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Monday, August 11, 2014

Easy ways to eat for two, while there's still just one

First off, NO, I'm not pregnant. I'm not even really "trying" (nor do I have a complete understanding of what "trying" means), I'm just not not-trying...if you know what I mean...

Second off, I am not a health professional. Yes, I am studying to be a Health Coach  but for now, this is just friendly, safe, and easy to implement advice from one baby-seeking lady to another, cool? This advice is especially helpful for those of you who don't eat animal products and though I DO recommend a bit of dairy, the other recs are 100% vegan friendly. 

Like many women, I have been very cautious about food my entire life. To put it more bluntly, I've had disordered eating - acutely so or vaguely so- since I was about 5 years old. Yes, I vividly recall watching everyone else eat donuts at swim team  while I stood there looking down at my beefy little thighs in my one piece bathing suit. I did not eat them. Claimed I didn't like them. It was already starting...but I digress. For years, what I put into my mouth was all about ME. How much thinner I felt I needed to be. What size dress I needed my body to fit into. How much I deserved to take in, based on how much I had exercised that week. As a teenager I tried starvation and purging. As a young adult the "all protein" plan followed by 7 years of Veganism (which of course, has as much to do with my own karma as it did my physical body).

Then I got a bit older, got married, and started to get the baby itch. Alright female parts, let's do the damn thing. It's that simple right? Well as many of you know- probably far better than I - is that it actually AIN'T just that simple. After years of dieting and restrictive eating and taking birth control pills and maybe even just plain old getting older, we find ourselves unable to procreate with the ease that we hoped we might be able to. 

Recently I've been sweeping the dust out from under the rug of my life and preparing to prepare to have a baby has become a big part of that process. I've learned a lot, primarily from two Ayurvedic doctors - Dr. Pratima Raichur who is based in NYC and Bart Staub, who practices at Kripalu, The Jiva Institute in Vrindavan and privately from his home in PA. I also read Ayurveda for Women, a great book by Dr. Robert Svoboda and a host of other articles that these resources referred me to.

The most striking thing I learned from Bart, with whom I consulted during my retreat to India, is a little twist on the common adage, "you are what you eat." Actually lady friends, we are what we ATE about 3-6 months ago. Yes, what you are eating today will be the food-stuffs that make up the you and potentially the little you that exists 3-6 months from now. So you wanna get pregnant and you're serious about changing your lifestyle to hopefully do so naturally? Well don't wait til you're knocked up to kick the caffeine and the pot smoking. Do it now. Change your eating habits now. Let yourself maybe even get a little fatter (if that's the weight where your body wants to be) NOW so that you are turning your body into an optimally hospitable environment for a baby to grow and thrive. 

I've had great convos lately - even one with an absolute stranger in Whole Foods - about what I've learned and am applying into my own life, and was encouraged to share that info here. I hope that adding these very simple, vegetarian-friendly foods into our diets will allow us to not only procreate successfully and without medical intervention, but to also view our bodies in a new light. Not as masses of flesh that must be whittled and tanned and toned with an almost constant vigilance, but as living breathing organisms that not only support our only life, but potentially that of another. Here's what I'm eatin' - and not eatin' - to tune up my baby-making machine!

1) Brazil Nuts - just one big ole nut has 100% of the daily recommended value (DRV) of selenium which is primarily found in fatty fishes and liver. If you're a veg, you're probably missing out on this micronutrient which can help prevent miscarriage (and increases sperm count!). 

2) Black Strap Molasses - contains MAD amounts of Iron. Many women have Iron deficiencies, especially those of us who don't eat meat. It's better absorbed via food than via pill and this one is so easy! Swap the honey in your smoothie out for some molasses or use it to make a vinaigrette.

3) Raw sprouted pumpkin seeds & sunflower seeds - As opposed to nuts, these little power houses (RAW, specifically) contain Zinc, which regulates the production of estrogen and progesterone. Zinc is also found in yummy things like venison and liver, so unless you're a gamey-organ-meat fan...buy some seeds, sprinkle em on your salad or into your yogurt (yes, dairy yogurt) and do your body good.

4) Full Fat Dairy... Yes, I said it. And yes, I was vegan for a full 7 years. But now, let's take a little trip into TMI territory...my cycle has always been VERY, highly, erratically irregular. Or should I say always, since I went vegan. Both of my Ayurvedic doctors as well as my gynecologist told me this may be due to a lack of saturated fat. Bart informed me that babies are pretty much made of saturated fat and our bodies know the difference between plant and animal fat, and thus process them differently. Babies unfortunately are not made on avocado alone... So you know what? I'm serious about getting pregnant. Serious enough to start eating dairy again. If you can get raw dairy great. If not - organic, local, mindfully collected dairy. If you still don't feel comfortable eating dairy for moral reasons, I 100% understand and support that. Or if you're a vegan with fully regular periods (the most reliable marker of reproductive health) then you can probably disregard this. However, I've spoken to DOZENS of women lately - mostly those who are fit, thin and either vegan or on some form of restrictive low-fat diet- who have very irregular periods. That is not a good place to be starting from if you want to make a baby. And keep in mind that by incorporating dairy into your diet, you are supporting not only the health of your own reproductive organs but the development of another life. If you aren't getting your period regularly, something is off. If eating dairy might fix that, I am willing to give it a try and you might be too, so I'm just putting it out there. On a similar note...

5) Eggs. If you truly believe that you are what you eat, and you're trying to grow a fertilized egg inside you...this one is a no-brainer. Organic, cage-free ideally locally farmed eggs have EVERYTHING (almost) you need to produce a baby: Iron, Vitamin D, Omega 3 Fats, and B12. It was weird eating eggs at first, but I get them from my local Farmer's Market and I actually feel really good about it now. 

6) Dark Leafy Greens - duh. Everyone needs these, specifically for Vitamins E, C and B6. Also to keep the body alkaline. Next!

7) Lentils, Black Beans & Navy Beans - If you're vegan/vegetarian, you probably already eat mad beans but specifically hone in on all 3 of these which have Folic Acid. This is of the most important pregnancy micronutrients and is usually taken in supplement form. Make sure to buy your beans organic and dry, soak them for at least 8 hours and then cook them. Canned beans just aren't the same. It sounds complicated but it's really not. I have little "science experiments" of soaking beans & grains and sprouting things in my fridge at all times. Keeps life exciting. 

8) Cooked Grains. Enough with the carb watching! Ayurveda recommends "building" foods when you're trying to get pregnant. Soaked, cooked grains such as quinoa, amaranth, kasha and brown rice are excellent for helping you absorb all the nutrients you're consuming from all the above food. Straight up raw diets work for some people but for me - and many others - it causes your food to pass right on through you- nutrients and all.  Read up on if you need to soak, or not, and how long to soak & cook for. Get the organic, non-GMO kinds and good-carb it up ladies. For your babies sake if not your own!

9) Pero - a non-acidic coffee substitute (if you're a coffee drinker that is)- The good news is it looks, smells, and kinda tastes like coffee. The bad (and good news) is, it contains no caffeine. I love my caffeine as much as the next (former) New Yorker, but drinking caffeine during pregnancy is considered a no-no. And unfortunately, quitting the day you get that little plus sign from Clear, Blue, Easy may not be enough. Wean yourself off now with a non-acidic substitute like Pero, Teecino or herbal tea so you're not going through withdrawal along with your morning sickness. Not only is caffeine a diuretic, it's also HIGHLY acidic. Acidity during pregnancy, and life in general, just ain't good. I'm still only 2 weeks into the no coffee thing and am weaning myself slowly off of caffeinated tea. It hurts so good. 

10) Raw, Soaked nuts. If they're cooked, many of the nutrients have been destroyed. If they're not soaked, you may have difficulty digesting and thus absorbing the nutrients. So even though I love me a crunchy roasted wasabi coated almond, the best thing to do is buy organic raw nuts (I do it in bulk from Amazon Prime), soak the nuts overnight, drain and rinse them before consuming them. Walnuts are the best for Omega 3s and Almonds are the best for Vitamin E (not forgetting about your raw seeds, which don't need to be soaked). 

11) More fat in general. Good fats of course, but most of us women are way too restrictive when it comes to the amount of fat we eat. Low-fat diets and low body fat in general is linked to not only missed periods, but the complete stopping of ovulation. No ovulation = no baby. I for one, would rather have an extra inch of jiggle in my lululemons then never have a baby of my own to jiggle in my arms. Blasphemous, I know! 

12) A great prenatal whole-food vitamin/supplement. Even with all the above, there are certain key nutrients you may miss out on, specifically CoQ10 which is only found in marrow and other organ meats (sorry, but would not could not Sam I Am). I am taking Vitamin Code Raw Prenatal by Garden of Life but there are plenty others out there. 

13) ORGANIC!!!! I cannot stress this enough. If you aren't willing to shell out the extra cash for yourself, do it for your baby. The food industry is F'ed. Shoot, you might be drinking rat with your Two Buck Chuck for all we know so be mindful. Naturally grown Farmer's Market type fare is great. Referring to the "Dirty Dozen Plus & Clean Fifteen" list for certain non-organic fruits and veggies is acceptable. Factory farmed chemical and pesticide laden hormone riddled foods are not. I didn't mention meat because I don't eat it myself but if you do, do grass fed. And naturally caught fish. Check for the non-GMO certified labels on errything. Don't eat stuff that masquerades as healthy and actually contains poison!

So far I am one month into my pro-fertility diet, and it feels really good. I go the store with one purpose in mind: getting all the micro and macro nutrients I need to support the health of my body and my future baby. I don't think about calories. I don't think about fat. I don't think about my waist line, other than it hopefully getting much bigger very soon.

The female body is an amazing thing. Pregnancy is a miraculous event and a natural, safe, healthy pregnancy is truly a blessing. May we all eat well, live well, and pass on the joy of mindful healthy eating (rather than obsessive restrictive eating) to our future little ones.