Eating Right for Moms
Because you lose protein during pregnancy and nursing, and your body uses more protein when it is chronically stressed, you need lots of protein, about 50 to 65 grams a day. Protein also helps stabilize your blood sugar and prevent insulin insensitivity and Type II diabetes.
- Eat 3-4 ounces of protein (about the size of a deck of cards) at every meal.
- In particular, eat protein at breakfast. Rather than kicking off the day with wild swings in your blood sugar, try a breakfast with a serving of protein (e.g., two eggs, a piece of lean chicken, or a large handful of almonds). If you make morning protein the foundation of your day's nutrition, you'll have less of an energy and mood crash in the afternoon.
- When you want something sweet, have some protein instead, like a hard-boiled egg, hummus on crackers, or a piece of turkey jerky. That will satisfy your hunger and keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
- You can get protein conveniently from these foods:
Eggs. These contain very balanced proteins. You may have avoided them because of concerns about cholesterol, but recent studies have found that eggs do not increase the risk of heart disease, and in fact they may raise the level of good, HDL cholesterol (but if your cholesterol is very high, check with your doctor about eating eggs). Try to get them from free-range hens on a healthy diet. If you're in a hurry, you can hard-boil eggs in advance and eat one or two at breakfast.
Fish. Salmon is an excellent choice because it contains high levels of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) every mother needs. Besides eating it fresh, you can find salmon jerky in many health food stores. Try to minimize fish at the top of the ocean food chain - like tuna, shark, or swordfish - because mercury and other toxins increase as you move up the chain.
Lean meat. Many mothers - especially when nursing or pregnant - seem to need animal-based protein (though some do fine with a vegetarian diet). Select lean cuts of meat (poultry without the skin, round steak, etc.) to decrease saturated fats and the toxins that concentrate in fat. For convenience, many health food stores sell different kinds of tasty "jerkies" made from beef or turkey, but without any nitrites or other preservatives.
Dairy products. Although milk, cheese, and yogurt are considered good sources of protein, they are best used in moderation because many people have an allergy to milk or cannot digest the lactose in it, and keeping the digestive tract in good shape is a top priority for a mother. If you have excessive mucus, sinus infections, gastrointestinal disturbance, or dark circles under your eyes, try experimenting with eating no dairy products for a couple of weeks, and see how you feel. If you have trouble with dairy, small amounts of goat milk products may be tolerable. If you're wondering about calcium, you can get a fair amount of it in cauliflower, broccoli, peas, and beans, but unless you're eating many cups of these vegetables every day (or several servings of sardines or canned salmon, which also contain lots of calcium), you'll want to make sure to take a calcium supplement if you don't eat dairy foods.
Nuts. Easy to take with you. Get a good trail mix or make your own (almonds are particularly high in protein); kids often like to help: just combine your favorite nuts with some nonsulfered dried fruit. Nut butters are also delicious; try almond or sesame butter instead of peanut butter if you are allergic or sensitive to peanuts. Almond butter on a rice cake topped with apple slices is a delicious and healthy breakfast.
Soy. Soybeans contain a high proportion of protein, and they may also help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer. You can add soybeans to stews or soups, or toss tofu chunks into your stirfry or casseroles. In your baking, you could experiment with replacing half or more of the wheat flour with soy flour. Soymilk comes in many flavors, and you may be surprised to find that your children really like it. (But don't overdo the soy, since it's a common allergen, plus excessive amounts can suppress the functioning of the thyroid gland.)
Hummus. This Middle Eastern food is made from garbanzo beans and sesame seeds. You can buy it in most supermarkets or make your own, lower-fat version.
Protein shakes. Just put some protein powder into a blender with diluted juice, milk, or soymilk, and perhaps some fresh fruit, and voila! - you've got an instant high-protein meal. If you are going to use these regularly, alternate types of protein powder (such as whey-, soy-, or egg-based) to get a variety.
Combining vegetarian foods. If you're a vegetarian, as each of us has been at different times, you probably know about using food combinations (like rice and beans) for maximum protein. (Diet for a Small Planet or Laurel's Kitchen offer good introductions to this subject; please see the list below for other books on healthy nutrition.) Since meat is the only significant source of iron and vitamin B12 in the diet, a vegetarian should usually take these as part of a daily supplement.
Good Books for Good Nutrition
Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Elson Haas
Nutrition Made Simple by Robert Crayhon
Smart Fats by Michael Schmidt
Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy by Walter C. Willett
Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé
The New Laurel's Kitchen by Laurel Robertson, Brian Ruppenthal, and Carol L. Flinders
Diet for a New America by John Robbins
More on: Planning Healthy Meals for Families
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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