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Paleo and Pregnancy

For those of you who have received chiropractic treatment from Dr Joe or myself, you have probably heard us mention the paleo lifestyle a fair few times and the wide variety of known health benefits it provides.

However, today I will look even further into the topic of paleo and pregnancy, looking at foetal health and the practical applications of a paleo lifestyle during pregnancy.

The paleo diet consists of the food that hunter gatherers would have been able to source and eat, such as meat, fish, nuts and berries and excludes food groups such as dairy, grain and refined sugars. Which would not have been available for consumption in the paleolithic era and have more recently been shown to have negative effects to your health.

As I’m sure a lot of you know about omega 3 fatty acids and the supplement fish oils, particularly in pregnancy.  Paleo nutrition is naturally high in omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for foetal brain and eye development and have even been shown to prevent postnatal depression. A 2011 study3 showed that an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy could be attributed to a lower incidence of the common cold and shorter durations of illness after delivery – meaning the body’s ability to recover from illness is greatly increased.

Your iron requirements significantly increase during pregnancy, and paleo is an excellent way to meet those requirements. The paleo diet combats iron deficient anaemia in two ways - the first is by high-iron animal products. Animal products aren’t only high in iron, but they also contain heme iron, which is the most easily absorbed form for the body to utilise.  Paleo also restricts the intake of iron-inhibiting foods, such as dairy and grain products. This was particularly noted by Cordain3, as he found that grain products are high in phytates, which block the absorption of iron as well as other vital nutrients, including calcium and zinc.

 As mentioned above, calcium is another important nutrient for pregnant women as it helps a baby’s skeleton develop.  If a woman doesn’t get enough in her diet, the fetus will extract some calcium from the mother’s bones, causing a much higher risk of osteoporosis later in life.  Calcium is often a concern for many people on Paleo because they believe the only way to get it is through dairy.  This is a common misconception, as there are plenty of non-dairy sources of calcium available.  Dark leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale contain significant amounts of calcium, as does bone broth or bone-in fish like salmon and sardines.

Following the paleo diet is also a good way for mums who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes to help control the condition. The paleo diet is a low glycemic-index diet plan, meaning it helps keep blood sugar levels balanced and at a healthy normal level. By replacing high-sugar, high glycemic-index foods with healthy low glycemic-index choices, like fruits and vegetables, pregnant women can also decrease their chances of developing gestational diabetes in the first place.

One thing for mother’s to be aware of is the fact that excessive protein intake can increase morning sickness and nausea in general.  So, during pregnancy, you should modify the paleo diet to avoid high protein intake, since pregnant women have lower tolerance for high protein diets.  Excessive protein intake during pregnancy increases the risk of having a low birth-weight baby and even increases the general fetal mortality rate.  Cordain3 recommends pregnant women incorporate plenty of fatty foods into their diet and increase their starchy carb intake during pregnancy, from food products such as sweet potatoes, broccoli and leafy green veg.

Some key foods to avoid during all three trimesters are fish high in mercury, such as canned tuna and to get the required vitamin A from eating orange coloured fruits instead of getting it from liver products such as pate and cod liver oil.

In conclusion, it is a good idea to continue with paleo during pregnancy, but be aware of the slight modifications needed and also the need for an increased food consumption. It is important to remember the paleo nutrition benefits, including high fatty acid and iron levels, which are also essential for after labor and delivery, particularly for breastfeeding your baby.

Dr. Chris Braxton D.C.

References

1. Imhoff-Kunsch, B, et al. 2011 . Prenatal Docosahexaenoic Acid Supplementation and Infant Morbidity: Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics.

2. Cheng K. et al. 1970. Study of Pregnancy Ketosis in the Rat. Experimental Physiology, 1970: 44, 83-92

3.Cordain, L. 2012. The Paleo Answer. John Wiley & Sons inc.

4. Sussmann, D. et al. 2013. A gestational ketogenic diet alters maternal metabolic status as well as offspring physiological growth and brain structure in the neonatal mouse. Biomed Central Pregnancy and Childbirth, 2013: 13:198. 

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