Many cultures around the world, for centuries, have known the benefits of eating certain foods for not only a healthy lifestyle but also to assist with recovery of illness and disease. In today’s busy time-poor society, with the instant gratification of sugary foods, loaded with artificial ingredients, readily available, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy diet. However, with a little forward planning, there are a number of foods, you can incorporate into your diet, that can help keep your body and your developing baby’s body maintaining healthy functions. These foods are often called Superfoods. Many whole food nutritionists have the opinion that any natural food is a Superfood, although, I feel there are certain foods that stand out above the rest.
So what is a Superfood? A Superfood is a nutritionally rich food that gives many positive benefits to your body. It is not only fuel for your body, Superfoods also have the ability to heal, repair, improve and enhance your wellbeing whilst working as a health preventative against ailments, illness and serious diseases.
And… What is all the hype about? We’ve all seen the purple Acai bowl signs, at what feels like every second café these days. Chances are you’ll go inside to see chia seed pudding, cacao energy balls, turmeric lattes, quinoa salads and coconut everything on the menu.
Well here is the low down on these awesome ingredients…
Acai Berries (a-SIGH-ee)
These berries contain more antioxidants than grapes, blueberries, red wine (anthocyanins) and more protein than eggs. They are high in fibre (perfect for pregnancy related constipation), vitamins & minerals and essential fatty acids (great for healthy brain function). Acai berries are low GI, providing a slow and steady blood sugar release. They are also beneficial for your nervous system, increased energy, blood vessels, eyes and connective tissue, whilst having anti-inflammatory & anti-bacterial properties. Acai contains Coenzyme Q10 (this powers your body’s cells & maintains heart health), vitamin C & E, glutathione (the master detoxifier) and bioflavonoids (great to help repair pesky haemorrhoids).
Amaranth is a complete protein. This is due to the amino acid, Lysine, completing the protein structure within the seed. It is high in fibre, iron (8 times more than wheat), calcium, B vitamins, zinc, folate, vitamin C, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese. This seed, more commonly known as a grain, has toning and strengthening effects on the body. Amaranth is highly recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as it is easily absorbed and bio-available to nourish your body.
In Aztec and Toltec cultures cacao is highly revered and many ceremonies have involved this sacred chocolate. It is rich in magnesium, amino acids & peptides. Cacao’s qualities help to lower high blood pressure, cholesterol and assist in the prevention of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) & leg cramps. It is said to help increase sexual energy (pregnancy hormones can affect this) and is a powerful antioxidant. Use this in moderation as there is a caffeine component to cacao, albeit it is only approximately 20% of a cup of coffee.
These little seeds are energy packed! There are stories of Amazon Warriors running for days after ingesting just one chia seed. If this is true, then I am sure most mothers with young children will be lining up for their Chia hit! High in protein, iron, calcium, omega 3 & 6 and antioxidants. They are rich in magnesium, B vitamins, zinc, boron, potassium, copper & phosphorus, all essential nutrients for a healthy body.
The closest match to mothers’ milk! Having said that, it is not to be used as a supplement to breast milk. Containing a new buzz name – medium chain triglycerides (MCT) that convert essential fatty acids into energy. Coconut is an antioxidant that also helps to stabilise blood sugar levels, balance hormones and boosts healing on a cellular level. Coconuts help to improve the immune system, thyroid function, pancreas, liver and can prevent heart disease. Coconut water, flesh and extra virgin oil produce monolaurin within the body, giving a powerful antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal and antibiotic effect.
Use the oil to rub into your blooming belly to prevent stretch marks and add it to smoothies for improved brain function, associated with “Baby Brain”. Blood flow can be improved due to coconuts’ close match to blood plasma. They also help to boost your metabolism and burn postnatal fat. A word of warning though, excess consumption will more than likely cause diarrhoea. So if you’re feeling a little backed up, from progesterone relaxing the muscles of your bowels making them a little lazy or from your iron supplement then “Cheers” to a daily glass of coconut water.
Aside from many being unsure of the correct pronunciation, Quinoa contains all 9 of the essential amino acids that our bodies require to build muscle and body tissue. Therefore, it makes for perfect nutrition for developing babies. Quinoa is high in protein, iron, fibre & manganese. One amino acid present, L-tryptophan, helps balance moods and aids in a good night sleep. (Ummm… Bonus!) Quinoa can help carry oxygen to your brain and extremities, lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar levels.
This is a thought to be a miracle spice amongst many. Some of the numerous healing properties known to this spice is its function as a natural anti inflammatory and impressive antioxidant. It is said to possess qualities for improved brain function, whilst lowering the risk of heart disease. Many people, with different cancers, include turmeric in their daily diet as health professionals state it possesses anti carcinogenic properties. Turmeric can be beneficial to depression, think of those postpartum blues. Turmeric is best absorbed when taking in conjunction with ground black pepper.
I am truly passionate about food and the benefits it has to our health and longevity. I could write so much more on Superfoods and nutrition… but who has the time to read everything that we want to these days, right!
On that note, I am going to leave you with a list of helpful Superfoods that can benefit a few common ailments in your pregnancy, with some recipes to follow…
Anaemia (low iron)
During pregnancy you will increase your blood volume by up to 50%. Iron is essential for making haemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells), to carry oxygen to other cells, the placenta and your baby. For this reason many women become anaemic in pregnancy due to iron deficiency. Some iron supplements can cause constipation; therefore, sourcing iron from fresh food can help prevent this. Obviously, some Hb levels can be extremely low requiring an iron transfusion. Please seek individualised advice from your midwife and/or obstetrician if you have low iron. Your haemoglobin (Hb) is usually checked with your first collection of antenatal bloods, 28 weeks and again at 36 weeks gestation.
Essential Superfoods – Kale, Spinach, Quinoa, Banana, Watermelon, Himalayan salt
Babies require large amounts of magnesium and calcium to develop their muscles and bones, which means you may be depleted from both of these minerals causing dreadful leg cramps.
Essential Superfoods – Cacao, Sunflower seeds, Amaranth, Barley grass, Quinoa, Cinnamon, Kale, Cranberries, Buckwheat
Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM)
GDM can range from being diet controlled to needing medication. It can occur in a small percentage of women around 24 to 28 weeks gestation when the hormone, Insulin, is not functioning properly or at all. This then causes your body to use glucose ineffectively.
Note: If you are under the advice of an endocrinologist, please follow their guidance for your individualised care.
Essential Superfoods – Organic Cinnamon powder, Coconut oil, Quinoa, Honey (Raw), Sunflower seeds, Avocado, Kale, Barley grass
Hypertension is a serious ailment to have in pregnancy, as it may indicate something more sinister called pre-eclampsia. If you become symptomatic with headaches, visual disturbances, epigastric pain (located at the upper central region of your abdomen), swelling in your hands, feet or face and you have a general sense of feeling unwell, see your health care professional immediately. However, as a preventative you could try the ingredients from the list below.
Essential Superfoods – Coconut (water & oil), Kale, Berries (Acai, Blue, Goji, Maqui), Bananas, Cacao
“Morning sickness” is responsible for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Unfortunately, this so-called “morning sickness”, can become all-day sickness for some women. The jury is still out on what actually causes it… Although, the most common thoughts are a combination of hormonal changes and low blood sugar levels. Frequent small meals are recommended. A teaspoon of raw honey will help if you feel your blood sugar has lowered, this can be experienced by jitteriness and/or low energy. Some women require medical treatment for severe morning sickness known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
Essential Superfoods – Ginger, Banana, Sunflower seeds, Garlic (high in vitamin B6), Avocado, Spinach, Raw honey
For those first time mums, you will have more time to make this all-important Superfood Porridge for breakfast. For those already busy mums, try the Chia Seed Breakfast Bowl. It’s as simple as adding ingredients to a mason jar, popping it in the fridge overnight and eating it the next morning.
Organic produce is always best, so please use where available. The last thing your body needs, when it is building a baby, is to eliminate unnecessary pesticide residue from your food intake.
All ingredients below are available from your local Health Food Shop or Woolworths.
Superfood Porridge (for Gestational Diabetes)
2 cups Quinoa
1 cup Amaranth
1 Tablespoon Coconut oil
1 Tablespoon Raw Honey
1 teaspoon Cinnamon (organic)
1 handful Sunflower seeds
Boil quinoa and amaranth in a saucepan of filtered water (1 part quinoa & amaranth, 3 parts water) until cooked (approx. 20 mins.) Lower heat, 5 minutes before removing from the stove add, cinnamon and sunflower seeds. Remove from heat once cooked, drain any excess water, and add coconut oil and honey.
Superfood Porridge (a non GDM method)
Add the following to the quinoa/amaranth mix in the saucepan
1 handful Dates (roughly chopped)
1 whole Apple (cut into wedges)
1 handful Almonds
1 handful Cashews
Cook for approximately 20 mins. 5 mins before removing from heat add 1 handful of goji berries with cinnamon and sunflower seeds. Once removed from heat add honey and coconut oil…
Milk (of your choice) to taste and 2 Tablespoons Yoghurt.
Chia Seed Breakfast Bowl
In a mason jar add a few almonds, Brazil Nuts and Goji Berries with a teaspoon of hemp seeds, Hemp Protein Powder, cocoa powder and quinoa flakes. Add a dash of MCT coconut oil and a few tablespoons of Chia seeds. Top up with Coconut Dream milk, Yoghurt, fresh blueberries and fresh raspberries and banana. Finally, sprinkle with organic cinnamon and leave in the fridge overnight to set or for several hours in the morning.