Women's Health

Pregnancy and Diet: The Macronutrients

What should I eat when I'm pregnant?

Calories

Why are pregnant women always so hungry? Energy requirements go up when you're eating for two! Your body requires an at least an additional 300cal/day during pregnancy (340cal/day during 2nd trimester and 452cal/day during 3rd trimester). 

Protein

It is estimated that about 925g of protein is accumulated during pregnancy. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks for your cells. It is very important for the growth of the fetus, specifically the brain, and also for breast and uterine growth. It is even more important to get enough protein during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, as this is when the fetus is growing the fastest. These increased demands must be met by the maternal diet. Pregnant women should be consuming 75-100g/day of protein (about 20% of your calories) or 2-3 servings. 

How much is 75-100g of protein?
Meat: 2-3 servings of meat (30 oz/serving)
Legumes: 2-3 servings of legumes (1/2 cup/serving)
Nuts: 1/3 cup of nuts will give you one serving of protein

Fat

Pregnant women should consume about 33% of their calories from healthy fats (about 40-60g/day). This energy from fat is used for fetal growth and development, specifically brain and vision. It also serves as a source of fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: DHA and EPA

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for development and growth. Since our bodies can't synthesize these fatty acids, we must get them through diet. EPA and DHA occur naturally together in foods. During pregnancy, DHA is extremely important for fetal nervous system development. Consuming adequate DHA and EPA during pregnancy is linked to higher intelligence, better vision, and a more mature CNS. Also, inadequate DHA during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk for maternal depression

How much DHA do you need?
DHA: minimum of 300mg/day
Sources: cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, anchovies, herring). With the concern of heavy metals in these sources, many people opt for fish oil supplementation from reliable source that is free of heavy metals. 

Carbohydrates

It's recommended that 45-65% of your calories should come from carbohydrates, a minimum of 175g/day. These sources should be coming from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains that are high in fiber. 

Hormones: the basics

What are hormones?

Hormones are chemical messengers that are released from endocrine glands to a target organ. They work throughout your entire body to make sure all of your organs and body systems are communicating well in order to work properly. They are released in response to a signal from your brain directly into your blood. Hormone secretion fluctuates over time and is dependent on many internal and external factors. Some common hormones include insulin, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, melatonin, and vitamin D (yes, this is a hormone!).

Your hormone balance is regulated by the communication between your brain and your ovaries. Many factors interfere with your hormone balance, such as stress, diet, sleep, environment, and the natural aging process. 

3 Hormones You Should Know About

Estrogen

Estrogen is produced mainly in your ovaries and is responsible for the tissue development and maintenance of your reproductive system. It also increases the amount of neurotransmitters in your brain that play a role in mood, memory, libido, and sleep. It improves bone density, increases good cholesterol (HDL), and keeps your skin moist and elastic. 

progesterone

Progesterone, also produced mainly in your ovaries, balances the effects of estrogen and is responsible for the function and growth of your reproductive system. It is very important for fertility -- it increases after ovulation to prepare and thicken your uterine wall for implantation (pregnancy). Also, it has a relaxing, calming effect in your brain, resulting in better sleep and reduced levels of stress. Like estrogen, it is important for bone health and cardiovascular health. 

Testosterone

Testosterone is a hormone that most people associate with men. However, it is important for women as well. It is produced in your ovaries and adrenal glands and is responsible for libido and sex drive. It is needed for muscle growth, bone strength and growth, cognitive function, and supports cardiovascular health. 

Hormones and your cycle

To understand hormones, it's important to know about the roles they play in during your menstrual cycle, which is the number of days between your first and last period and typically lasts about 28 days. 

Progesterone and estrogen are low at the start of your menstrual cycle (first day of bleeding). This tells your pituitary gland to produce follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) , which stimulates the growth and maturation of a follicle in your ovary containing an egg. This will increase estrogen to prepare your uterus for implantation. Estrogen spikes right before ovulation which triggers an increase in your luteinizing hormone (LH) -- marking the beginning of ovulation (egg is released from the follicle) around day 12-14. After ovulation, progesterone increases to prepare and thicken your uterine wall for implantation. If fertilization doesn't occur, progesterone and estrogen decrease and you start to shed your lining resulting in your period (day 1). And the cycle repeats itself again.