A CaveGirl’s Micronutrient Needs for Fertility and Paleo Pregnancy
While a paleo friendly diet based on whole-foods is critical for any healthy CaveGirl's fertility, there is a tendency out there to focus all of our attention on macronutrients. That is, the protein, fats and carbs. I'm continually asked, "how many carbs should I eat when pregnant or breastfeeding." While I work on a great answer to that question, here are some key micronutrients that deserve some attention! These micronutrients are essential for an optimal state of ripe and ready fertility and pregnancy. As the old saying goes, “it's the little things that really matter”, in this case, 'they' couldn't be more right.
B-Vitamins: Important for the prevention of open neural tube defects (spina bifida), energy metabolism, as well as healthy growth & development. Vitamins require healthy stomach acid in order to be properly absorbed, so if you have issues with low stomach acid, you may want to consider something like an HCL supplement.
- B12: Highest in animal proteins with the richest sources being found in liver, clams, fish*, beef and grass-fed milk
- B9 (folate): Dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruits, avocado, nuts/seeds, squash and beets. Folate is the key nutrient we need to protect against neural tube issues, like Spina Bifida. It needs to be in our diets BEFORE getting pregnant so while trying to conceive you need to get in those greens! Want to learn the important difference between folic acid and folate? Check this post out!
Magnesium: Magnesium helps build strong bones and teeth, regulates insulin and blood-sugar levels, and helps enzymes function properly. It can help reduce anxiety, aid with sleepless nights, constipation and help to prevent painful leg cramps.
- Bananas, spinach, pumpkin seeds, chard, cashews and almonds
- You can also apply magnesium oil directly to your skin or find it as a dietary supplement. Natural Calm makes a great product that many people enjoy as a hot drink. Take magnesium in the evenings to help you sleep.
Calcium: Critical for development of little baby bones and nervous systems. A pregnant woman’s dietary calcium needs go up in pregnancy. While babies will always get what they need, they do so at the expense of mom’s bones. If you become calcium deficient in pregnancy it can pre-dispose you to osteopenia (or low bone density) later in life. Some women just choose to supplement with calcium in pregnancy which I don't recommend. Calcium in a pill form isn't well absorbed, can cause constipation and there is no evidence to support supplementing for bone health. Instead, try to get calcium from dietary sources. A smoothie with greens and grassfed yogurt is a pretty spiffy way of getting in your daily calcium!
- Grass-fed Dairy, sardines (crunch the bones), collard greens, kale, swiss and rainbow chard
- Nuts (like Almonds) but is poorly absorbed due to the phalate content of nuts and seeds. If you soak your nuts for 24hrs, it will help. You can also buy pre-soaked and sprouted nuts here!
- Calcium blocks the absorption of iron, so it’s best eaten away from your big iron containing meal or on it’s own.
Vitamin D: Helps you absorb calcium from your diet and it’s important for bone health as well as metabolic and immune function (which is reduced in pregnancy). Babies born to Vit-D deficient mothers may also be predisposed to Type-1 diabetes. You can have your vitamin D levels tested by your Midwife or OB/Gyn. In some places it costs extra, but it's worth the $20-40 investment. It's one of the most common vitamin deficiencies I see in my office.
- Egg yolks, fish*, cod liver oil
- You can also feel free to take a pill
- Get outside! Sunlight helps us make our own vit-d.
Vitamin K2- Works together with Vit D/Calcium to protect your brain, nervous system and skeletal system. K2 helps to shuttle calcium around the body as well as aiding in gene expression. Some folks claim it helps babies facial structures develop symmetrically…. Therefore vit k2= pretty babies.
The Weston A Price foundation has a pretty comprehensive list of K2 sources found here.
There are two forms of Vit K2 we can get from our diet:
- MK-4: found in highest amounts in grassfed butter and egg yolks
- MK-7: found in fermented foods. Taking a fermented cod liver oil/butter blend would be really your best bet when it comes to getting enough K2
Choline: Helps our baby’s brain develop. Some studies show that it may also reduce the risk of nervous system disfunction and mental illness in our growing little cavemunchkins.
- Egg yolks, beef liver and cube steak. Smaller amounts in spinach and potatoes
Zinc: Pretty darn important for DNA/Gene expression. As Madonna taught us in the ‘80’s, it’s so important to “express yourself”. You're needs for zinc in pregnancy go up and as we are unable to store it in the body, it's important to get it from dietary sources.
- Oysters, liver, beef, dark meat from poultry, pumpkin seeds (or pumpkin butter), dark chocolate (yessss), lamb and goat
Vitamin A (or if your Canadian, vitamin eh?): Prevention of placental insufficiency, low birthweight babies and preterm birth. Here's a great article by Mary G. Enig about vitamin A and fetal development.
- Liver from all animals (including cod liver oil)
- While yellow/orange coloured vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash and apricots contain Beta-carotene (the inactive form in vegetables) most of it is not converted into Vitamin A, which is used by the body. You'd have to eat a whole lot of veggies to get all your vitamin A needed for optimal fertility, pregnancy, breastfeeding so it's best to supplement your diet with a bit of liver or grass-fed dairy (if tolerated).
Vitamin C: Aids in immune function and in the absorption of iron from food sources.
- Citrus, fruits and berries, colourful peppers, cauliflower
Omega- 3 : Or more specifically DHA. DHA aids in brain and eye development as well as protecting CaveMama from cardiovascular problems in pregnancy. DHA can also prevent mood imbalance during pregnancy and specifically postpartum, so if you're prone to depression or anxiety, DHA in higher doses may be for you.
- Krill oil, fish*, blue green sea algae (for fish allergic)
Iron: As your blood volume expands (by 50%) during pregnancy, your iron stores become naturally diluted making anemia (low iron) the top “complication” in pregnancy. Iron is important for energy levels and most metabolic functions in the body.
- Liver, red meats, dark turkey, pumpkin seeds
- If your levels get really low your midwife or OB/Gyn may recommend a supplement. Floridix and Inate Iron Response are the most natural supplements out there and are very well absorbed. Remember to always take your iron away from anything containing calcium and always with something containing vitamin C for optimal absorption.
* Always choose wild caught fish rather than farmed fish and aim for species that is low on the food chain: think trout, salmon, shrimp, lake fish. Stay tuned for a full post about mercury content in fish/seafood in a future post.