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Eating Right for Moms

Without a doubt, the single most effective way to replenish your body is through good nutrition. Unfortunately, most of us currently have a diet that is vastly different from the one that we are adapted to through millions of years of evolution, which was mostly meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Humans started eating dairy products and whole grains just ten thousand years ago - a blip on the evolutionary time scale. And its only the last fifty years that have seen the widespread use of refined grains, sugars, and oils, as well as packaged foods, pesticides, and artificial ingredients.

It helps to look back in time just a few decades to appreciate how rapidly our dietary intake has changed. Prior to World War II, there were virtually no processed foods, with meals prepared mostly by stay-at-home mothers whose role identity was focused on the care and feeding of the family. Meals were made up of basic fresh ingredients, home-canned items, and breads baked locally.

But with the need for women in the workforce during the war, for the first time women came out of their homes in large numbers to work in industry and service jobs. This generated a demand for convenience foods and gave birth to a new industry of food processing to help busy, dual-role housewives. Canned foods were widely marketed, since women no longer had the time to can their own. "Balloon breads," packaged baked goods, snack crackers, and chips made their way onto grocery store shelves for the first time.

Soon thereafter, with advances in refrigeration at home and on the trucking routes, frozen foods became increasingly a part of the average American household. By the 1960s, packaged and highly processed foods were commonplace in most American homes. With the rise of television advertising, sugar-coated cereals were being marketed directly to children. Quick, easy, and without a morning fight, they flooded our markets and kitchen cupboards. The percentage of total daily calories from refined sugar looks like the rise of the Dow Jones average over the years: up, up, and up! Meanwhile, fast-food restaurants have spread widely, emphasizing the same sorts of foods: quick, processed, and super-sized with fat, sugar, and man-made chemicals.

Although in the short run some people seem able to get away with this diet without too many bad consequences, the statistics on the explosion of cancer, heart disease, Type II diabetes, and obesity in children in the last century are cautionary for anyone. But in particular, your own needs now are special and specific: bearing, breast-feeding, and rearing a child are physiologically demanding activities like no others, and pulling them off while staying truly healthy requires that you honor the fundamental biology of your body and nourish it in ways that may have been less crucial before you had children. Which means eating a lot more like your great-great-Paleolithic-grandmother than having a bagel and coffee for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch, and something microwaved for dinner. It is not always easy, but mothers who have started eating better tell us that they soon experience more energy, a lift in mood, improvement in health conditions like dry skin or PMS, and an overall sense of greater health. It's fundamentally simple: you improve your body's balance sheet by eating more healthy foods and fewer worthless or toxic ones. At every meal, trillions of molecules at a time, you'll be literally rebuilding the tissues of your body.

For a snapshot of your current diet, please complete this self-assessment (PDF). If you're already scoring high, great. But if not, in the next few pages you'll find our daily Mother Nurture recipe, designed specifically with a mom's nutritional needs in mind. It's comprised of only seven ingredients - though you need each one, just like the flour, salt, and baking powder in a recipe for biscuits. In sum, every day you should try to eat:

  1. Eight to twelve ounces of protein
  2. Five to seven servings of fresh vegetables, and one to two fruits
  3. Unrefined oils and essential fatty acids instead of refined or hydrogenated oils, or trans-fatty acids
  4. Two to five servings of unrefined, varied whole grains
  5. Organic foods whenever possible
  6. High potency nutritional supplements
  7. Zero or very little refined sugar

There are basically two ways to shift your diet in a healthier direction: (1) make sweeping changes all at once, or (2) work your way into it. Whichever path you take, we urge you to stay on it until you end up with truly mother-nurturing nutrition. If you slip now and then, as almost everyone does, just get back on the path at your next meal. Optimizing nutrition often takes several tries, but each time something improves. Even small changes in the right direction add up as the years go by.

Since healthy nutrition usually involves trying new things and giving up some goodies (glazed donuts, etc.), a person needs to understand the reasons she's doing it, which is why we explain the health benefits of each ingredient in our recipe. You could also stay motivated by paying special attention to the ways eating wholesome foods helps you take good care of yourself, or even makes you feel part of a circle, offering the sustenance of maternal care and taking in the sustenance of the earth's great bounty. Eating in a healthy way provides a good model for children, too, and it helps their mother stay good-humored and patient with them, even when the oatmeal starts flying.



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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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