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The Basic Postpartum Diet

The basic postpartum diet is a simple but healthy and wholesome one. It can best be summed up by the following guidelines:

Eat Foods that Supply Your Body with Essential Fatty Acids
Fatty acids are the final breakdown product of fats in the diet – the part of the fats you eat that is either stored or used in the cells for energy. Fatty acids were once viewed as nothing more than a source of stored calories, but modern research has shown that the quality of fatty acids in the body has profound effects on human health. Diseases related to inflammation, hormone imbalances, the immune system, behavioral problems, and the heart can often be partially or completely resolved if essential fatty acid levels are balanced through dietary changes or supplementation.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
When you are pregnant, the developing fetus requires large amounts of two specific fatty acids, arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), to build brain and nerve cell membranes. Once a baby reaches about six months of age, his or her body will be able to make DHA and AA from other fatty acids, but while still in utero and in the first six months of life, these fats must be supplied in exact form by the mother's body – first through the placenta, then through breast milk. More than half of the nerve connections in baby's brain form during the first year of life, and the integrity of these connections is dependent upon the fatty acid supply from the mother. Ideally, mother's milk supplies DHA and AA to her baby through nursing for at least a year.

The fats you eat are transformed into hormonelike messenger molecules called prostaglandins, and how the balance of essential fats in your diet dictates the balance of prostaglandins in your body. These fats are also needed for proper brain and nervous system function in people of all ages, but are needed more than ever during gestation and in your baby's infancy, when those systems are undergoing their fastest period of growth.

The omega-3 fat docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is the most important structural and cognitive (brain-function-related) fat for your brain and for your baby's brain. The placenta draws DHA from the mother's body like a vacuum cleaner, and the milk ducts continue to drain her stores for as long as her baby nurses. If you do not keep replenishing your supply, your emotional and physical well-being will most likely be compromised in the postpartum period and beyond.

The research of Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, a psychiatrist, lipid biologist, and senior clinical investigator with the Section of Nutritional Neuroscience at the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse's Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics, beautifully illustrates the connection between omega-3 lack and postpartum depression. Dr. Hibbeln examined fish consumption and the incidence of postpartum depression (PPD) in several countries, and found that the more fish women ate, the less likely they were to develop PPD.

Other research has shown that with each successive pregnancy, blood levels of DHA fall further, and that this dramatically increases a woman's risk of pregnancy complications. This is why it is especially important to build up your reserves of these good oils if you are thinking of having another child. Pregnant mothers with the lowest levels of DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), another important fatty acid, in their red blood cells are nearly eight times more likely to develop preeclampsia, a complication of pregnancy characterized by elevated blood pressure, than are women with the highest levels of DHA and EPA.

Vegetarian women tend to have much lower levels of DHA than nonvegetarians, and may have more pregnancy complications because of this deficiency. Women who are deficient in EPA and DHA have a sixfold greater risk of developing serious mental disorders such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and this risk remains higher for two years after giving birth. Vegetarian mothers can get DHA from some of the algae-based products designed with them in mind.

Babies and toddlers score higher on tests of intelligence and visual acuity if their mothers ate fish a few times weekly during pregnancy. Breastfed babies, who get a lot more DHA from mother's milk than their bottle-fed counterparts get from formula, also do better on intelligence and vision tests, and they are less vulnerable to attention deficit disorders and other behavioral and learning problems.

If you eat the typical Western diet, you were probably already depleted of DHA and EPA when you became pregnant. Your baby's body drew on your omega-3 stores to build its brain, nervous system, and cell membranes, and left you even more depleted. There is good scientific evidence that a lack of omega-3 fats passes from generation to generation; if your mother did not pass much on to you, your body has fewer stores to draw from during your own pregnancy, and if you have a daughter, her body could have even less of these essential fats to fortify her own offspring. It is therefore essential to replenish your omega-3 reserves.

Fish is the best natural source of DHA. Not all fish are good sources of this fatty acid and EPA. Fish that live in deep, cold waters, such as salmon, cod, sardines, anchovies, albacore tuna, herring, and mackerel, are your best sources of these essential fats. Because fish, like every other creature on the planet, contain toxins that come from the foods they eat, limit fish consumption to three times a week. Avoid swordfish, shark, and tilefish entirely when you are pregnant or nursing, because these species tend to retain higher levels of toxins in their flesh. Some nutritionists recommend farmed fish over wild fish to avoid toxins, but farmed fish are generally fed foods high in unsaturated oils such as soy and corn, so their DHA levels are lower. The best answer is probably to try to vary the type of fish you eat, alternating between farm-raised and wild-caught fish.

We recommend eating high-DHA omega-3 eggs. These eggs are laid by chickens fed a vegetarian, DHA-rich diet with algae added to their food. They are a great source of this essential fat, especially for women who don't like fish. (Although we are not aware of any studies on the intelligence and visual acuity of the chickens that lay omega-3 eggs, it is likely that they and their offspring are sharper than the average clucker!) Omega-3 eggs also contain six times more of the antioxidant vitamin E than other eggs.

We also recommend taking EFA supplements throughout pregnancy, nursing, and beyond.

Flaxseed oil, which is high in another omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is widely touted as an ideal omega-3 supplement for those who would rather not eat fish. ALA is indeed similar in structure to DHA and EPA, but the ALA molecule is slightly shorter in length – causing it to be termed a short-chain omega-3 – than these other two long-chain omega-3s. Thus, in order for ALA to be made into "good" prostaglandins or to build nervous-system tissues and cell membranes that function optimally, it must be transformed into EPA or DHA. Some research shows that this transformation can fulfill the body's EPA and DHA needs adequately, while other research casts doubt upon the body's ability to transform enough ALA to meet its needs.

The scientific jury is still out on this one, but after looking at hundreds of blood tests for fatty acid levels, we feel the best way to ensure that your DHA and EPA levels are sufficient is to eat foods that contain DHA and EPA. If you want a vegetarian supplement of these oils, seek out the ones made from algae. That is where the fish get their long-chain omega-3s. ALA can be a valuable addition to the diet, helping to balance out skewed omega-3 to omega-6 ratios.

We do not recommend that you use a lot of flaxseed oil to supply your diet with ALA. Flaxseed oil is one the least stable oils known. In other words, it spoils easily and goes rancid. If you eat rancid oil, you are ingesting toxic free radicals that have to be soaked up by your antioxidant stores, leaving fewer antioxidants to control the rest of the free radicals that are constantly forming throughout your body. Walnuts and pumpkinseeds are other good sources of ALA.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 fats have a different structure from the omega-3s, and when they are incorporated into cell membranes, they subtly alter the membrane's structure and activity.

It is true that mother's milk is the best source of omega-3s for babies, but the amount of these EFAs in breast milk varies widely depending on the mother's diet. Inuit women, who eat fish and seal meat daily, have a ratio of omega-6 to long-chain omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) of about 4:1. At the same time, one study showed that the average American woman's milk contains these fats in a ratio of 175:1! If the omega-6/omega-3 ratio becomes skewed in this way, an imbalance of prostaglandin production results, increasing your vulnerability to allergies, autoimmune diseases, mood disorders, joint pain, and other problems. By cutting down on omega-6 fats – in particular, linoleic acid from processed vegetable, nut, and seed oils – and boosting your intake of omega-3s, you can supply your baby and yourself with a more ideal ratio of these fats.

Corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and cottonseed oil all contain plentiful amounts of linoleic acid (LA), one of the omega-6 fats. These oils are found in a great many processed foods, and it is the rare Westerner who does not get plenty of linoleic acid every day. Worse, these oils are usually hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated to make them solid instead of liquid. This process alters the molecular composition of the fatty acids so that they are inflexible. Over time, these inflexible fats are incorporated into cell membranes, compromising the cells' ability to bring in needed substances and flush out wastes. Hydrogenated fats also contribute to an increasing burden of "bad" prostaglandins. The fatty acids in hydrogenated oils are known as trans fats or trans-fatty acids, and they pass right into your breast milk and into your baby's body. Read labels carefully; if you see the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on a label, put the product back on the shelf. Be forewarned: You will find hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils in just about every type of processed food, including cookies, crackers, frozen foods, margarine, potato and corn chips, pies, pastries, salad dressings, and soups.

It is unlikely that your health will be improved if you add more foods containing linoleic acid to your diet. Supplemental black currant seed, borage, and evening primrose seed oils, however, contain a specific omega-6 fat, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), that is scarce in food. The most significant food source of GLA is oatmeal. This fat has been demonstrated to be helpful for relief from attention deficit disorder, multiple sclerosis, depression, and mood swings. GLA can be transformed in the body into an anti-inflammatory, brain-supporting prostaglandin called prostaglandin E1 (PGE1).

Essential Fatty Acid Analysis
The essential fatty acid analysis is one of the most useful tests of nutritional status. It gives a clear picture of the amounts and ratios of many key fats found in an individual's blood and tissues.

No doubt you can see why we favor evaluating the fatty acid reserves of any woman who is pregnant or is contemplating pregnancy, and why we often do so postpartum. In fact, the majority of patients we see have significant fatty-acid imbalances. This is largely due to the widespread use of vegetable oils in cooking, as well as the processing of oils to eliminate or reduce the amount of easily spoiled, stronger-tasting omega-3s. Most of our patients are notably deficient in the omega-3 fats DHA, EPA, ALA, and GLA, and have too much of other, less healthy, more inflammatory saturated and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (like arachidonic acid, or AA) in their blood and tissues. When the levels of all of these types of fats are brought into balance, both through diet and the use of supplements, many patients experience relief from pain, depression, and mood swings.

Eat Whole, Preferably Organic, Foods
To ensure that you are getting plenty of the nutrients that help build your baby's body and maintain your own health, eat a well-rounded whole foods diet throughout pregnancy and postpartum. Whole foods have undergone little or no processing before they arrive on your plate; they are as close as possible to the way nature made them. In general, whole foods are found around the outer edges of the supermarket – fresh fruits and vegetables, bulk foods, some dairy foods (those that have undergone the least processing, such as butter, soft and hard cheeses, and unsweetened yogurt), and meats are whole foods. Whole foods do not contain "empty calories." Every calorie is accompanied by vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients. During pregnancy and nursing, you are indeed eating for two, and the more nutrient-dense and wholesome your diet is, the healthier you and your baby will be.

If a food comes in a package and the label lists ingredients you do not immediately recognize, it isn't a whole food. The presence of added preservatives, dyes, sugars, flavorings, and oils generally means that something has been processed enough to require extra flavor or improved texture or color. Artificial preservatives generally mean that the natural preservatives – antioxidant vitamins – have been processed out. It is fine to use some time-savers, such as canned beans and frozen vegetables, but generally, the fresher your food is, the better.

Become a label-reader. If you need an advanced degree in chemistry to decipher the label on a food product, put it back on the shelf. Do you like strawberry ice cream? On the label of one brand we looked at, we found forty-three ingredients, including substances called amyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, and ethyl heptanoate. And you thought all you needed to make strawberry ice cream was cream, strawberries, and sugar!

The truth about food additives such as artificial flavorings is that, in most cases, we do not know whether these ingredients can cause harm or how they interact with one another in the body. There are hundreds of additives that are commonly used in processed foods. However, when their safety is evaluated, they are studied individually (in rodents, not in humans) and for no longer than two years at a time. Such tests cannot possibly take into account how all of these chemicals interact in the human body over a lifetime of use. Neither do they take into account how they might change during the cooking or further processing of foods that contain them. If you would rather be safe than sorry, it makes sense to minimize the amounts of such substances present in your diet.

When you eat meat, eggs, or dairy products, choose organic, free-range varieties. These are more nutritious because the animals that produced them are better nourished, and they are relatively free of the pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones that contaminate conventionally raised varieties of these foods. Wild fish and game and range-fed livestock, which have fed on omega-3 rich plants, are much higher in the important omega-3 fatty acids than are conventional, farm-raised fish or grain-fed livestock.

You are also much better off with organic vegetables and grains. They taste better and are more nutrient-dense because they are grown in healthier soil that is richer in minerals. If for some reason you cannot purchase the organic versions of all types of foods, however, it is more important to buy organically produced animal-based foods. Toxins are much more highly concentrated in these than in plant foods.

Avoid Refined Sugars and Flour
Women who are able to dramatically reduce their consumption of refined sugars and flour find that their mood swings even out and their excess weight comes off. Not only will this shift in eating habits create room in your diet for whole foods – especially vegetables – but it will go a long way toward establishing blood-sugar and insulin balance.

All pregnant women tend to become slightly insulin resistant. Insulin is a hormone that carries sugar into the body's cells to be burned for energy. Insulin resistance means that the cells no longer heed insulin's message as well as they once did. When insulin resistance sets in, the body begins to boost insulin production to try to force the cells to hear its message and respond. As the insides of the cells clamor for energy in the form of blood sugar, more and more insulin is released to try to meet their needs. You might compare this to trying to talk to your normally sensitive and receptive partner while he is watching a favorite program on television – you may have to yell or put your body between him and the TV set in order to get your message across. Similarly, your body turns up the "volume" by increasing its production of insulin. This may get the message across for a while, but if you do not change your diet, it will not work for long. Insulin resistance can be the root cause of the deep fatigue many women feel postpartum.

While many women's levels of blood sugar and insulin ultimately return to normal after they give birth, some pregnant women go on to develop gestational diabetes, and some continue to be insulin resistant postpartum. Others are never diagnosed with gestational diabetes, but do have subtle, ongoing blood sugar imbalances postpartum. This is what happened to Patty, and correcting the problem with dietary changes did wonders for her health.

Whenever you eat foods containing carbohydrates – groups of sugar molecules bound together by chemical bonds – your pancreas, a small organ located near the opening of your small intestines, releases insulin into the bloodstream. Eating lots of rapidly digested carbohydrates stimulates a strong, quick release of insulin, while eating moderate amounts of slowly digested carbohydrates stimulates a gradual, moderate insulin release. Carbohydrates that have had much of the fiber, oils, and nutrients processed out are referred to as simple (or refined) carbohydrates. Those that are closer to the form in which nature made them are complex (or unrefined) carbohydrates. The simpler the carbohydrate, the faster it is digested, and the stronger the insulin response it elicits.

The carbohydrates found in whole grains are complex. A wheat berry, for example, is a source of complex carbohydrates and is a whole food. So is brown rice. Your digestive tract has to process the fiber, protein, and essential fats that package the carbohydrates in these foods. Then enzymes dissolve the bonds between the sugar molecules so that they can be absorbed into your bloodstream through the wall of your small intestines and used as cellular fuel. The absorption of carbohydrates from whole foods is gradual, and so is the rise in blood sugar and insulin that follows.

Refined Sugar
Sucrose, or table sugar, is a simple carbohydrate. Simple carbohydrates are, in essence, predigested – processing has removed most of the components of the food as it is found in nature, just as your digestive tract is designed to do. This allows the carbohydrates to break down into sugars almost immediately, and to pass right into your bloodstream with little additional processing by the enzymes in your small intestine. After a snack of simple carbohydrates, the pancreas gets a strong, sudden message that a whole lot of sugar has just hit the bloodstream, and it pumps out a lot of insulin to bring blood sugar levels back down. If this happens over and over again, day in and day out, you are setting yourself up for insulin resistance, mood swings, and fatigue. Insulin resistance tends to raise levels of blood fats known as triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar. Chronically increased levels of these substances can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other degenerative disorders.

It is wise to read labels carefully and do all you can to avoid foods that contain refined sugars. These can hide out in otherwise nutritious foods. For example, plain yogurt made with live cultures is an excellent source of protein, calcium, and "friendly" bacteria that support digestive health, but low-fat and fruit-added versions usually are loaded with several teaspoons of sugar. Be aware that sugars show up on labels under many different names, including sucrose, maltodextrin, and high-fructose corn syrup. A twelve-ounce can of soda pop has an average of ten to twelve teaspoons of sugar. It is liquid candy!

Incidentally, it is not a good idea to try to avoid sugar by using artificial sweeteners like aspartame (also sold under the brand names Equal and NutraSweet), saccharin (Sweet 'N Low), and the newer acesulfame-K (Sunette, Sweet 'n Safe, Sweet One). Fake sweeteners do not help you to lose weight or kick your sugar habit, and some of them are known to have adverse effects on brain cells. They whet your taste for sugar without satisfying your body's need for nourishment. Aspartame is an excitotoxin, which means that it overexcites brain cells to the point where they literally can die. Chronic headaches, seizures, and brain tumors have been linked with aspartame use. Do not expose yourself or your baby to this chemical.

Americans consume a tremendous quantity of artificial sweetener in the form of diet sodas. In addition to containing artificial sweeteners, diet sodas also contain the same load of inorganic phosphorus that regular sodas do, which means that they can throw off your calcium and magnesium balance. We predict that a whole generation of soda-guzzling teens and young adults may well be headed for osteoporosis in their twilight years because of the bone-eroding effects of excess phosphoric acid. The average cola drink is 100,000 times more acidic than the human bloodstream should be, having a a pH of 2 rather than 7. It therefore takes about ten gallons of water to neutralize one can of soda. To bring the blood pH back into balance, the body will rob alkaline minerals from anywhere it can get them, including bone.

Refined Flour
Refined flour – the kind used to make fluffy breads, many breakfast cereals, pretzels, bagels, muffins, cookies, and pasta – is only slightly better for you than sugar. It contains carbohydrates that take a little bit longer to break down than those in pure sugar. Still, it is essentially predigested and causes a big jump in blood sugar. That is why a bagel with jam in the morning only tides you over for an hour or two – your blood sugar soars, then crashes, and you probably find yourself craving more carbohydrates before lunchtime.

If you are trying to lose weight, refined flour products can get you into big trouble because they are highly calorically dense but not very filling. How many times have you polished off several slices of bread in a restaurant before your dinner arrived? By the time you dig in to the main course, you have already had 500 calories' worth of flour – and if you have been slathering butter all over each piece, you are looking at closer to 1,000 calories. The calories your body does not need go right into fat storage, and your blood sugars rise and crash much as they would if you had eaten sugar. Those calories are about as empty as they come.

In addition, many people have allergies to gluten, a protein found in barley, oats, rye, and wheat, and in the wheat alternatives amaranth and spelt. If you find it difficult to have a single meal without something made from wheat, and you have chronic allergies, asthma, or itchy skin rashes, try replacing these foods with products made from brown rice or buckwheat. There are many gluten-free alternatives available in the average health food market. See if you can stay away from gluten-containing foods for at least two weeks. If you do and then see a notable improvement in your allergic symptoms, you may be sensitive to these foods. You should be able to add some gluten-containing foods back to your diet after a while without provoking a reaction, as long as you don't have them every day. Most conventional physicians still rarely acknowledge any but the most extreme cases of food allergy, but we have seen remarkable improvements in people who ferret out and eliminate allergenic foods from their diets.

Another problem with a diet rich in refined flour is that it can be incredibly constipating. When you made glue for papier-mâché in grade school, what did you use? Flour and water! The same kind of reaction happens in your gastrointestinal tract when you eat lots of wheat that has been stripped of its oils, its nutritious germ, and its fiber.

Women with gestational diabetes are usually placed on a low- to no-carbohydrate diet, which controls insulin and glucose levels well in most cases. Unless you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you can take a more moderate tack – eating high-fiber foods such as beans, legumes, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Protein from lean meats, fresh fish, and poultry can help to quell cravings for sweets and refined flour products. (In many instances, cravings for sugar are a sign that your body needs protein.) Intense cravings for sugar can be a sign that the brain's serotonin levels are too low. Finally, sugars and refined flour affect the action of enzymes that orchestrate prostaglandin production. If you eat too much of these foods, your body produces more of the "bad" prostaglandins.

Kicking the Refined Sugar and Flour Habit
Are you daunted by the notion of kicking your sugar and refined flour habit, although you know that you need to? Not sure how to begin? The best way is to do it cold turkey. On your next shopping expedition, pass by the sweet goodies and the white-flour bread and bagels. Instead, select some whole-grain products, or some whole grains from the bulk section of the market. Fill your cart with fresh vegetables and fruit. For at least three days, commit yourself to eating only whole foods. Steam vegetables, bake yams, eat raw salads, and cook beans and brown rice or rolled oats. Use organic butter, olive oil, tamari (soy sauce), and other savory seasonings, and remember to add some protein to each meal in the form of plain organic yogurt, organic cheeses, nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, or free-range poultry or beef. Don't add concentrated sweeteners to anything. If you want something sweet, eat a piece of fresh fruit. You will find that your taste for the really sweet stuff dissipates quickly. Once you get to this point, you can go back to having an occasional sweet or piece of white bread without going overboard.

In general, you can add sweetness to foods with natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey – but use them judiciously, too. For women who cannot seem to kick their refined carbohydrate cravings, or who choose to be vegetarian or vegan, we prescribe a food supplement powder containing amino acids, vitamins, fiber, and the minerals chromium and vanadium.

Eat Foods that Supply Your Body with Antioxidants
Antioxidants are nutrients that help prevent free radicals from building up in your body and causing damage to the proteins and fats that make up your cells. Free radicals are constantly being formed during the metabolic processes that take place in your mitochondria. If your life is in balance and your intake of antioxidants is adequate, you can keep damaging free radicals in check. If you are stressed out, eating poor quality foods, exercising too much or too strenuously, exposed to toxins, or ill, your free-radical burden can build up to levels higher than your antioxidant intake can handle. This is why antioxidant-rich foods are an important part of any diet, especially a diet designed to relieve postpartum complaints and rebuild depleted nutrient stores.

The use of antioxidant supplements in the form of vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene has become commonplace. This is a good thing, but unless you are taking a very sophisticated antioxidant supplement, these isolated nutrients cannot reproduce the beneficial effects of antioxidants in their naturally occurring forms. When you eat an orange or a peach, there is more to the antioxidants in those fruits than there is to a vitamin-C tablet or a vitamin-E capsule – probably including benefits that we have yet to discover in the field of nutritional science.

If you eat a diet rich in colorful vegetables and fruits, you are getting lots of naturally occurring plant-based antioxidants. Herbs and spices such as rosemary and turmeric are also wonderful sources of antioxidant nutrients. Rosemary contains several different phytochemicals that studies have shown to be antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial. Other research has shown that rosemary supports liver detoxification by boosting levels of antioxidant enzymes known as glutathione-S-transferases and quinone reductases and by inhibiting phase I enzymes that convert chemical toxins to more carcinogenic forms. Turmeric is a spice often used in Indian cooking. It also appears as a natural food coloring in mustard and other foods. The spice itself has long been used in Ayurveda, or traditional Indian medicine. It contains a powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-infective, and antioxidant substance – curcumin – that raises levels of the important antioxidant glutathione in cells throughout the body. It is especially useful for liver diseases such as hepatitis, but everyone – especially those whose detoxification systems have been pushed to their limits by the stresses of pregnancy – can benefit from the beneficial effects of curcumin on glutathione levels. Curcumin can also be used in supplement form to help heal inflammatory conditions and to promote recovery from surgery or strenuous exercise. (Childbirth is about as strenuous as exercise gets.)

Eat Slowly and Chew Your Food Thoroughly
Eat your meals slowly and deliberately, chewing each bite thoroughly. It is too easy to get into the habit of scarfing down your food when you do not know how long you will be able to sit and eat before being interrupted by your baby. This contributes to digestive troubles and tends to lead to eating more than you really need. If you eat whole foods and chew them completely, you will be amazed at how much better these foods taste – and how quickly you become satiated.

It is important not to let yourself get so famished that you grab whatever edible thing first comes within your reach. If you are going out with your baby, pack some healthy snacks to take along with you. Choose foods that contain a balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Some good ideas include celery or an apple with nut butter, nut and seed trail mix, a cheese or tuna fish sandwich on whole-grain bread with sprouts and tomato, a protein-rich smoothie, or – if you are really pressed – one of the many commercially available protein bars. These bars should be seen as a last resort because they tend to contain refined sugar and other overly refined ingredients, but they are better than a candy bar or a fluffy white-flour pastry.

Eat a Source of Nutrient-laden Fiber, such as Ground Flaxseeds
While we do not recommend that you ingest significant quantities of flaxseed oil, we do recommend that you add whole flaxseeds to your diet in small amounts. Traditionally known as linseeds, flaxseeds are packed with nutrients and fiber, and contain antioxidants that naturally protect against rancidity. They are one of nature's richest sources of ALA, the omega-3 fatty acid, and they contain a type of fiber that is an excellent source of a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. Formed in the colon by the action of friendly bacteria on the flaxseed fiber, butyrate is the fuel preferred over any other by the cells of the large intestine (the colon), and is made when the good bowel flora digests fiber. The colon is not just a tube that carries wastes out of your body. It is actually an entire ecosystem, harboring beneficial bacteria that help your system to better absorb nutrients and get rid of toxins. Maintaining colon health becomes much easier if you eat a whole-foods diet, and by including flaxseeds in that diet you give your colon extra support.

Store flaxseeds in a container in your freezer. Grind a small amount (a tablespoon or two) at a time in a coffee grinder and add them to cereals, smoothies, and cooked grain.

From A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health by Dean Raffelock, Robert Rountree, and Virginia Hopkins with Melissa Block. Copyright © 2002 by Dr. Dean Raffelock. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.

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