The champagne’s stopped flowing, and the gluttony of the new year is a distant memory. A shift in warmer weather (finally) is synonymous with healthy eating, more movement, and the enjoyable outdoors. Thinking of pregnancy in 2023? Now’s the perfect time to consider how food can best prepare you. Kelly Benton certified nutritionist and founder of Feeding the Bump says, “Starting to prepare your body and your partners (it takes two to tango) between 4-6 months out from conception can set you up for an increased chance of success of getting pregnant.” And recent studies reveal “A healthy diet during pregnancy is essential for normal growth and development of the foetus”
Eating a well balanced diet is helpful advice, but it may be easier said than done. Meats, vegetables and whole grains don’t come with a nutritional content panel. So it can be hard to know which food is full of what.
Which are the recommended nutrients in preconception, the best foods to boost our chances of conceiving, and the pregnancy diet that supports a healthy baby? We’ve unpacked a healthy prenatal diet so you don’t have to. Be warned, this is an animal product heavy shortlist.
Eggs are a pregnancy superfood
Despite the bad press eggs have received over the years (Cholesterol! Heart Disease! Fat!) eggs are incredibly nutrient dense, and new research suggests Cholesterol isn't as evil as we once thought. Rich in protein, eggs are also packed full of most of the nutrients recommended for a healthy prenatal diet. In particular, yolks are full of choline- now recognised as the ‘it’ fertility nutrient because of the nutritional support it lends to neural tube development- just like its famous cousin Folate. Just two eggs (and their yolks) meet about half of a pregnant woman's daily choline needs. Eggs are also rich in DHA which supports brain development, folate, B vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals iodine and selenium.
Sardines and Salmon are low in mercury and high in DHA
Mercury is murky territory when it comes to pregnancy. But nutritionists still recommend consuming fish and seafood low in mercury for their high DHA content. These small, fatty fish are high in Vitamin D and Iodine, as well as brain boosting Omega-3 fat DHA. Wild caught fish are hard to find, but the cleanest to consume, so these are often recommended first.
Slow cooked meats are full of more than just protein
Slow-cooked meats on a bone, including bone broths, are incredibly nutrient dense in iron and zinc, while bones are packed full of minerals. But they also provide a rich source of gelatin and collagen. These nutrients not only support your growing babe, but also the growth of your uterus, skin, breasts and skeleton. And bone broths by the cup are a simple and effective way to consume a nutritious meal when the thought of food is enough to make you gag. Local butchers sell gelatinous bones by the bag. Grab a big pot of filtered water and add your bones, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and your choice of herbs and vegetables and leave to simmer for 12-24 hours before straining.
Liver, nature’s multivitamin
The thought of eating liver can be off putting for some, but research suggests liver is a wonderfood. It’s the only other major dietary source of Choline, is packed full of iron, and is rich in almost every vitamin and mineral required for optimal nutrition- in particular folate and B12, important for healthy brain development in your growing baby. There has been some debate about the safety of consuming liver in pregnancy due to its abundance of vitamin A- so we’d recommend chatting to a nutritionist to best understand the safety of naturally occurring vitamin A before consuming it en masse. Try adding organic chicken livers to bolognese sauce, or homemade meatballs for a nutritional boost you won’t even taste.
Seaweed is rich in iodine, an essential nutrient for foetal growth and brain development
All the best sources of iodine come from the ocean- think fish, seaweed, nori, wakame. Sprinkling seaweed flakes these on top of whole grains which are a rich food source of zinc provides a great food source combination to avoid deficiency in these nutrients, which has been associated with some congenital abnormalities.
Full fat dairy, for more than a calcium boost
Dairy is also a protein, and is full of fat-soluble vitamins and probiotics too. Full fat is always preferable to low fat alternatives, as they contain the fat soluble vitamins too (Vitamins A, D, E and K). Think fried halloumi in salads, a dollop of ghee in homemade pancake mix or yoghurt with fruit and muesli.
Leafy green vegetables, the best of the bunch
These vegetables are full of folate, as well as a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Best eaten with some fat- blanch kale, broccoli and wombok until crispy and fry off with ghee. Mix together with fresh rocket (raw greens are full of vitamin C) and top with a dressing made of mayonnaise, olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
It may feel like an incredibly unfair ask, but a growing body of evidence suggests caffeine may be harmful in pregnancy, and to limit caffeine consumption in pregnancy even from doses previously considered ‘safe’. Ouch. What we know…Coffee depletes key nutrients – namely magnesium and B vitamins. Both of these nutrients are supportive of a healthy pregnancy, including to prevent pre-eclampsia, regulating blood sugar levels, maintaining good energy levels and supporting healthy uterine tone. Caffeine takes a long time to break down in our body, especially in pregnancy. In the third trimester it takes over 15 hours to detoxify and excrete it. This means that caffeine side-effects such as anxiety and insomnia can be intensified for pregnant women. The evidence is evolving, so watch this space.
Combining it all is the way nature intended it. While it’s no easy feat becoming an amateur cook while juggling the overwhelming desire to be sick, nutritionists always remind us to eat our vitamins together. Luckily, nature’s food has been created just this way- with nutrients abundant across foods, coexisting harmoniously together. Nutrition is always best obtained through diet first, but if this falls short, there’s always a quality prenatal supplement to fill the gaps.