Real Food for Pregnancy: A Book Review

Real food for Pregnancy is a MUST-READ for every pregnant person! It’s something to be kept at the bedside throughout your entire pregnancy and beyond.

It has well-researched information regarding dietary recommendations, nutrient needs and countless other tips that I haven’t found collected together anywhere else.

Most importantly, for me, it explains WHY all these recommendations are being made, and WHY we need certain nutrients during this time. This method of presentation improves my motivation to actually make and maintain dietary changes, because I now understand how important they are for fetal growth and maternal health.

It also has a very helpful section on postpartum recovery. The dietary tips all apply to maximizing fertility as well, so this book is all-encompassing regarding the many phases of childbearing.

The author, Lily Nichols, is a registered dietician who focuses on women’s health, particularly during pregnancy and postpartum. She is a realist, but she is not dogmatic and recognizes that research and evidence shift over time as we learn more. She gives the straight facts- backed by evidence- but delivers them in a way that is digestible and non-judgmental. I appreciate her writing and her approach.

Better than diving into the nuances of the topics, I want to let her words speak for themselves. BUY this book- It will change your pregnancy and improve the health of your baby (and your own as well!)

Below are the tidbits from this book that I found most helpful, or that stuck out to me the most (these are direct quotes unless otherwise specified). This is not exhaustive, though, so still buy the book!

Being careful and proactive during these early months, by allowing your body to heal on its own timeline, can prevent problems decades from now. p. 246

Engaging in high impact activity that puts excessive pressure on your pelvic floor too soon in your recovery is a recipe for incontinence or prolapse. p. 244

The rates of eczema in infants during the first 2 years of life showed a clear benefit of probiotic supplementation. p. 238
(Regarding breastfeeding) The key message here is inclusion not exclusion; Include more nutrient-dense foods in your diet as often as you can. p. 235
Exclusively breastfed infants are recommended a separate vitamin D supplement of 400 IU per day. p. 234 (or supplement mom 6400 IU per day)

Cortisol crosses the placenta and women who are overly stressed tend to have high cortisol in their amniotic fluid… [this is] predictive of several infant outcomes, including low birthweight and both infant fear and distress at 3 months of age. p.211

Lack of nausea or morning sickness in the first trimester can be a sign of underactive thyroid and/ or iodine deficiency. p. 168

If you have a history of miscarriage, it’s very important to have your thyroid checked. p.167

Breastfeeding mothers need a minimum of 6,400 IU of vitamin D per day to provide adequate vitamin D for baby (if your baby is exclusively breastfed). p.165

A low salt diet is not a good idea while pregnant, and could be even worse for women who have preeclampsia. p.134

Cravings can potentially be signs of deficiency: (p.120)
  • Ice- iron
  • Sushi- iodine or omega 3s
  • Dairy- iodine
  • Salt- minerals/electrolytes
Lack of nausea may be an indication that you should have your thyroid hormones tested. p. 119
Diffusing lavender and peppermint together may help reduce nausea (not direct quote). p.117
Chamomile at high doses may be effective at initiating labor, improving milk supply postpartum, and reducing PPD (not a direct quote). p.111

One side effect of magnesium deficiency is nausea, and anecdotally some women have noticed less morning sickness when supplementing with magnesium or when eating more magnesium-rich foods. p.105

(Not a quote) One of the reasons soy is not recommended for growing boys could be that it has one of the highest rates of glyphosate residues and that is an endocrine disruptor. It “disturbs the masculinization process” p.77

If you compare nutrient levels in grains to that of other Whole Foods, like seafood, meat, and vegetables, it becomes clear that grains are far less nutritious than we have been led to believe. p. 67

Pregnancy recommendation for fiber intake is 28g per day. p. 67

In Japan, consumption of raw fish is not only common during pregnancy, but encouraged for optimal fetal development. It is also condoned by the British National Health Service. p. 58

Glycine is the most abundant amino acid in collagen and, intern, collagen is the most abundant proteins in the human body. p.46
The following nutrients are challenging to obtain in a vegetarian diet: vitamin B 12, choline, glycine, preformed vitamin A (retinol), vitamin K2, DHA, iron, and zinc. p. 43
Adequate dietary glycine may help prevent stretch marks, given that collagen is 1/3 glycine by weight. p.37
Animal foods are the only sources of vitamin B12. p.36

The most commonly discussed carotenoid, beta carotene, is up to 28 times less potent than retinol. p.35

You’re 8x more likely to get food poisoning from fresh produce and from eggs p. 32
Organic farms have a 7-fold lower rate of salmonella infection compared to commercial producers. p.32
High blood pressure and high blood sugar tend to go hand in hand, hence lower-carbohydrate diet tend to reduce the severity of high blood pressure. p.24
Fat does not raise your blood sugar or insulin levels and instead supplies a consistent, slow burning stream of energy. p.19
It probably goes counter to everything you’ve been told about what constitutes a “healthy fat,” but lard and butter are far better choices than vegetable oil. p. 18
Your baby’s brain, which is approximately 60% fat, is being formed from scratch during pregnancy. p. 17

Plant proteins contain zero vitamin B12. p.16

If you are facing nausea or food aversions, you may find that eating small amounts of protein every time you eat, whether it’s a snack or a meal, can help. p. 15
If you find yourself with low energy, imbalanced blood sugar, frequent hunger pangs, food cravings (especially for sugar) or headaches- these are common signs that you might not be getting enough protein. p.15

(Not a direct quote) Glycine is an amino acid that is conditionally essential during pregnancy, due to its vital function in healthy fetal growth. It is involved in formation of DNA, organs, connective tissue, bones, blood vessels, skin, joints, placenta, and uterine and skin support for mama. The sources of glycine are animal based. p. 13 (bone broth and slow cooked cuts are best).

Real food is made with simple ingredients that are as close to nature as possible and not processed in a way that removes nutrients. p.6
The things that are within your control- your diet, exercise, sleep habits, the way you handle stress, your exposure to toxins, and more- can have significant effects on your pregnancy and may leave a permanent imprint on your baby’s health. (This is called fetal programming) p. 2
A high quality prenatal vitamin can serve as an insurance policy of sorts, but there really is no replacement for a nutrient-dense diet of real food. p. xvi
A prenatal vitamin is an insurance policy, but don’t assume that you can get “everything” you need in a pill. p. 97
The nutrients most commonly Lacking in a prenatal diet- like vitamins A, B12, B6, zinc, iron, DHA, iodine and choline- are found in the very foods you’re told to limit by conventional prenatal nutrition guidelines. p.xvi
Foods to include in pregnancy meal plans:
Liver (via supplement if not whole food form)
Dark leafy greens
Coconut water (for potassium- which helps prevent swelling)
A combo of raw and cooked veggies
Slow cooked meats, tougher cuts for the glycine and collagen
Fatty fish (selenium binds to Mercury to remove and prevent absorption)- salmon herring sardines
Full fat and fermented dairy (Greek yogurt)

Lily Nichols also wrote a book on Real Food for Gestational Diabetes

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