Top Pregnancy Nutrition Questions Answered

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Are you wondering what’s the best pregnancy diet? Confused about weight gain during pregnancy and what foods to avoid? You are not alone! It can be so challenging figuring out what it really takes to grow and nourish a baby and have a healthy pregnancy. In this post, you will get the top pregnancy nutrition questions answered by a nutritionist!

Lily Nichols wrote the book on pregnancy nutrition. Like literally. Lily is the best selling author of Gestational Diabetes for Pregnancy. In her latest book, Real Food for Pregnancy, she breaks down what you really need to eat during pregnancy. And its not the advice you’ve been told before.

This is a book every pregnant mom really should read. It is loaded with valuable information backed by sound research. Check out my full review here.

It even inspired us to put to put together a real food pregnancy recipes collection!

After reading Real Food for Pregnancy, I just had to interview Lily and get our readers’ top pregnancy nutrition questions answered!

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Answers to Your Pregnancy Diet Questions

Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, author and Mom with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise.

Her work is research-based, very thorough, and combines the current scientific literature with the wisdom of traditional cultures. Her unique approach has helped tens of thousands of women manage their gestational diabetes (most without the need for blood sugar-lowering medication) and also influenced nutrition policies internationally.

Interview with author,nutritionist and mom Lily Nichols.

Q: What inspired you to write Real Food for Pregnancy?

Lily: I started getting asked to write a book on general prenatal nutrition shortly after the release of my first book, Real Food for Gestational Diabetes. Midwives and doctors who had seen the positive impact on gestational diabetes wanted to have a resource for their non-diabetic clients.

They also wanted my evidence-based summary on other topics related to pregnancy, like supplements, exposure to toxins, the validity of typical “foods to avoid” lists and more.

Q: How long did it take you to write this book?

Lily: Roughly 15 months from first word on the page to publishing. It took way longer than anticipate, but I also had a baby-turned-toddler in the house and very minimal childcare. My son was less than a year old when I started writing.

 Click the image to listen to Lily read this amazing book!

Q: What do you think is the most important thing for women to understand about pregnancy nutrition?

Lily: That not every nutrient need can be met from a supplement; we need real food to provide optimal types and quantities of nutrients to have a healthiest pregnancy possible.

Q: When you were pregnant, what did you find to be the most challenging part of eating healthy?

Lily: First trimester nausea and food aversions definitely made it hard at the beginning.

What was helpful to me was trusting that there was a larger reason for nausea to happen, a topic that I share research about in Chapter 7.

From experience in counseling hundreds of pregnant women, I knew whatever I was feeling was likely temporary and to just be gentle with myself and make the best choices within whatever symptoms my body would allow (for example, opting for dried cherries instead of sour gummy worms and salted cashews instead of saltine crackers).

We all seem to get through it somehow! Thankfully, if you’ve been eating a nutrient-dense diet pre-pregnancy, you can count on your nutritional stores of help carry you through the tough weeks.

RELATED – 5 Nutritional Deficiencies Common During Pregnancy (And How to Prevent Them)

Q: When it comes to gut health – is taking a prenatal with a probiotic or eating yogurt enough?

Lily: Both are wise choices, however there are many nutritious foods that can support gut health, such as fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt), foods high in fiber (avocados, berries, nuts, etc.), and foods rich in gelatin (bone broth, slow-cooked meats, etc.).

Sometimes fermented foods can provide an even richer source of probiotics than supplements!

Q: What foods did you crave during pregnancy? Do you recommend moms indulge cravings or resist them?

Lily: I can’t say I had strong cravings beyond wanting to incorporate more salty foods and citrus fruit into my diet (sour and salty were especially helpful in the first trimester for me). I tend to eat mindfully as a rule of thumb, so I didn’t ascribe “pregnancy” to the reason that I wanted more of these foods.

Many of my “cravings” came and went week by week, just as my food preferences are in flux outside of pregnancy.

Q: What is your favorite recipe from the book?

Lily: By far, the maple pots de creme. It’s such a luscious dessert. Many of the recipes are staples in my house, though. The meatloaf is something we make twice a month. And there’s always extra bone broth in my freezer!

Q: Best pregnancy snack?

Lily: Not sure I can pick just one. Olives are an obvious pick – super satisfying and full of salt, an essential nutrient that’s very important to consume enough of during pregnancy. I also like anything with avocado on it!

Related: Amazingly Healthy Snacks for Pregnancy to Try Right Now

Q: Can you explain the importance of healthy fats for pregnant moms?

Lily: Your body’s need for fat-soluble vitamins and other nutrients found in high-fat foods goes up during pregnancy. For example, requirements for choline and vitamin A, both found in high concentrations in liver and egg yolks, rise significantly in pregnancy. The quality of fat you consume is crucial.

For example, the fats that naturally occur in real food (like in grass-fed meat, salmon, eggs, avocado, nuts, and dairy) come along with other necessary nutrients. If you avoid these foods due to fat content, you risk a number of nutrient deficiencies.

On the other hand, the fats in vegetables oils and imitation butter spreads are high in either omega-6 fats or trans fats, both of which have been linked to pregnancy complications (such as preterm birth and preeclampsia) and developmental problems (like delays in fine motor skills and problems with vision development).

When it comes to fat, we need to do what our great grandmother’s would have done. Eat the unprocessed fat from whatever whole food we’re eating, which includes animal fats.

Q: Any tips for getting over food aversions like to liver or eggs, for example?

Lily: Get curious about the possible reason for the aversion. Putting a rationale behind it makes it easier to understand/figure out.

I don’t think aversions are something to overcome, but something to wait out.

Try, try, and try again. Consider having someone else cook for you, especially if it’s a smell aversion or linked to nausea.

Eventually, most women get though the food aversion phase and can get back to enjoying a varied diet. There are probably a dozen possible reasons for food aversions and I lay this all out in the book for people who really want to dive deep.

The audio version of Real Food for Pregnancy is now available on Amazon! Find out how to listen to it for FREE here!

Q: What would you recommend to moms on a budget who feel like eating organic, non gmo and pasture raised meats is too expensive? Where would you focus your spending? Is it “ok” to eat real food just not organic everything?

Lily: I get this question a lot. The population I started working with was low income moms and families in Los Angeles.

Essentially, you do the best that you can given your means. (i.e. conventionally grown vegetables and regular eggs are still nutritious).

If a woman is on WIC, for example, I encourage the most nutrient dense foods available to her (i.e. eating eggs with the yolks instead of throwing them out). I address this briefly at the end of each food that I highlight in Chapter 3.

One of the big frustrations I hear from health-conscious moms is that there isn’t much in-depth information available on prenatal nutrition (beyond pamphlet-style info), so my goal in writing Real Food for Pregnancy was to fill that gap.

The deeper you dig into the research, the more information you find on nutrient density and the presence of things like pesticides residues and antibiotic residues of foods based on how they’re grown.

It doesn’t mean conventionally grown foods aren’t worth eating, just that there are benefits to higher quality foods if it is within your means.

Q: Do you recommend meat with every meal to achieve a certain protein intake per day?

Lily: Not necessarily. The latest research shows us that protein needs go up during pregnancy and are considerably higher than conventional prenatal nutrition guidelines.

In the first half of pregnancy, aim for a minimum of 80 g of protein per day. In the second half of pregnancy, aim for a minimum of 100 g of protein per day.

If you’re a larger person or are very physically active, you may want to aim a little higher.

I suggest having some form of protein at every meal/snack for satiety and blood sugar balance.

You can meet protein needs from a variety of foods, including things other than meat, such as eggs, nuts/seeds, fish, dairy, and legumes/beans.

Q: How have you observed the impact of a healthy diet on pregnancy weight gain versus expected weight gain?

Lily: I get a bit frustrated with weight gain guidelines because they are entirely based on BMI, but don’t necessarily take into consideration height or frame.

Why would we expect that a woman who’s 5’1” gain the same amount as a woman who is 5’10”?

Second, weight gain goals are different all over the globe, with some setting suggested weight gain for healthy weight women at as little as 18 lbs (in the US, the low end of the “normal” weight gain range is 25 lbs).

The best you can do is eat nutritious foods, eat to satiety, move your body (i.e. exercise) and let the scale do what it will.

Q: Do women generally tend to not gain as much weight/swell when they follow plant-based eating habits, with perfectly normal baby growth?

Lily: Regarding weight gain and plant based diets, I’ve seen it all over the map. I’ve had some women following a vegetarian diet gain a lot of weight, seemingly due to a high ratio of carbohydrates in the diet (it’s well documented that a high carb diet increases weight gain in pregnancy) and others who gain below expected (possible due to low caloric intake or some other factor).

I advocate for an omnivorous, low glycemic real food diet and I’ve observed a normalization of pregnancy weight gain, even among clients who had a history of gaining 60+ pounds in previous pregnancies.

Q: Who are your favorite people to follow on social media talking about nutrition and/or pregnancy, birth and postpartum?

Lily: I love the work of Evidence Based Birth, Magamamas (Kimberly Johnson), Birthful (Adriana Lozada), Delivering Miracles (Parijat Deshpande), Ariana Taboada, and Startup Pregnant (Sarah K. Peck).

Q: What project(s) are you working on next?

Lily: I’m working on developing continuing education courses for healthcare professionals on the topics of prenatal nutrition, gestational diabetes, and other women’s health nutrition topics.

Taking the Confusion out of Pregnancy Diet

If you are struggling with figuring out how to have a healthy pregnancy get a copy of Lily’s book Real Food for Pregnancy on Amazon. There is a wealth of information shared and it’s all research backed so that you can feel confident making decisions about your pregnancy and baby’s health.

Read my full review of Real Food for Pregnancy here!

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One thought on “Top Pregnancy Nutrition Questions Answered

  1. So much valuable and helpful information in this interview with Lily Nichols! I only wish her book had been published when I was still having babies. 🙂 So happy that good nutrition information for pregnancy is getting published and great blogs like this one are getting the word out. Thanks for this post.

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