A guide to pregnancy and childbirth

Chapter 3

Nourishment for Two

From Cosmic intelligence came space;

From space, air;

From air, fire;

From fire, water;

From water, plants;

From plants, food;

And from food the human body,

Heads, arms, legs and heart.

—TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD

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From your earliest childhood, you are barraged with messages about food. In addition to the basic information transmitted by your parents, you’ve received thousands of hours of propaganda from television, radio, roadside advertisements, and print media, all attempting to shape your eating habits. Considering the volume of advice you’ve been exposed to, it’s not surprising that you might be confused about what to eat. It is also not unexpected that since so many people have lost touch with their intrinsic body intelligence, we are facing an epidemic of obesity in our society.

Ayurveda suggests that the wisdom of nature is available in every cell of your body, and if you listen to the messages your body is sending, you will naturally eat a healthy and balanced diet. We view the Ayurvedic approach as nature speaking directly to us. Your senses are created to perceive those things in the world that are nourishing to you. Your ability to taste, smell, and see potential food sources provides the natural clues as to what to favor in your diet and what to reduce. Paying attention to flavors, aromas, and colors in your diet will ensure that you are ingesting the foods you need in order to create a healthy body for you and your unborn baby.

Ayurveda holds that nutrition involves more than what you ingest by way of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Nutrition is the process by which Mother Nature packages energy and information into vegetables, grains, fruits, and nuts that are then metabolized by animals into the energy and information of their bodies. Most fundamentally, food is sunlight condensed into matter.

An ancient Vedic hymn declares, “Food is Brahman,” which means “Food is Intelligence.” When we consume food derived from the union of natural sunlight, fertile earth, pure water, and clean air, our bodies, emotions, and souls are nourished. We inherently recognize the relationship between food and our hearts and souls, as evidenced by our language, which frequently uses flavors and food as metaphors for feelings and emotions. We use expressions such as “sweet love,” “sour grapes,” and “acid tones.” We describe our true emotions as “gut feelings” and tell our children they are so cute “we could eat them up.”

The process of creating a body from food is miraculous. Ayurveda describes the body as DNA wrapped with food. The DNA from you and your partner merges to create your baby, providing the template to weave the energy and information of the environment into your baby’s physical body. When you consume a four-course Italian meal, the minestrone soup, spinach salad, pasta, tomato sauce, string beans, garlic bread, and cannoli carry both energy, in the form of calories, and information, in the form of vitamins, minerals, and natural chemicals. You digest, absorb, and metabolize the energy and information of your food into the intelligence of your body.

Simultaneously your unborn baby extracts and metabolizes the nutritional information in your bloodstream into his developing body. Carotene molecules inside a carrot in your soup become woven into the retina of your baby’s eyes. Essential fatty acids from the olive oil in your salad dressing make up the cell membranes of your baby’s liver. Your baby’s body is manufactured from the food you eat. Although it is true throughout one’s life, it becomes particularly important during pregnancy to consume a healthy, balanced, delicious diet. Fortunately, with a little attention, this is easy to accomplish. The principles are simple: throughout the day, eat foods that carry the six basic flavors your taste buds are capable of identifying and the seven basic colors your eyes are designed to recognize. By paying attention to the six tastes and seven colors, your diet will be delicious and nutritionally complete.

The Six Tastes of Life

From the standpoint of Ayurveda, all sources of potential nourishment can be categorized according to one or more of six basic flavors. These are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. The basic strategy, which holds true whether or not you are pregnant, is to have foods representing all six tastes in your diet on a daily basis. This will ensure that you maintain the appropriate balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat along with abundant levels of essential vitamins and minerals. Variety is the key to a healthy, balanced diet. Let’s review each taste in more detail.

SWEET

If you listen to your body, during pregnancy you will naturally be attracted to sweet foods. This does not imply that you will be consuming large quantities of refined sugar. Any food that is nourishing and brings satisfaction has a sweet component. Sweetness is characteristic of bulk-building foods. Sweet foods are abundant sources of energy, but poorer sources of information. The energy component of foods is quantified by measuring calories. Foods that are calorically rich contain carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each gram of carbohydrate and protein carries about four calories, while each gram of fat contains nine calories.

The sweet category of foods includes milk, cheese, butter, nuts, tofu, breads, pasta, grains, starchy vegetables, sweet fruits, oils, and all animal products. In addition to their mass-building properties, sweet foods are soothing and have a softening effect on tissues. If you look at your grocery cart in the checkout line, you will recognize that foods carrying the sweet taste constitute the largest component of a healthy diet. A healthy balance of foods in this category is essential to supply adequate protein, essential fatty acids, and calories to your developing baby.

SOUR

Sour taste is a feature of organic acids. Citric acid and ascorbic acid, found in citrus fruits, berries, and tomatoes; lactic acid, found in cheese and yogurt; and acetic acid, present in pickles and salad dressings, all carry the sour taste. Sour foods aid in digestion, stimulate the appetite, and help move food through the digestive tract. A healthy diet includes regular doses of the sour taste, primarily through the intake of fruits, berries, and tomatoes. Sweet fruits such as apples, apricots, grapes, plums, and pineapples also carry the sour flavor. Sour-carrying fruits provide essential quantities of vitamin C and flavonoids, which are necessary for healthy cell development and normal immune function.

SALTY

We emerged from the ocean millions of years ago and still carry it in our blood. Salty is the flavor of the ocean and we have an inherent impulse to seek out sources of salt in our diet. In Western society you are much more likely to get too much rather than too little salt in your diet, but your systems could not function without a daily helping of sodium chloride. In addition to table salt, which should be used sparingly, the salty taste is carried in soy sauce, seafood, and seaweed products. In addition to its water-retaining properties, salty foods enhance digestion and are mildly sedating and laxative.

PUNGENT

The pungent flavor is most commonly referred to as “hot” or “spicy.” The pungent taste results from essential oils that stimulate the mucous membranes. These oils have been found to be rich in antioxidants, which explains why spices have been used for millennia to preserve food. The pungent flavor stimulates digestion, helps relieve nausea, cleanses the sinuses and respiratory tract, and is mildly laxative. Many foods carry the pungent flavor—including onions, leeks, garlic, scallions, chives, radishes, and chili peppers. Many of these foods have been shown to help reduce serum cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and enhance immune function. In addition, many culinary spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper, thyme, oregano, rosemary, basil, and nutmeg are mildly to moderately pungent and are flavor-enhancing and health-promoting additions to every diet.

One of the most important pungent spices is gingerroot. This prized medicinal and culinary spice has been used around the world to stimulate digestion and ease nausea. Studies using gingerroot in the treatment of morning sickness have shown it to be moderately effective. Since you will want to avoid any unnecessary medications during pregnancy, drinking ginger tea or chewing on a small piece of gingerroot can be a safe and effective way to relieve the distressing nausea so commonly experienced in the first trimester. Western diets tend to be rather weak when it comes to the spicy taste, but there is abundant evidence to suggest that adding a little pungency to your meals is good for your taste buds and your physiology.

BITTER

Bitter is the flavor of green and yellow vegetables. Their bitter taste is due to the stimulation of specific receptors on the tongue that monitor the levels of certain chemicals in your food. Many of the most important natural health-promoting constituents of vegetables, known as phytonutrients or phytochemicals (phyto is Latin for “plant”) have a bitter taste. These include natural disease-fighting, immune-enhancing, and growth-promoting substances such as flavonoids, polyphenols, and terpenes.

Bitter foods include broccoli, chard, eggplant, spinach, and zucchini. Leafy greens are considered bitter, as are many common culinary and medicinal herbs, such as dill, fenugreek, sage, and chamomile. The bitter taste can stimulate digestion and has a detoxifying effect on the system.

ASTRINGENT

Astringent foods have a puckering or drying effect on mucous membranes. Western nutrition does not usually consider astringency as a separate taste, but the chemicals responsible for this “puckering” effect have many health-enhancing benefits. Foods with an astringent flavor include tart apples, asparagus, green peppers, cranberries, pomegranates, and spinach. Some of the best astringent foods are beans and legumes. Lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and split peas are excellent sources of vegetable protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. They also provide healthy doses of calcium, magnesium, and folic acid.

At the turn of the twentieth century, vegetable sources of protein from nuts, beans, and peas made up a much higher portion of the American diet. Over the past hundred years we have substantially replaced most of these vegetable sources of protein with animal ones. Along with this shift we’ve seen a marked rise in the risk of heart disease and various cancers. There is abundant evidence to suggest that reducing your intake of animal protein and increasing high-quality vegetable sources can enhance your current and future health.

The Colors of Food

Phytochemicals are not only responsible for the flavors and smells of your food; they also underlie its color. In his wonderful book What Color Is Your Diet?, David Heber, M.D., reminds us that expanding the visual palette of your diet improves its nutritional value. Take on the intention to consume a colorful diet, rich with beautiful vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains, and you will take advantage of the health-promoting intelligence that nature provides. From an evolutionary perspective, one of the reasons you are able to perceive the seven colors of the rainbow is so that you can distinguish a juicy ripe red strawberry from an unripe one or a delicious yellow banana from a green one. The average Western diet with its emphasis on browns and beiges tends to be rather bland from a visual as well as nutritional perspective. Examples of foods of various colors are given below. You’ll notice that we naturally eat many red, orange, yellow, and green foods, but it takes more attention to find foods on the blue side of the color spectrum. Enrich your diet with color, and you enrich it with nutrients as well.

Colorful Nutrition

COLOR

EXAMPLES

Red

Strawberries, red bell peppers, pink grapefruit, tomatoes, watermelon, beets, radishes

Orange

Oranges, cantaloupe, carrots, apricots, mango

Yellow

Yellow squash, bananas, onions, peaches, millet

Green

Broccoli, zucchini, spinach, green beans, chard, lima beans

Blue

Blueberries, blue corn

Indigo

Eggplant, blackberries, plums, prunes, black beans

Violet

Grapes, kale, purple potatoes, purple basil

A Balanced Pregnancy Diet

Pregnancy is not a time for radical nutrition. Regardless of your personal dietary choices, you have an obligation to ensure that your food selections are fully nourishing to your unborn baby. The essence of parenting is stretching your boundaries for the benefit of your offspring. If you need to be either more expansive or more selective in your eating practices so your baby-to-be creates a healthy body, view these changes as an opportunity to cultivate flexibility—a trait that will serve you well in child rearing.

There are a few basic principles that apply to nutrition during pregnancy. Be creative in how you follow these principles, but remember that your diet is your unborn baby’s diet.

1. EAT NUTRITIOUS FOOD.

In the later months of your pregnancy, you may find that your capacity for food diminishes due to pressure on digestive organs from your growing womb. Cultivate the habit early so that you don’t waste calories on nutritionally empty food. Rather than indulging on chips and cookies, favor fruits, yogurt, and whole-grain cereals. This does not mean that you cannot enjoy a daily delicious treat; simply be conscious of the nutritional value of everything you allow into your body.

2. LISTEN TO YOUR APPETITE.

During most of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, pregnant women were told to restrict their food intake and limit their weight gain. As a result, problems associated with low-birth-weight babies were common, including increased susceptibility to infection and delayed neurological development. The injunction to limit weight gain derived from the recognition that small babies are easier to deliver than large ones.

We now know that a well-balanced nutritional program naturally leads to bigger, healthier babies. In general, a weight gain of 25 to 35 pounds leads to the healthiest newborns. These extra pounds are composed of the following:

Baby: 71⁄2 pounds

Uterus: 21⁄2-pound weight gain

Placenta: 1 pound

Amniotic fluid: 2 pounds

Mother’s breasts: 3-pound weight gain

Mother’s blood: 4-pound increase

Mother’s fat: 5+ pound increase

Total weight gain: 25+ pounds

Listening to your appetite is the best way to ensure that you add weight at the right rate, which is a few pounds during the first trimester and about a pound per week for the remainder of the pregnancy. Listening to your appetite means eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are comfortably satisfied. A useful way to consider your appetite is by envisioning a satiety gauge, where 0 is completely empty and 10 is stuffed. The general rule is to eat when you are at level 3 and stop when you are at level 7. Level 3 means you are very hungry and thinking about food, but not having hunger pangs. Level 7 means you are comfortably full, but still have about a third of your stomach empty. Avoiding the impulse to eat until you are stuffed maximizes your digestive power and ensures you are getting the appropriate caloric intake.

3. CONSUME ADEQUATE AMOUNTS OF HIGH-QUALITY PROTEIN.

Protein-rich foods supply the essential amino acids that are necessary for healthy fetal development. Proteins are indispensable components of cells, enzymes, and many hormones. The protein you ingest is broken down in your stomach and the early part of your small intestines. The resultant amino acids are absorbed farther down the digestive tract and assembled into the essential structures of your body and the body of your unborn baby.

The recommended intake of protein for a pregnant woman is approximately .5 grams per pound of body weight. If you weigh 120 pounds, you should be eating about 60 grams of protein per day (0.5 × 120 = 60). Examples of the protein content of different foods are listed below.

Protein Contents

FOOD

QUANTITY

GRAMS OF PROTEIN

Milk

1 cup

9

Cottage cheese

2 ounces

9

Egg

1 whole

6

Beans or peas

1⁄2 cup dried, cooked

8

Roasted nuts

1⁄4 cup

6–7

Peanut butter

1 tbsp

4

Vegetables

1⁄2 cup

1–3

Fruits

1⁄2 cup

1–2

Pasta or rice

1⁄2 cup, cooked

2

Bread, wheat

1 slice

2–3

Fish, fowl, meat

3 ounces, cooked

15–25

Your body is unable to synthesize eight essential amino acids in adequate amounts and, therefore, you must ingest them from outside food sources. All eight of these amino acids are present in dairy and animal products, but one or more are usually deficient in vegetable protein sources. This does not mean that you cannot get sufficient high-quality protein on a pure vegan diet, but it does mean that you must be extremely careful to combine abundant amounts of beans, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. If you are vegetarian, it is much easier and safer to follow a lacto-ovo diet during pregnancy, consuming regular doses of dairy products and eggs. In the interest of your environment, your unborn baby, and yourself, consume only organic milk, cheese, and yogurt, and eggs from free-ranging, hormone-free chickens.

4. CONSUME FOODS THAT CONTAIN BOTH OMEGA-3 AND OMEGA-6 FATTY ACIDS.

Essential fatty acids are required for the normal development of the fetal nervous system and immune system. The fetus extracts the required fats from the circulation of Mother, who must consume them in her diet. There are two main categories of essential fats, commonly known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Most Western diets are high in omega-6 but relatively deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are abundant in most seed- and nut-derived oils, such as almond, corn, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and walnut. Seed oils contain relatively low levels of omega-3 fatty acids with the exception of flaxseed, canola, and soybean. Most green vegetables are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but since there is so little fat in vegetables, the total dose of omega-3 fatty acids from vegetables is limited.

Fish oils contain abundant quantities of omega-3 fatty acids, but there is increasing concern that predatory fish (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish) along with freshwater fish contain potentially hazardous levels of the toxin methylmercury. The Food and Drug Administration has advised pregnant women to avoid eating these fish and to limit their intake of other seafood to 12 ounces per week. Tuna is in the gray zone because larger tuna that are sold for steaks have higher concentrations of mercury, whereas the smaller tuna most often used for canned fish have lower levels. Mercury released from industrial sites enters our water supply through the air and soil and becomes concentrated in fish. It has been shown that the consumption of mercury-containing fish by pregnant women can lead to toxic levels, which may impair neurological development in their unborn babies.

The bottom line is to put attention on adding omega-3 food sources to your diet. Cook with canola or soybean oil, add roasted flaxseeds to your salads and sautéed vegetables, and eat a few walnuts every day. If you eat fish, do not overdo it and avoid those that are known to carry a higher risk for mercury contamination.

5. TAKE A HIGH-QUALITY PRENATAL VITAMIN SUPPLEMENT THROUGHOUT YOUR PREGNANCY.

Even with the best intentions to eat a balanced diet, you do not want to risk a nutritional deficiency while you are pregnant. Many of your essential nutrient needs rise during pregnancy, including increased requirements for calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamin D. Your need for antioxidant vitamins (A, C, E) rises by 10 to 20 percent. With the increased metabolic activity of pregnancy comes a slightly increased requirement for the B vitamins. One of the B vitamins, folic acid, has been identified as a critical nutrient, which if deficient can lead to developmental defects in the brain and spinal cord. Supplementation with folic acid is considered prudent; most prenatal daily vitamins contain 800 mcg of it.

All essential vitamins and minerals are necessary for a healthy baby, but it is possible to overdose. Too much vitamin A has been associated with a variety of birth defects, so current recommendations are to consume less than 10,000 international units (IUs) per day. Between a balanced diet and a good standard prenatal vitamin, you will easily ensure that both you and your baby are well nourished. Discuss with your health care advisor his or her vitamin recommendations, but don’t substitute good vitamins for good food.

Eating with Awareness

From a mind-body perspective, nutrition is not limited to just the food we consume. The environment in which we dine, our emotional state, and the conversations we engage in during the meal are as essential to optimal nutrition as the food we are eating. How we eat is as important as what we eat. Try the exercise on page 90 to have a clear experience of how it feels to eat mindfully.

Vitamin and Mineral Intake During Pregnancy

NUTRIENT

RECOMMENDED
DAILY
ALLOWANCE (RDA)

STANDARD
PRENATAL VITAMIN
SUPPLEMENT

       

Vitamin A

4000 IU

2500–5000 IU

Vitamin D

400 IU

400 IU

Vitamin E

24 IU

30 IU

Vitamin C

60 mg

60–120 mg

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)

1.1 mg

1.6–3 mg

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

1.3 mg

1.8–3.4 mg

Niacinamide

15 mg

17–20 mg

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

1.6 mg

4 mg

Folate

400 mcg

800 mcg

Vitamin B12

2 mcg

12 mcg

Calcium

1200 mg

200–250 mg

Magnesium

280 mg

100 mg

Iron

15 mg

28–90 mg

Zinc

12 mg

25 mg

Iodine

150 mcg

150–200 mcg

Copper

2 mg

2–3 mg

IU = international units • mg = milligrams • mcg = micrograms

   
       

Exercise

This is a fun exercise to do with a partner or friend. Select three different types of food to use for this exercise. For example, you might select an orange slice, a few raisins, and some sunflower seeds. Group your choices into three separate piles.

Close your eyes and sit quietly for a few minutes. Feel yourself breathing in and out and allow your body to relax. Notice the space inside your body and keep breathing into your inner space until you feel settled. Now open your eyes and select a piece of food. Look at it closely and notice its color and texture. What does it feel like as you hold it between your fingers? Notice its aroma. Slowly close your eyes and put this piece of food into your mouth. Feel the sensations as it enters your body. Notice the flavor and texture as you begin to chew. Experience the sensations of your tongue moving the food inside your mouth. Do you like or dislike the taste? Is this flavor triggering any memories? Wait until the bite is completely liquefied before you swallow it. Can you feel it moving down your esophagus into your stomach? How full is your stomach?

Once you are finished with your first bite, sit quietly for a few moments and reflect on what you noticed. You may, for example, discover that flavors and textures are more vibrant. Reflect on what it feels like to be present to each aspect of eating. When you feel ready, try another type of food. Repeat the same process. Notice all the sensations that this new food brings to your awareness. Savor each bite. After you have swallowed, sit quietly once again. When you are ready, try the last type of food. Notice the differences and similarities in tastes, sensations, aromas, and memories evoked by each piece of food. When you feel ready, open your eyes and share your experience with your partner.

Practice eating with awareness. Most of us do not take the time to just sit and eat. We are too busy eating and doing, eating and talking, eating and working, even eating and driving. We forget that eating is a delightful experience in itself, worthy of our full attention. When you eat with awareness, you will notice how each bite nourishes your body, mind, and soul. Choose one meal this week to eat in silence, noticing the flavors, sensations, and aromas that nurture you.

Body Intelligence Techniques for Pregnancy

Here are some suggestions to help expand your enjoyment at each meal.

• Eat your meals in a peaceful and settled environment. Avoid eating when you are upset.

• Eliminate alcohol, nicotine, and nonprescription drugs from your life.

• Make an effort to eliminate or cut back on caffeine, remembering that chocolate and soft drinks often contain caffeine.

• Honor your appetite. You may get hungry many times per day, particularly later in your pregnancy. Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you are satiated.

• Don’t overeat; leave about a third of your stomach empty to aid digestion.

• Eat at a comfortable pace; stay conscious of the process.

• Eat freshly prepared foods. Lightly cooked foods are preferable to raw or overcooked foods.

• Favor fruits, vegetables, and grains.

• Favor low-fat dairy, almonds, and honey.

• Reduce ice-cold foods and beverages.

• Drink plenty of pure, room-temperature water each day.

• Sit quietly for a few minutes after finishing your meal.

• Honor any cravings you may have, but indulge in them with awareness.

• Include all six tastes at every meal.

• Comply with any supplementary vitamins recommended by your health provider.

With each bite of food, you ingest a universe of experiences. Many things conspired to create the carrots on your plate—the rain, sunshine, and clouds, the plants and animals in the ecosystem of the carrot farm, the farmer and his relationships, the soil, insects, worms, and birds, the production plant, the truck drivers, the food market, and the produce manager. The more you consider how much is involved in the creation of your foods, the more you must marvel at the web of life and how you and your baby are inextricably woven into it. Be mindful as you choose the food you eat, for you are not only choosing for yourself, you are choosing for your unborn baby as well.

Enliven Through Your Attention

• Place your hands on your belly a few times throughout the day and send loving thoughts to your unborn baby.

• Journal each day about your experiences.

• Early in your pregnancy, plant a tree or flowering bush to symbolize the growth of your baby in the womb. After your child is born, you can take care of the plant together.

• Read enchanting stories and heartfelt poetry aloud to your baby and listen to beautiful, relaxing music each day.

• Perform a daily oil massage on yourself before you bathe or shower.

• Diffuse an aroma while listening to music, while soaking in a tub, or while meditating to create the association between the fragrance and the relaxed state of awareness.

• Ensure that you have all six tastes available during your meals throughout the day.

• Choose to eat meals that are rich in color, aroma, and texture.

• Be mindful as you eat your meals. Eat at least one meal each week in silence with your full awareness.