Pregnancy is a crucial time for nutrition and health in a woman’s life. It is probably the most important time for a woman to watch what she is putting into her body and mind in all ways, as her lifestyle choices will greatly affect the life of her soon to be born baby. Much controversy has been put up around vegetarianism and veganism during pregnancy for the questions regarding protein and vitamin uptake, but what about a raw food diet? According to research, women who eat nearly 100% raw during their pregnancy experience higher nutrients, greater energy, less sickness and faster labors. There must be something to this raw food thing, or is there?
Standard diet verses raw
If you look at the standard American diet, you can certainly argue both sides of the nutrition spectrum. For one thing, those who eat standard processed foods are more likely to consume high amounts of fats, sugars and proteins as well as a high content of artificial ingredients, pesticides, chemical additives and genetically engineered foods. Gabriel Cousens, author and proponent of a raw food diet believes an organically based diet is highly superior to a conventional food diet, especially for pregnant woman stating: “The main cause of death and disease among children under 15 is cancer.” He believes this is “largely due to the many pesticides and herbicides – with their carcinogens – in processed and conventional grown food.”
Those who eat more ‘natural’ or an organically based diet will have more enzymes, vitamins and minerals and complex carbs with less to none of the artificial and chemical additives. It really depends on how you stack it. A vegetarian or a vegan diet sometimes lacks in protein and certain vitamins such as B12, but only if the one eating has not carefully chosen healthy alternatives to the nutrients meat and dairy products can provide. Beans and nuts, for example, are great sources of protein that vegetarians and vegans can eat more of. Nutritional yeast and superfoods can offer B12 and other vitamins thought to be lacking in a diet void of meat.
Raw food, on the other hands, can be an entirely new challenge all together, though those who take on this lifestyle often report the incredible variety available to one who leaves out ‘cooked’ food. Getting enough to eat is generally not the problem with a raw food diet, but rather, experiencing the transition from a cooked diet is where the challenge lies. Raw foodists say is the release from the ‘addiction’ to heated foods that is difficult for most people, as our bodies begin to crave the cooked foods and have actually become dependent on the feelings received by eating them – like an emotional response. When one starts eating a largely raw food diet, the body experiences a sort of ‘cleansing’ response, as the food is so ‘clean’ it encourages the body to let go of stored toxins. For someone who has been eating cooked food all of their life, it would be unwise to switch to 100% raw all at once. Gradually shifting ones diet so as to contain more and more raw foods in proportion to cooked foods is a wise way to switch over, especially if you are pregnant. Being pregnant is not the time to ‘detox’ the body, as all that goes into the bloodstream during this time, including toxins, ends up with the baby.
So what makes raw food so great for pregnancy?
Raw foods contain all the nutrients you need in their most readily available form. Cooking food destroys essential enzymes for digestion as well as much of the vitamin and mineral content. Just look at the water when you steam vegetables, all that color is the vitamins come out of the food, so what’s left? Raw foods contain proteins, amino acids, antioxidants and vital nutrients that cooked foods simply don’t have. The trick is, they are so packed full of nutrients, people usually can’t handle eating too much of them all at once. With raw foods provided, the body immediately begins to work more efficiently, sometimes offering responses that seem undesirable at first, such as gas, diarrhea, indigestion or achy sensations as the body throws off toxins and cleans itself out.
Due to the high water content in raw foods as well as readily available nutrients such as sulfur, silica, potassium, magnesium, vitamins and enzymes, pregnant mothers experience very flexible tissues that allow for reduced stretchmarks and easier birthing including less pain and faster labor. In my research of vegan mothers it was reported by sources that those who at red meat during their pregnancy had a higher likelihood of bleeding more during labor than women who at little or no meat at all.
Eating raw food during pregnancy is definitely something to either prepare for ahead of time or work into gradually as a new pregnant mom. Remembering to include foods such as avocados, coconuts and nuts for proper fat intake is crucial to your developing baby as well as your own health. Getting a variety of foods will ensure a variety of nutrients present. Women who do not consume a raw food or largely raw diet generally need to take prenatal vitamins in order to get all the required vitamins and minerals, not so with a raw foodist. If you are someone who can make the switch to raw food, it is more likely you will not need additional vitamin supplements as raw foods are so nutrient rich.
Don’t forget the superfoods
Whether you are raw during your pregnancy or not, it is always a good idea to include superfoods in your diet. Superfoods are foods which are densely packed with every kind of nutrient including proteins, and are named ‘superfoods’ because you could actually survive on them alone. Superfoods will boost your nutrition levels, whether you are eating a standard diet or a raw diet, and increase your energy to boot. Raw foodists like superfoods because they are generally also raw and are simple to add to a raw food smoothie or eat on their. Some examples of superfoods are: goji berries, raw cacao (raw chocolate), golden berries (inca berries), maca, blue-green algae, acai berries, mesquite, phytoplanktons and chia seeds.
Goji berries, all on their own are an incredible source of usable protein, containing “18 amino acids, free-radical fighting antioxidants, carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and more than 20 other trace minerals and vitamins including zinc, iron, phosphorus and riboflavin (B2). Ounce-for-ounce, goji berries contain more vitamin C than oranges, more beta-carotene than carrots, and more iron than soybeans and spinach.” Raw cacao is the highest source of magnesium on the planet, more than any other food. Magnesium deficiencies are one of the biggest problems contributing to an array of ailments including depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, osteoporosis and gastrointestinal dis-ease. Magnesium helps muscles relax which can be extremely beneficial to both pregnant women and their birthing process.
Golden berries, also known as Inca berries, from South America, are an excellent source of bioflavonoids, Vitamin A, dietary fiber, protein and phosphorus. Maca is another South American root, similar to ginseng, known for its balancing effects on the endocrine glands. During pregnancy, maca can be an amazing support for the hormones, helping to balance mood as well as assist in muscle development, fatigue and over-all fetal growth. Blue-green algae is an excellent source of fatty acids, usable proteins and B12. “It is packed with beta-carotene and B-Complex biologically active vitamins, enzymes, chlorophyll, fatty acids, neuropeptide precursors (peptides are joined amino acids), lipids, carbohydrates, minerals, trace minerals, pigments and other essential growth factors. It contains all eight essential amino acids and both semi-essential amino acids. It is a concentrated source of arginine, known to build and tone muscle tissue. Most importantly, the essential amino acid profile of AFA is virtually identical to that required by the human body. No vital amino acids are wasted.“
The information about these astounding superfoods goes on and on. As you can see, whether you are eating raw or not, superfoods are an amazing addition to any pre or post-natal regimen.
Raw food and birth
Many women who have done both cooked food pregnancies and raw food pregnancies report their raw pregnancies had considerably shorter and virtually pain-free labors in comparison. One woman, on her second child, (the first being largely a cooked food pregnancy with a 30 hour labor) says this of her raw food inspired pregnancy and birth: “My pregnancy was completely easy and I was very relaxed and happy. I experienced no nausea whatsoever. My childbirth with Jome was also at home… My labor was only 45 minutes long with a 10-minute hard labor.” Many other stories can be found with similar outcomes eating only raw or mostly raw food during pregnancy.
When eating a largely raw-food based diet, ones energy and mood is usually up and fitness level high. Cooked and processed foods contribute to more sluggish behavior, more mood swings, as well as the need for more sleep. I am not suggesting raw food is the right way for every woman in every pregnancy. Each woman must gauge what is best for her and her body during this most amazing and potent time. Some women thrive on a mixture of cooked and raw foods, others don’t do as well with a high raw food diet due to their constitution, as raw food can produce more gases and ‘air’ in the system.
It is very important that women feel both connected to the food choices they make during pregnancy as well as supported by life. Comfort and resonance is most vital during pregnancy as well as feeling taken care, both by the people in your life as well as the unfolding development of the baby.
During one pregnancy I was told by a therapist, after testing me for all kinds of allergens, that I was allergic to nearly everything I had been eating. I was put on a special diet and tried to follow it faithfully for several weeks. During that time I felt so stressed out and depressed due to the food restrictions put on me that I felt even worse than before the check-up. I decided my happiness and attitude were a stronger factor than the influence of the food on my body, so I began to reintroduce the foods I wasn’t eating back into my diet very consciously. I no longer had any reaction to them and finished up my pregnancy with joy and fulfillment.
The foods we eat have a great influence on our mental and emotional state. A raw food diet experience can be extremely beneficial to one who is drawn to and attuned with it, resulting in possibly an easier pregnancy and faster labor. At the same time, eating consciously those things that make you feel whole, fulfilled and nourished is an important part of a healthy pregnancy whether you are eating raw or cooked foods. There are plenty of things you can do, including exercise, meditation, visualizations, breathing practices and the like that can ease the intensity and length of labor. For more information on diet and exercise for pregnancy and labor, see your health practitioner, nutritionist and local yoga instructor. Look for my next article about pregnancy and yoga.
Written by: Stasia Bliss