5 Ways to Eating Healthy During Pregnancy

I have recently taken on a new challenge when it comes to eating well in Shanghai.  Eating healthy while pregnant!  Nutrition during pregnancy is critical no matter where you are but there are additional challenges here in Shanghai due to concerns about food borne illnesses and elevated levels of potentially harmful substances in some foods.  All in all, it makes being pregnant in Shanghai very challenging from a nutrition perspective!

Enjoying the March sun in Xintiandi, Shanghai.

I never really appreciated what pregnant women go through – the food cravings, the aversions – until now.  It’s a constant battle between what I want to eat and what I should eat. When it comes to food cravings let’s be honest – it’s very unlikely you are yearning for a certain food because of a nutrient deficiency.  For example, white beans and chocolate are both rich in iron but chocolate is what we seek out.  Scientists are uncertain what causes our pregnancy cravings but believe that elevated hormones may be to blame.  It could be a mix of psychological and physiological factors as we could also be longing for certain comfort foods to offset some of the discomforts of pregnancy.  While the true reasons for our cravings are unknown, everyone can agree that it’s important to eat healthy during pregnancy.  I recently gave a nutrition presentation to several expectant ladies here in Shanghai.  It was organized via Marie & Jey’s ‘Belle Maternity’ program – providing fabulous prenatal yoga and postnatal pilates.  See link at the end of the post.  Here are my five simple tips from that talk.

  1. Eat lots of Nutrient dense foods:  It can be easy to overeat during pregnancy, especially with all the cravings and an increased appetite. Sticking with nutrient dense foods not only provides all the proper nutrients for you and your growing baby, but will help keep you fit and full. In summary, try to eat less junk. 😉
  2. Avoid nutrient deficient foods:  Reduce unneeded extra calories by cutting down on foods high in fat and added sugars such as sugary drinks, sweets, refined carbohydrates, and fried foods.  That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the occasional sweet treat, but don’t go crazy.
  3. Optimize Iron Intake:  During pregnancy, iron needs increase since you’re making more red blood cells to carry enough oxygen through both you and your baby’s body.  Make sure you’re eating enough iron rich foods, such as legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, white beans and lentils), vegetables / dried fruit (spinach, peas, dried prunes, dried apricots) and grains (quinoa and fortified breads and cereals).  Even dark chocolate is packed with iron!
  4. Make sure you get all your Folic acid:  Folic acid is needed for long-term health and to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.  Make sure to take a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid and eat foods rich in folate, such as green leafy vegetables, asparagus, legumes, sunflower seeds and fortified grain products.
  5. Up your fiber intake:  A fiber rich diet is always important for good digestion, and since pregnant women are prone to constipation, we may have to increase our fiber intake to avoid problems such as hemorrhoids. Replace white rice, bread and pasta with brown rice and whole grain products for an added fiber boost.
    Colorful fruits and vegetables

    Whole fruits and vegetables are a great source of fiber. Prunes are particularly good for keeping things moving. If you are constantly struggling with morning sickness and nausea (like me!), consider tossing everything in a blender for a quick healthy smoothie.

Until the next time – Eat Well Shanghai! – Jessica W. 😉

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“Tis the Season

In case anyone needs reminding, this Thursday is American Thanksgiving and despite all the gluttony that is associated with the holiday there are many traditional dishes that have great nutritional value. Fortunately for Americans in Shanghai the humble trio of sweet potatoes, pumpkin and squash (yes Americans do make a distinction) are in season and locally available.

This family of bright orange vegetables have a lot to offer nutritionally , especially when you talk about anti-oxidants. All of these veggies have loads of vitamin A, a potent anti-oxidant that is important for healthy mucous membranes including our lungs.  This type of nutritional protection is becoming more and more important to those of us living and breathing  here in Shanghai. Along with the anti-oxidants, pumpkin,squash and sweet potatoes are great sources of folate, a vitamin that protects against birth defects and is considered  vital for all women of child-bearing age. Last but not least is the abundance of fiber that is found in this super nutrition triumvirate.  Both insoluble ( think “nature’s broom”) and soluble fiber, essential to cardiac health, are freely available in these holiday favorites.

Speaking of dishes… I came across two recipes this week featuring these very vegetables that are perfect for any Thanksgiving meal.

The first , courtesy of our friends at Sprout Lifesyle  is Superfood Butternut Squash Mash

Step 1: Roast 8 lbs butternut squash, halved and seeded and drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Place the cut squash side down on rimmed baking sheets. Bake at  400F for 45 min. or until fork tender.                                                                                                                                                 Step 2: Take a large pot and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Then add 2 cloves garlic, minced  and 1 medium onion , finely chopped. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until onion is soft, about 5-7 min.                                                                                                                                                                     Step 3: Add  1 teaspoon each of the following spices: cumin, turmeric, ground ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon  and 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper.  Cook and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.                                                                                                                                                                        Step 4: Using a large spoon  scrape the squash flesh ( separate from skin)  into the pot and add 1/4 cup of water.  Cook over moderately high heat, stirring and mashing the squash until well blended and heated through. Season with salt and pepper.  I also added some palm sugar at this point.       Step 5: Transfer, garnish with bright green sprouts and enjoy.

The second recipe, Pumpkin Goulash can be found on the Body & Soul Wellness Clinic website, under Healthy Living (www.tcm-shanghai.com)

Don’t feel like cooking or you don’t have all the ingredients listed, no worries. Grab a couple of sweet potatoes, wash and split in half, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and pop into the oven for 30-40 min. Voila! A tasty Thanksgiving treat.

Eat Well, Live Well, Give thanks this week for all the blessings in your life…including good food.