21 Weeks Pregnant: Beyond-The-Basics Nutrition

November 10 – November 16: 21 Weeks 0 Days – 21 Weeks 6 Days.

This week, I had my second group prenatal session, and they gave us a neat handout with actual size drawings of the baby at various stages of pregnancy. I didn’t realize how big the baby is already! The Babycenter My Pregnancy Today app told me that she was the length of a carrot, but I couldn’t really conceptualize what that meant until I saw this picture.

Baby's actual size

The baby’s actual size during 19-22 weeks.

I’m not really sure why fruits and veggies are the comparison items of choice for developing babies. Maybe it’s to remind us to eat healthily during pregnancy. I’ve been trying! This week, I made an autumn veggie soup that a pregnant friend, Rose, posted on Facebook. When we ate it as leftovers, Richard augmented it with some slices of turkey bacon, and it was even tastier.

Winter Veggie Soup

Autumn Veggie Soup. Ingredients: Kale, Carrots,  Butternut squash, Zucchini, Yellow zucchini, 1 large yellow onion, 3 cloves garlic, Fresh diced tomatoes, 1/2 lemon, 1 cup chickpeas, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 16 ounce low salt chicken broth. Season with Allspice & Cayenne pepper.

“Unhealthy” things you get to indulge in during pregnancy

Obviously fruits and veggies are healthy, but there are a few things that are normally no-no’s or in-moderation’s that you can indulge in during pregnancy. Here are a few not-so-guilty pleasures that the midwife and facilitator of my group prenatal session recommended we eat:

  • Eggs. Usually the advice is to take it easy on cholesterol-heavy eggs, but they’re packed with omega threes and protein, which are essential for pregnant ladies.
  • Cheese. Before I got pregnant, Richard and I had nearly cut cheese out of our diet. Since I’ve been pregnant, I eat calcium- and protein-rich cottage cheese, mozzarella, and feta on nearly a daily basis. It’s going to be hard going back when I’m done breastfeeding! One caution they give is avoid unpasteurized cheeses, so I check the labels whenever I buy anything gourmet, but it seems like you have to go out of your way to find unpasteurized cheese in the USA.
  • Bacon. Richard and I switched from regular bacon to turkey bacon a while back, and we rarely even ate that any more before I was pregnant. Although you’re not supposed to gain a ton of excessive weight while pregnant, restricting salt and fat isn’t recommended. Lately I’ve been buying turkey bacon weekly—yum. However, in my group prenatal session, they told us to get nitrate/ite-free bacon, and I can’t find turkey bacon that fits the bill (there are only a couple brands available). Guess I’m going to have to switch to the real thing—doctor’s orders!
  • Red meat. Mama needs her iron. I’ve been getting my iron more from leafy greens than meat though. As pregnancy progresses, my digestive system becomes more and more compressed and the last thing I want to try to do is digest a T-bone steak.

Not all salmon is created equal

Mercury in fish

In my group prenatal session, they gave us a list of the best and worst fish for mercury contamination. They also gave us a list that focused specifically on sushi, which was kind of weird considering we’re not supposed to have raw fish. Thanks for rubbing it in! (Click to enlarge).

Knowledge about mercury contamination in seafood is pretty mainstream now, and any health nut knows salmon is the fish to eat for high DHA (a form of omega three fatty acid that’s essential for the baby’s brain development) and low mercury (a teratogen that can cause neurological problems and developmental delays in the baby). However, I’ve been still been avoiding salmon while pregnant because it still has some mercury in it and is also contaminated with PCB’s (a chemical can affect the baby’s brain development), and I’ve been taking a DHA supplement instead.

My confidence in my supplements was already shaken after I’d read that the absorption of DHA from supplements isn’t as good as from fish, and that some prenatal supplements contain lead (another teratogen that can impair neurological development). Also, my midwife recommended I stop taking the supplement during my third trimester as it may increase the risk of hemorrhage (the word “hemorrhage” is one of the few things that scare me about childbirth). Then, I read this in Fit Pregnancy Magazine:

Eat Fish

“Seafood-eating moms give birth to children with IQs five points higher than the spawn of fish-skippers, thanks to fish’s hefty dose of brain-boosting omega-3’s, NIH experts say. If you’re foregoing water-dwellers because of mercury concerns, know that the risk for most fish is practically nil: The maximum harm small amounts of the  metal could cause is a 0.01-point drag on your babe’s IQ points (risks go up for high-mercury fish…). So, stock up on salmon for your baby genius’ sake!” (Click to enlarge).

I don’t normally make my decisions based on magazine articles with uncited sources, but I asked my midwife, and she agreed: the benefits of eating low-mercury fish are worth the risk. So, I did some research to make sure I was getting the absolute most benefit for my risk, and here are the personal guidelines I’ve decided to follow:

  • Avoid farmed salmon (often Atlantic salmon). Because the feed for farmed salmon contains other fish, their contamination levels are higher (the higher on the food chain an animal is, the more concentrated its contamination).
  • Avoid chinook (king) and sockeye salmon. These were my two go-to choices for salmon before I was pregnant, but, because these types of salmon live longer, they are more contaminated with PCB’s.
  • Choose wild Alaskan salmon (chum, pink or coho). These salmon are the least contaminated. I’m planning to eat one of these types of salmon once a week.

The “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen”

Many pesticides are teratogens (can cause birth defects), so if there’s a time to buy produce organic it’s now. For the sake of my bank account, my shortcut is: if you eat its skin (or it doesn’t have skin) definitely buy it organic (e.g. apples, cucumbers, kale), if you peel it’s skin off it’s okay to buy conventional (e.g. bananas, oranges, grapefruits). We got a list of the 12 most important foods to buy organic, and the 15 with the lowest pesticide residue, and I was interested to see some of these fruits and veggies violated my rule! I’m going to have to keep this in my wallet to reference at the grocery store.

Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

The dirty dozen (buy these organic) and clean fifteen (lowest in pesticides). (Click to enlarge).

Beans please, hold the BPA

I think the midwife and prenatal group facilitator must have both been vegetarians, because they accented how healthy beans are during pregnancy. But seriously, beans tend to be high in protein, fiber, iron, folate, calcium, and zinc—all important for pregnancy. Even though I’ve been lax about avoiding BPA during pregnancy (a chemical that may disrupt fetal development that leeches into canned foods), I asked about BPA contamination in canned beans. Beans take planning to make from scratch (you either have to soak them overnight or cook them forever), so I rarely do it. The midwife had a great suggestion: cook one large batch of beans from scatch, and freeze them in usable portions (in BPA-free containers, if possible). That’s my goal for next week!

Decaf coffee doesn’t have to be bathed in chemicals

The evidence about how caffeine affects pregnancy is equivocal, but I’ve never been that into drinking coffee (and when I did, I’d often get it decaf), so I avoiding most caffeine is an easy sacrifice for me. Have you ever wished you could unknow something someone told you? Months before I was pregnant, a work acquaintance mentioned offhand that decaffeinated coffee is full of chemicals (on another occasion, she also ruined gel manicures for me, sheesh). Although I haven’t found any evidence that the small amount of chemical residue in decaf coffee is harmful to adults or developing babies, I didn’t feel great about drinking it (the FDA tends to have lower standards about what should go in my body than I do). When I got pregnant I ditched my weekly treat of a Decaf Mint Mojito Iced Coffee from Philz. I really missed it! Then I found out that Philz carries Swiss Water decaf coffee; it’s coffee that’s decaffeinated through osmosis (water) rather than with chemicals! Now a Swiss Water Decaf Mint Mojito Iced Coffee is my go-to indulgence when I need a boost.

2 thoughts on “21 Weeks Pregnant: Beyond-The-Basics Nutrition

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