CONTRIBUTOR - WOMEN'S, FAMILY, AND KIDS' FITNESS
During my second pregnancy, I experienced some extreme dietary aversions. I remember being overwhelmed at a concert by the faintest smell of fried onion rings. The mere sight of uncooked poultry made me gag. Even the mention of “raw” anything was enough to make my stomach turn. So when I first heard about the benefits of a raw diet during pregnancy, I was a bit skeptical.
I should make it clear from the start I do not follow a raw diet. I'm still learning about the benefits of a raw diet and trying to slowly increase my intake of raw foods. A raw diet during pregnancy is particularly interesting to me for a few reasons. First, I love learning about everything to do with women’s health during the prenatal period. Second, I plan on having more children in the future and am also considering the raw thing for myself.
The third reason surfaced about halfway through my pregnancy, when my husband and I were taking a childbirth preparation class. One of the assignments was to track your daily diet and report it at the next meeting. One of the women in my class had a particularly impressive diet journal. She ate a lot of food everyday, and her list was by far the healthiest in the group. She had all of the key nutrients in her diet, and her caloric intake was well within the recommended range. Interestingly, she was the only raw vegan in the group.
In my experience, vegans and vegetarians get a lot of flack when it comes to pregnancy. You read frequently that a vegan or vegetarian diet is inadequate for a developing baby, and that women who fall into these camps should change their ways during the prenatal period. Since a raw diet is often also vegan or vegetarian, these criticisms would seem to also apply to a raw pregnancy diet.
While I agree pregnancy is an important and critical period, I disagree that a raw diet is always necessarily inadequate during pregnancy. Just like most other diets, the raw food diet has advantages and disadvantages that pregnant women should understand in order to achieve optimal health during and after their pregnancy.
Here are a few of those pros and cons that “raw mamas” should keep in mind:
- Obviously, a raw diet is high in fruits and vegetables, which is a definite plus during pregnancy. Not only do fruits and vegetables provide critical nutrients for your developing baby and changing body, but they are also an excellent source of fiber, which prevents some of those unpleasant digestive pregnancy side effects.
- A raw diet usually lacks many of the common unhealthy foods that are found in the “standard” diet. For example, women who follow a raw diet don’t consume the processed foods that can be so common. As noted by Natalia Rose in her book, The Raw Food Detox Diet, “…typical pregnancy diets underplay the importance of raw plant food and overemphasize the need for animal products, particularly dairy.”
- A raw diet helps control weight gain during pregnancy and supplies healthy energy, provided that moms eat a varied and balanced diet. Raw diet advocates hold that a diet high in raw foods is more easily assimilated by the body. Rose describes the effects a raw diet had on her own energy levels, saying, “By properly combining my meals, I was able to facilitate digestion and avoid those uncomfortable symptoms; I slept better, had more energy…” Who wouldn't want more energy during pregnancy?
- Pregnant women who follow a raw diet DO need to be particularly conscientious about certain nutrients. Although low protein intake is a common criticism of veganism, it seems to me that essential fatty acids are more of a concern. In fact, in their book Raw and Beyond: How Omega-3 Nutrition Is Transforming the Raw Food Paradigm, released in January 2012, faithful raw diet advocates Victoria Boutenko, Elaina Love, and Chad Sarno explain how a one hundred percent raw diet can be lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial during the prenatal period.
- All of the people I know who follow a raw diet are also vegans. However, some raw diets advocate the consumption of raw animal products, which the American Pregnancy Association advises against during pregnancy. Foods to avoid include raw eggs, raw meat, sushi made with raw or seared fish, and raw milk. The APA makes these recommendations because raw products may be more likely to contain listeria, a bacteria that causes sickness and may also result in miscarriage. Raw vegans should also be particularly sure to always wash all produce thoroughly before consumption to avoid exposure to toxoplasmosis.
- Just like sedentary women should avoid starting a strenuous exercise program during pregnancy, women who have consumed a “normal” diet before pregnancy should avoid going all-raw when they become pregnant.According to Rose, “If you’re accustomed to the standard American diet, pregnancy isnot the time suddenly to become a raw-food vegan…Instead, focus on quick exit food combinations and aim for a 50 to 60 percent raw diet, which you can consistently – but slowly – increase if you’re comfortable throughout your pregnancy.”
Whether a woman follows a raw diet for philosophical or dietary reasons, she should be able to continue to do so throughout her pregnancy with proper planning and caloric intake. In my experience, pregnant women who follow a raw food diet also tend to be very knowledgeable about their body’s needs and how to obtain them. And if you raw mamas out there find yourselves craving a baked sweet potato or some steamed veggies during your pregnancy, I say go for it! Pregnancy is prime time to key into your own nutritional intuition. If your body is nagging you to eat something healthy that you wouldn’t normally eat, it might just be an indicator that you need it.