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Prenatal Nutritionist: How Nutrition Can Impact Your Pregnancy

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Prenatal nutrition is essential to ensure the health of the mum and the baby. This phase in life is extremely important to achieve optimal health and nutrition to prevent any complications during pregnancy and labour, to avoid excessive weight gain and nutritional deficiencies or foetus development problems. During pregnancy the woman’s body goes through massive changes, starting by creating a whole new organ the placenta. 

Placenta as an Important Organ in Pregnancy and Its Functions

The placenta, an organ that establishes communication between the pregnant woman and the fetus, begins developing one week after fertilisation and is fully formed around 18 to 20 weeks.

The main hormones it secretes are estrogen, progesterone, HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin), and HPL (Human Placental Lactogen).

Let’s explore the main hormones produced by the placenta during pregnancy:

HCG: Similar in characteristics to FSH and LH, it is detectable by 8 weeks of pregnancy and decreases abruptly by 12 weeks. It is crucial in early pregnancy to ensure its progression when the body does not yet produce much estrogen and progesterone. This hormone often causes nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. It stimulates testosterone production, important for fetal sexual differentiation. HCG is also involved in increasing thyroid hormone secretion by about 50%, making it important to monitor thyroid health in pregnant women, as T4 and T3 are essential for the baby’s brain development.

Progesterone: Ensures the proper implantation of the embryo. It can increase up to 10 times. It promotes relaxation, preventing uterine contractions that could lead to miscarriage. However, a secondary effect is the slowing of intestinal transit, which can result in constipation in pregnant women. Progesterone is responsible for fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness in pregnant women, as well as a more depressive mood.

Estrogen: Ensures breast growth for breastfeeding, blood vessel dilation, and the elasticity of the uterine wall. It can lead to symptoms of headaches and hot flashes.

Insulin: Pregnancy is a diabetogenic condition due to the presence of hormones antagonistic to insulin action, such as HPL, progesterone, and prolactin.

Human Placental Lactogen: Mainly responsible for the natural insulin resistance in pregnant women by causing lipolysis to increase circulating fatty acids as an energy source for the fetus.

Prolactin: Stimulates mammary glands for milk production, starting to act after the second trimester of pregnancy, but release only occurs after childbirth. It may be related to symptoms of reduced libido and vaginal dryness in pregnant women, but these gradually normalize after delivery.

All the hormonal changes must be supported by an adequate diet which should be based on natural foods. A prenatal natal nutritionist or a registered dietitian specialises in helping you to meet the nutrient requirements necessary to ensure hormone balance and no unwanted weight gain will happen. Because of the changes in hormones managing weight and dietary intake is the key to avoiding any complications for the mum and the baby.

Why is it Important to Manage Weight during pregnancy?

Excessive weight gain or a diet too rich in sugar can cause gestational diabetes, which is a condition that causes complications such as preeclampsia, premature birth, and a higher likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes later in life for the mother. For the baby, it can result in excessive birth weight, respiratory issues, and a higher risk of obesity and diabetes in the future.

On the other hand, adequate weight gain positively impacts fetal development and is associated with a lower risk of future metabolic diseases in the baby.

Healthy weight gain depends on the nutritional status of the pregnant woman at the time of pregnancy discovery:

For pregnant women who began pregnancy malnourished, the expected weight gain is between 12.5 and 18 kg.

For pregnant women who began pregnancy with a normal nutritional status, the expected weight gain is between 11.5 and 16 kg.

For pregnant women who began pregnancy overweight, the expected weight gain is between 7 and 11.5 kg.

For pregnant women who began pregnancy as obese, the expected weight gain is between 5 and 9 kg.

It is important to note that not all the weight gained is fat. The baby can weigh up to 4 kg, the uterus up to 1.8 kg, the placenta up to 1.5 kg, the amniotic fluid up to 1.5 kg, the breasts up to 0.9 kg, the increase in blood circulation up to 1.8 kg, and the increase in adipose tissue up to 4.5 kg.

Strategies for Healthy Weight During Pregnancy:

  1. Drink plenty of water, as it improves intestinal function and hydrates the body. However, avoid liquids with meals.
  2. Follow the scheduled meal times, dividing your meals according to the registered dietitian’s guidance.
  3. Do not skip meals. Avoid prolonged fasting.
  4. Maintain a varied diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
  5. Always prefer natural and whole foods, as they are sources of vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
  6. Choose lean meats whenever possible; avoid visible fat and remove poultry skin.
  7. Use minimal oil, fats, salt, and sugar in culinary preparations.
  8. Use extra virgin olive oil for dressing salads…
  9. Engage in physical activity approved by a physician

Is it common to have an increased craving for sweets?

Yes, this is justified by the natural insulin resistance of pregnancy. If associated with an unbalanced diet rich in simple carbohydrates, physical inactivity, increased stress load, poor sleep quality, and food hypersensitivities, it can result in gestational diabetes.

Are there strategies to reduce the craving for sweets?

The answer is yes, and it takes time to adapt our palate to less sugar intake. My suggestion is to gradually reduce consumption, starting by decreasing the volume each week.

  1. Prefer whole foods, for example, choose brown rice over white, whole grain bread rich in seeds, and increase fibre intake by adding more vegetables to every meal.
  2. Always combine carbohydrate sources with healthy fats and protein, as this helps slow down digestion, preventing insulin spikes that occur after rapid digestion and subsequent absorption.
  3. Use dark chocolate to your advantage, but of course, control the portion size.
  4. Foods rich in magnesium, zinc, and chromium help reduce sweet cravings. For example, include avocados, walnuts, almonds, cocoa powder, chickpeas, legumes, and seeds in your routine.
  5. Engage in activities to reduce stress, such as meditation, listening to music, reading a favourite book, watching a relaxing movie, doing yoga, or any enjoyable physical exercise.
  6. Take care of your gut health by consuming adequate amounts of water and fibre, exercising regularly, and identifying any food intolerances or allergies that compromise gut health.
  7. Ensure good sleep quality, as poor sleep affects the hormone melatonin, which works in a hormonal cascade with other hormones. This imbalance can exacerbate the insulin resistance that is already part of pregnancy.
  8. Avoid using sweeteners; stimulate your sour and bitter taste whenever possible, as sweet tastes activate carbohydrate receptors, worsening insulin resistance.
  9. Avoid food restrictions, as nutrient deficiencies can exacerbate insulin resistance.

Is it important to properly sanitize raw vegetables and fruits?

Yes, because pregnancy is a condition where the immune system is reduced, so we must avoid exposure to pathogenic microorganisms to prevent infection risks. Whenever possible, prefer organic foods, as even with proper sanitization, some pesticides cannot be removed, and these pesticides alter nutrient absorption. Always choose seasonal, fresh, not overly ripe foods to reduce contamination with yeasts and fungi.

Which foods should be avoided?

Large fish due to high risk of contamination with heavy metals (tuna, swordfish, black cod, sea bass, mackerel, lobster).

Raw fish, as they may contain pathogenic microorganisms.

Raw meats.

Unpasteurized milk and cheeses.

What should a pregnant woman’s plate look like?

In summary, is vital to take care of nutrition and diet during the most important phase of life. Ensuring the mum and baby have the right nutrition plan and support by a registered dietitian is the key to optimal health and fewer chances of complicated gestation and labour. Book your consultation with one of our registered dietitians in London and have a personalised nutrition plan to take home and enjoy a healthy pregnancy! Find out more here.

How to do an Elimination Diet: Benefits, Foods, and How a Nutritionist Can Help

Young woman visiting nutritionist in weight loss clinic

Elimination diets are a powerful tool for identifying food sensitivities and improving overall health. In my years of practice, I have helped many patients understand their bodies and discover which foods agree with them and which do not. This comprehensive guide will help you understand the benefits of an elimination diet, the foods to include and avoid, and how a nutritionist can support you throughout the process. As a nutritionist, I have seen firsthand how elimination diets can transform lives by uncovering hidden food intolerances and promoting better health.

What is an Elimination Diet?

An elimination diet involves removing certain foods from your diet for a period, usually 4-6 weeks, and then gradually reintroducing them one by one. This process helps to identify which foods may be causing adverse reactions, such as digestive issues, skin problems, or other inflammatory responses. An elimination diet should be supervised by a nutritionist because you don’t want just to eliminate foods—you need to learn the proper substitutions to ensure you don’t miss out on any key nutrients.

Benefits of an Elimination Diet

  1. Identifying Food Sensitivities: The primary benefit of an elimination diet is identifying specific food sensitivities or intolerances. By systematically eliminating and reintroducing foods, you can pinpoint which items trigger symptoms. 
  2. Improving Digestive Health: Many people experience significant improvements in digestive health on an elimination diet. Symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhoea, and constipation often subside once trigger foods are identified and removed.
  3. Reducing Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, including autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and arthritis. An elimination diet can help reduce inflammation by removing foods that may be contributing to the inflammatory response.
  4. Enhancing Skin Health: Skin conditions like eczema, acne, and psoriasis can improve with an elimination diet. Identifying and avoiding trigger foods can lead to clearer, healthier skin.
  5. Boosting Energy Levels: Food sensitivities can drain your energy. Many people report increased energy and vitality after identifying and eliminating foods that negatively impact their health.
  6. Supporting Weight Loss: By focusing on whole, nutrient-dense foods and avoiding processed items, an elimination diet can support healthy weight loss. Especially when you see a nutritionist who will calculate a diet for your metabolism. Additionally, reducing inflammation and improving digestion can further aid in weight management.

Foods to Avoid on an Elimination Diet

The specific foods to avoid will depend on your sensitivities, but common triggers that I see with my patients in the clinic include:

  • Dairy: Milk, cheese, yoghurt, cream, milk-based desserts, and butter.
  • Gluten: Wheat, barley, rye, and foods containing these grains (bread, pizza, pasta, biscuits, cakes).
  • Soy: Soybeans, tofu, tempeh, and soy-based products.
  • Eggs: Both egg whites and yolks.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Peanuts, almonds, cashews, and other nuts and seeds.
  • Corn: Corn and corn-based products.
  • Citrus Fruits: Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits.
  • Nightshade Vegetables: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes (due to the compound alkaloids).
  • Processed Foods: Foods with artificial additives, preservatives, and high sugar content.

Foods to Include on an Elimination Diet

In our clinic, we focus on whole, unprocessed foods that are less likely to trigger adverse reactions. These include:

  • Fruits: Apples, pears, berries, and other low-citrus fruits.
  • Vegetables: Leafy greens, carrots, broccoli, and non-nightshade vegetables.
  • Protein Sources: Lean meats, poultry, fish, and legumes (if tolerated).
  • Gluten-Free Grains: Rice, quinoa, millet, and gluten-free oats.
  • Healthy Fats: Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, and fatty fish.
  • Herbs and Spices: Fresh herbs and non-irritating spices to flavour your meals.

Creating an Elimination Diet Plan with a Nutritionist

Working with a nutritionist to create an elimination diet plan is essential for ensuring you receive all the necessary nutrients while identifying and eliminating trigger foods. Here’s a general overview of how a nutritionist will guide you through the process:

Step 1: Preparation

Before starting an elimination diet, your nutritionist will help you prepare by advising you to keep a detailed food diary for a week. You’ll note everything you eat and any symptoms you experience. This preliminary step is crucial for identifying potential trigger foods and providing a baseline for comparison once you begin the diet. At this stage is important to eat all sources of food.

Step 2: Elimination Phase

During the elimination phase, your nutritionist will guide you in removing all potential trigger foods from your diet for 4-6 weeks. This period allows your body to clear any effects of these foods. They will provide personalised advice and strategies to help you stay on track during this phase and avoid any slip-ups that could compromise the process.

Step 3: Reintroduction Phase

After the elimination phase, your nutritionist will assist you in reintroducing one food at a time every 3-4 days. They will monitor your symptoms closely during this period. If a food causes symptoms, they will help you remove it from your diet and advise when to reintroduce another food safely. Their expertise ensures that the process is done methodically and effectively.

Step 4: Maintenance Phase

Once you’ve identified your trigger foods, your nutritionist will help you create a long-term eating plan that avoids these items. This maintenance phase ensures you continue to enjoy the benefits of the elimination diet and avoid symptoms caused by food sensitivities. They will also guide how to substitute eliminated foods with nutritious alternatives to maintain a balanced diet.

Tips for Success on an Elimination Diet

  1. Plan Your Meals: Planning and preparing your meals in advance can help you stick to the elimination diet. Batch cooking and meal prepping can save time and reduce the temptation to eat off-plan foods.
  2. Read Labels: Carefully read labels on packaged foods to avoid hidden ingredients that may be on your elimination list. Be cautious of additives, preservatives, and other potential triggers.
  3. Keep a Food Diary: Continue keeping a food diary throughout the elimination and reintroduction phases. Documenting what you eat and any symptoms that arise can help identify patterns and pinpoint specific trigger foods.
  4. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to support your body’s detoxification processes and maintain overall health. Avoid sugary drinks and limit caffeine intake.
  5. Seek Support: Embarking on an elimination diet can be challenging. Seek support from friends, family, or a healthcare professional. Online communities and forums can also provide encouragement and advice.
  6. Be Patient: An elimination diet requires patience and diligence. It may take time to identify your trigger foods, but the long-term benefits are worth the effort.

Monitoring Your Progress with a Nutritionist

Throughout your elimination diet, a nutritionist plays a crucial role in monitoring your progress and making necessary adjustments. Here’s how a nutritionist helps ensure your elimination diet is effective and tailored to your needs:

  1. Regular Check-ins

A nutritionist will schedule regular check-ins to discuss your progress. These sessions provide an opportunity to review your food diary, discuss any symptoms, and address any concerns or challenges you may be facing. Consistent monitoring helps keep you on track and allows for timely adjustments to your diet.

  1. Detailed Symptom Tracking

A nutritionist will guide you in keeping a detailed record of your symptoms, energy levels, digestion, and overall well-being. They can help you identify patterns and correlations between specific foods and symptoms, which is critical for pinpointing food sensitivities accurately.

  1. Personalized Adjustments

As you progress through the elimination diet, your nutritionist will make personalized adjustments based on your symptom tracking and overall health. This may involve modifying the list of eliminated foods, adjusting portion sizes, or incorporating new foods to ensure you receive balanced nutrition.

  1. Professional Analysis

A nutritionist has the expertise to analyze your food diary and symptom log comprehensively. They can identify subtle reactions or delayed symptoms that you might miss on your own. This professional analysis ensures a thorough understanding of how different foods impact your health.

  1. Nutritional Support

Throughout the elimination diet, a nutritionist ensures you are not missing out on essential nutrients. They provide guidance on how to incorporate nutrient-dense foods and supplements if necessary to maintain your health and energy levels.

  1. Emotional and Motivational Support

Embarking on an elimination diet can be emotionally and mentally challenging. A nutritionist offers support and encouragement, helping you stay motivated and committed to the process. They can also provide strategies to manage cravings and cope with social situations.

  1. Long-term Strategy

After the elimination and reintroduction phases, a nutritionist helps you develop a long-term eating plan that avoids identified trigger foods while maintaining a balanced diet. This ensures you continue to enjoy the benefits of the elimination diet and avoid future symptoms.

Why Professional Monitoring is Crucial

  1. Accurate Identification of Triggers: A nutritionist’s expertise helps accurately identify food sensitivities by meticulously tracking and analyzing your symptoms.
  2. Tailored Adjustments: Personalized adjustments based on your progress ensure the diet remains effective and nutritionally balanced.
  3. Holistic Support: From emotional encouragement to practical tips, a nutritionist provides comprehensive support throughout the diet.
  4. Long-term Success: Professional guidance helps create sustainable eating habits and a long-term strategy for maintaining health.

By working with a nutritionist, you gain a partner dedicated to your health and well-being. They provide the expertise and support needed to navigate the complexities of an elimination diet, ensuring you achieve the best possible outcomes. Book a consultation today to start your journey toward better health with the guidance of a professional nutritionist.

Potential Challenges and How a Nutritionist Can Help

Embarking on an elimination diet can be a challenge. A nutritionist can provide invaluable support and strategies to overcome these obstacles, ensuring you stay on track and achieve your health goals. Here are some common challenges you might experince:

1. Cravings and hunger

Challenge: Cravings and hunger are common, especially during the initial phase of an elimination diet.

How a Nutritionist Can Help:

  • Meal Planning: A nutritionist can create a meal plan that includes nutrient-dense foods to keep you full and satisfied. They can suggest balanced meals and snacks to curb cravings.

  • Healthy Alternatives: They can recommend healthy snack alternatives such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds that align with your diet.

  • Hydration Tips: Proper hydration is crucial. A nutritionist can guide you on the right amount of water you should have and suggest hydrating foods to include in your diet.

2. Social Situations

Challenge: Navigating social situations, such as dining out or attending gatherings, can be tricky on an elimination diet.

How a Nutritionist Can Help:

  • Communication Strategies: A nutritionist can provide tips on how to communicate your dietary needs to friends and family in advance.

  • Menu Navigation: They can help you understand how to navigate restaurant menus and identify safe food choices.

  • Bringing Your Own Food: They can suggest dishes you can bring to social gatherings to ensure you have something safe to eat.

3. Time Management

Challenge: Finding time to plan and prepare meals can be challenging with a busy schedule.

How a Nutritionist Can Help:

  • Easy Recipes: A nutritionist can provide easy-to-make recipes that fit into your lifestyle, reducing the time spent in the kitchen.

  • Batch Cooking: They can teach you the benefits of batch cooking and meal prepping, allowing you to prepare meals in advance and save time during the week.

  • Kitchen Tools: They can recommend kitchen tools like slow cookers and instant pots to simplify the cooking process.

 

4. Emotional Eating

Challenge: Stress and emotions can trigger off-plan eating and ruin your progress.

How a Nutritionist Can Help:

  • Stress Management Techniques: A nutritionist can suggest stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga to help manage emotional triggers.

  • Healthy Snack Options: They can recommend healthy snacks to keep on hand, preventing impulsive eating when emotions run high.

  • Support and Motivation: Regular check-ins with a nutritionist provide ongoing support and encouragement, helping you stay motivated and focused on your goals.

Conclusion

An elimination diet is an important strategy to understand food sensitivities and eliminate symptoms. By doing a guided elimination and reintroduction of foods, you can pinpoint triggers, alleviate inflammation, and elevate your overall well-being. Remember to meticulously plan your meals, maintain a detailed food diary, and exercise patience throughout this transformative journey. With dedication and professional support, navigating an elimination diet becomes achievable, leading to sustained health benefits and a more balanced diet.

If you find this process challenging, remember that the guidance of a trained nutritionist can be invaluable. Our team of experienced nutritionists specialises in elimination diets and can provide personalised support tailored to your unique needs. Book a consultation with one of our trained nutritionists today to start to experience the benefits of understanding the food triggers and symptom-free life. 

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