The Basic Postpartum Diet

Blood-sugar and insulin balance

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!

More on: Postpartum

excerpted from:

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 Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.

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