lead to complications including neural tube defects, low amniotic fluid, premature labor and inadequate breastmilk production.
The great news is if you focus on increasing your water intake, it will be easier to reduce your sugar sweetened beverage intake. Water supports all the things important, so do yourself a favor and add it to your pregnancy nutrition plan. If you’re having a hard time, use these quick tips to build some healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
Plan ahead by taking a large water bottle with you on the go
If it’s there, you are more likely to drink it.
Get creative in the kitchen by trying new soups
Soups are a great way to up your water and nutrient intake.
Add more water to your green smoothie
It’s a simple way to get just a little more in.
Ask a friend to hold you accountable
Friends are great tools to help you meet your goals.
Create a reward system
Like water all week for some pampering- win, win!
Pregnancy nutrition: Prenatals should be part of the plan
You may have never thought of it this way, but you’ve been carrying your little one in those eggs since the day you were born. When it comes to pregnancy nutrition, or nutrition in general, take care of yourself as early as you can for as long as you can. You won’t regret it.
When it comes to setting your child up for a healthy life, a prenatal should be part of your pregnancy nutrition strategy. The National Academy of Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology (and pretty much every other pregnancy expert on the planet) recommends taking a prenatal alongside a healthy diet during pregnancy to ensure adequate intake of nutrients to support your pregnancy.
Using a personalized vitamins approach for your prenatal is the best strategy to make sure you are getting everything you need. That’s where Vitamin & Me can help- our custom vitamin quiz matches you with a prenatal specific for your needs. Our system analyzes a range of the highest quality prenatals on the market, then matches you to the one that fits your needs. We LOVE talking to you, so reach out if you have a specific question and give us a follow @vitaminandme to find out more.
Check out our quick quiz to get a match tailored for you
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