The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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At first glance, the ideal green diet looks simple: Choose what’s organic, in season and locally grown. “But that’s not always possible, especially if you’re pregnant during winter in the Northeast,” says Elizabeth Ward, R.D., author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During & After Pregnancy (Wiley). “You need to strike a balance between saving the Earth and eating what’s right for you and your baby.” That means focusing on fruits, vegetables and grain products fortified with folic acid and iron, cutting back on processed foods and upgrading to environmentally sustainable foods when you can.
“There are tremendous benefits to eating organic foods during pregnancy,” says Ward. They’re grown without pesticides, and some studies even show they’re higher in nutrients. Locally grown, seasonal foods may also be more nutritious, if only because they’re fresher—and, the Earth also benefits, as fewer fossil fuels are used to transport them. But organic can be costly, and not everyone can get herself to a farmers market where local food is plentiful.
“It’s better to eat healthy foods that are conventionally grown than to skimp on them because you’re afraid of how they’re produced,” Ward says. “No prenatal supplement can supply the phytonutrients you get from fresh fruits and vegetables, even if they come all the way from Chile.” Or you can go organic only for produce that otherwise would test high on the pesticide scale, such as apples, peaches and bell peppers.
Getting your daily protein in an eco-friendly way is another challenge. Many fish that are great sources of protein—and of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the omega-3 fatty acids essential to fetal brain development—also contain mercury, a heavy metal that can endanger a fetus. Experts recommend you eat fish no more than twice a week; small, low-mercury species, such as salmon, sardines, mussels, anchovies and oysters, are best. Boost your omega-3s with other foods rich in fatty acids, including walnuts, canola oil and flaxseed, and with fish oil supplements or vegetarian supplements produced from algae.
Pay attention to your meat purchases. You can trust that certified organic beef and poultry come from animals that were raised on 100-percent organic feed and were never given hormones or antibiotics, but you’ll pay more for the privilege, Ward says. Locally produced milk, meat and poultry are fine, as long as the dairy or farm has a reputation for cleanliness. Or you can cut back. Industrial-scale meat production contributes to 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases—even more than transportation! If you limit meat consumption for health or environmental reasons, add more beans, legumes and nuts to your diet, along with eggs from locally raised chickens.
YOU find it easier to keep your weight gain at the recommended level, which lowers your risk for gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and a too-big baby.
YOUR BABY is exposed to fewer pesticides and drug residues, a gift to his or her developing neurological system.
THE PLANET experiences less global warming, and fewer harmful, toxic chemicals used to farm conventionally grown foods will poison our natural world.