Before I became obsessed with liver, bone broth, kombucha, soaked grains, and vegetables for breakfast, I was eating a low-calorie, low-fat, artificially sweetened diet, and my body was not very happy with me. Some of my staples were pretzels, coke zero, “naturally” flavored fat free yogurt, and “sugar free” coffee creamer. I was cold, tired, bloated, and cranky. And when I became pregnant, I started taking a prenatal vitamin. For me at the time, the prenatal vitamin was a good thing. It was giving me a lot of nutrients I wasn’t getting from my food.
But now, after eating a full-fat, processed sugar-free, wheat-free, whole foods diet for a few years (90% of the time), I know I could have felt a lot better, given my body what it needed, and given the developing baby in my tummy more of what she needed without depleting my own storage. I also know that I can get everything that was in my prenatal vitamin from real food. MORE than what is in my prenatal vitamin, because our bodies recognize the nutrients that are in real food, absorbing them easily. The vitamins in a prenatal are synthetic. Our bodies have a hard time converting and absorbing them, and for some, it’s only a fraction of what you ingested.
To make matters even worse, if you’re already low on certain nutrients, it becomes even harder for your body to absorb and convert your prenatal vitamin. For example, if you have an iron deficiency (very common during pregnancy), your body is far less capable of converting folic acid into folate (the version that is absorbed). So even if you are taking a prenatal vitamin, your diet needs to be such that you are getting additional nutrients to support your body as it is needing to do all of these things.
So I am here to tell you, YES you CAN get all your vitamins from real food, rather than a prenatal vitamin. Now, that being said, there is NOTHING wrong with taking a prenatal vitamin if eating this way is too overwhelming and you can’t do it 100%. Because you do need to to do this 100%. It’s important. Not only do we want to prevent birth defects, but getting all your nutrients during pregnancy can prevent your baby from from diabetes, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, and memory loss later in life. So if you decide to take a prenatal vitamin, I urge you to at least follow SOME of this protocol, to fill in the gaps and give your body the support it needs. Tips below for how to do this.
Let’s go over the important nutrients you and your baby’s bodies need during pregnancy (and a little before and a little after), what they’re good for, and where they can be found in real food.
Folate is vital for cell growth, and adequate folate during pregnancy prevents defects of the brain and spine. As I mentioned before, folic acid is the synthetic version of folate. Folate can be found in real food such as liver, legumes, and leafy greens, and is much more easily absorbed by the body. The recommended daily amount of folate is 600mcg. If you take a prenatal vitamin with 600mcg of folic acid, only about 200mcg of this is converted into usable forms of folate, and only folate (not folic acid) can cross the placenta. Also, if you have MTHFR (which is a pretty common gene mutation you may not even be aware of having), you body lacks the enzymes needed to convert folic acid into folate. And remember that iron deficiency?
Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are vital for growth and development of all organs. Fat soluble vitamins can be STORED in your body, which is different from water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C (used immediately or gotten rid of). This is an important distinction, and helpful for those of us who suffer from nausea during pregnancy. The reason it is recommended that you start taking your prenatal vitamin a few months BEFORE you get pregnant, is because your body can store up these vitamins. If you have morning sickness and you can’t eat much, these stored vitamins are used for the developing fetus. Same goes with the fat soluble vitamins that you get from real food. They can be found in cod liver oil, egg yolks, grass-fed animal fats, leafy greens, and fermented food.
Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are vital for brain development. They can be found in cod liver oil, egg yolks, and fatty fish such as salmon.
Biotin prevents birth defects. It can be found in liver and egg yolks. As a side note, uncooked egg whites actually block the absorption of biotin from the egg yolk. Do not eat extra egg whites, and always cook them thoroughly. Eating an extra egg yolk is a good idea, and egg yolks can be runny if you are eating eggs from pastured chickens.
Choline is vital for brain development. It will lead to a lifelong increase in memory and attention for your baby (and who doesn’t want that). It’s found in liver and eggs, wild salmon, and asparagus.
Glycine is vital for growth. It is created when bone broth, muscle meats and egg yolks are matched with folate-rich foods. So if you are eating egg yolks and spinach for breakfast with a cup of bone broth, you are set.
Calcium is vital for your baby’s skeletal system. It also prevents preeclampsia. It can be found in leafy greens, nuts, oatmeal, legumes, salmon, and dairy products.
Here’s what you want to eat every day:
1.75 tsp cod liver oil
1 cup of bone broth
2 whole eggs and one egg yolk
1 cup lentils, or 1.5 cups other legumes
1 cup spinach or asparagus, or 2 cups other greens
1 glass of whole organic milk (preferably raw)*
1 bowl of full-fat organic yogurt/kefir (preferably raw)*
At least once a week, you should eat:
4 oz chicken or calf’s liver, or 8 oz of beef liver
4-6 oz wild salmon
Of course you would add other food to this, such as fruit, more veggies, more protein, more carbs… But this list is what you MUST eat if you are not going to take a prenatal vitamin. If you ARE going to take one, you could start small and try to get a serving of cod liver oil, bone broth, liver, eggs, lentils, and spinach/asparagus at least once a week, and increase as you feel comfortable and get used to this (possibly) new way of eating.
*If you are dairy-free, make sure you get some nuts and oatmeal every day, and increase the amount of leafy greens, lentils, and salmon you eat by about 50%. Also, raw is preferable, but it can be hard to find and expensive. Regular pasteurized milk, yogurt, and kefir is fine, just make sure it is full-fat, plain, and organic.
A post is coming soon with a 1-week complete pregnancy meal-plan that incorporates all of the above guidelines.