Prenatal Nutrition Myths + Facts
During pregnancy, it can be hard to navigate nutrition information and get to the facts. So to clear things up, today I’m sharing 5 common prenatal nutrition myths and facts!
I’m nearing the end of my second pregnancy, so I thought it was the perfect time to address some common myths about prenatal nutrition. There is just so much nonsense floating around out there about what moms-to-be should and shouldn’t eat – and it can get very confusing!
I already have a video on the specific foods you should avoid during pregnancy, but today I want to share 5 general myths that I hear frequently about prenatal nutrition and what you actually should be eating!
1. You need meat for a healthy pregnancy.
Because meat is rich in protein and iron – two essential nutrients for growth and development – many people believe it’s a healthy food for moms-to-be. It’s true that moms need protein and iron, but we don’t need meat to get it. In fact, when you look at the research, we actually find that pregnant women who eat a lot of meat during pregnancy have more prenatal complications and their children have poorer health outcomes.
One literature review of seven peer-reviewed articles found that women with a high intake of processed and high-fat meat products during pregnancy were at an increased risk of having low birth weight babies. Low birth weight is a risk factor for many non-communicable diseases later in life including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Meanwhile, women with a high intake of fruits and vegetables were more likely to have babies with normal weight gain. Several studies have also found that adults whose mothers ate a lot of meat in late pregnancy were more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and high cortisol, a marker of stress.
2. Food cravings mean you’re deficient in something.
This one sort of relates to the previous myth. I frequently hear that if you’re craving meat during pregnancy, it’s because you’re deficient in iron or protein. The truth is there is no scientific evidence that food cravings (during pregnancy or any other time) have anything to do with nutritional status. Researchers believe food cravings are more likely tied to emotions.
During pregnancy, we crave comfort. If burgers were a food that you enjoyed at some point in your life, your cravings are likely tied to that emotional attachment. During my pregnancy, I craved bagels and cream cheese, pickles, and cinnamon rolls – all foods that I have fond memories of enjoying as a kid.
An exception to this is a condition known as pica. Which is not exactly a food craving but kind of related. Pica is a compulsion to consume non-nutritive items like ice chips, dirt, or paper. This condition is linked to iron deficiency and pregnant women are more likely to experience it than non-pregnant women.
3. A low-carb diet will prevent or treat gestational diabetes.
It may seem counterintuitive, but carbohydrates, which temporarily raise your blood glucose level, are not the culprit behind chronically elevated blood sugar levels seen in gestational diabetes. GDM is a multifactorial condition and there’s still a lot we don’t know.
But the truth is, it’s more important to avoid high saturated fat foods that impair the functioning of insulin, the hormone that controls our blood sugar, than foods that actually raise our blood sugar. In fact, research shows that a high carbohydrate intake both before and during pregnancy is associated with reduced rates of the disease.
One study found that pregnant women with the highest intake of meat, fish, and eggs were almost twice as likely to suffer from gestational diabetes than women with the lowest intake of these foods. The same study found that women with a high intake of rice, wheat, and fruit had about half the risk of gestational diabetes compared to women with the lowest intake of these foods.
Now I’m not suggesting that you go bananas on high-glycemic, refined-carbohydrate foods and beverages during pregnancy. I’m saying that fiber-rich carbohydrates are a vital part of a healthy pregnancy.
It’s also important to note that low-carb diets – which are advised against during pregnancy by the majority of medical groups – may actually put babies at a higher risk of birth defects. A recent study found that babies born to mothers who were restricting their carbohydrate intake were 30% more likely to have a neural tube defect.
4. You don’t need supplements if you eat a balanced diet.
In theory, you could get all the nutrients you need from whole foods. In reality, most of us fall far short of this, and pregnancy is not the time mess around. For most adults, a slight nutrient deficiency can be easier corrected with no long-term complications. But during pregnancy, a nutritional deficiency could result in permanent damage to your developing babe.
Certain nutrients, namely iron, are needed in such high amounts that it is unlikely you could get enough to cover you and baby’s needs. The RDA for iron is 27 mg during pregnancy, which is a ton. To put that in perspective, you’d need to eat over 6 cups of black beans in a day to get enough or 33 oz of sirloin steak…and as we discussed earlier that’s a horrible idea.
Prenatal multivitamins and supplements cover nutrient gaps and provide a form of insurance on days when our intake is less than ideal – I’m looking at you, first trimester. If you need advice on proper supplementation, I’ll leave a link below with my recommendations.
5. You’re eating for two.
This old saying seems to persist even though most medical professionals now inform moms that it’s not the case. I often hear a different iteration of the eating for two myth, though – specifically in relation to protein.
Most moms-to-be know that they only need an additional 350-450 calories during the second and third trimester, but what many don’t seem to understand is that this slight increase also applies to protein. Pregnant women are always worried about getting enough protein. But the fact is, most adults already take in way more protein than they need.
During pregnancy, you only need about 25 grams of protein extra per day. That’s really not a lot. You can get that additional protein with a scoop of protein powder or an additional 2 servings of beans a day. You don’t need to go doubling your intake!
For more information on prenatal nutrition, check out these videos! >>
Head over here for some prenatal workouts and advice! >>
Looking for more information on supplements? Get our FREE Plant-Based Juniors Supplement Guide
And for a complete guide on everything prenatal nutrition including 50+ plant-based recipes, grab our Predominantly Plant-Based Pregnancy Guide!
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Weigh-in: What other myths have you heard about prenatal nutrition?