PREGNANCY AND THE PALEO DIET

What is the Paleo diet?


In a nutshell, the Paleolithic diet, sometimes called the Caveman diet, is a style of eating that most closely mimics the ancient diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  It consists solely of whole, unprocessed foods, such as meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

 

Grains, legumes, dairy, salt, refined sugars and refined oils are generally eschewed, though some Paleo adherents will still consume small amounts of dairy (such as butter, cream or yoghurt) from grass-fed mammals.

 

The Paleo diet is based on the premise that human genetics have changed very little over the past 10,000 years; thus, we are much better adapted to eat the diet that our human ancestors ate for 2.5 million years than we are to the predominantly grain-based diet that has developed since the Agricultural Revolution.

 

Is the Paleo diet safe during pregnancy?


Not only is it completely safe, it may even help to prevent such pregnancy-related conditions as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and excessive weight gain.  Paleo-compliant foods, such as meat, seafood and produce, are considerably more nutritionally dense than the grain and sugar-laden mainstays of the standard North American diet, meaning that calorie for calorie, a pregnant woman following the Paleo diet is much more likely to meet all of her nutritional needs without the requirement for supplementation.

 

Are there any modifications that should be made for pregnant women?


Possibly.  It all depends on how you were eating pre-pregnancy.

 

1. Protein.  Depending on how much protein you normally consume, you may need to reduce your protein intake.  Many Paleo adherents, especially those following a demanding athletic training regimen, consume between 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.  Professor Loren Cordain, one of the foremost experts on the Paleo diet, explains, “Because of metabolic changes that occur in the liver during pregnancy, women cannot tolerate as high protein levels as they normally could. This issue has been documented in both the anthropological and clinical literature. Hence fattier meats, higher fat vegetable foods and more carbs are required.”

 

I actually found that I instinctively reduced my high protein intake by about a third, even before I knew I was pregnant.  I simply was not as hungry for large servings of meat as I had previously been.  Pre-pregnancy, I was consuming about 150 grams of protein per day, whereas I would estimate my current protein consumption to be in the 100 gram range, or about 0.6 grams per pound of bodyweight.

 

2. Carbohydrate.  According to both Canadian and American pregnancy nutrition guidelines, pregnant women should increase their carbohydrate consumption to approximately 150 grams per day (this is only an average — it varies by size, body composition and energy expenditure).  The irony of this recommendation is that most women following a typical North American diet are actually consuming closer to 300 grams of carbohydrates per day, so what they should be doing during pregnancy is reducing, rather than increasing, their carbohydrate consumption.  But a woman following the Paleo diet and eating more vegetables than fruits may need to increase her carbohydrates by anywhere from 50 to 100 percent.

 

Since finding out that I was pregnant, I have increased my fruit consumption, and have added some higher-glycemic tropical fruits (such as bananas and oranges) to my diet, where I was previously only eating berries and apples.

 

3. Calcium.  The Paleo diet has received some criticism for its lack of calcium-containing dairy products, but because of the absence of gut-irritating grains, and the increased levels of dietary magnesium (from fish, vegetables and nuts), calcium absorption is greatly improved; thus, intake requirements are reduced.  During pregnancy, however, a woman’s calcium requirements are considerably higher, and as such, it might be prudent to add a calcium supplement and/or a small amount of organic, grass-fed dairy in order to meet these increased needs.

 

I have made the decision to add small amounts of dairy to my diet, including plain Greek yoghurt, heavy cream and goat cheese.  I have never really been able to tolerate milk, but the above products don’t seem to be causing any problems for me, at least with the quantity and frequency I am consuming right now.  The yoghurt also has the added benefit of containing probiotics, which help to prevent two of pregnancy’s most common afflictions: gas and yeast infections.

 

4. Timing.  Many followers of the Paleo diet eat only two large meals per day, as the higher levels of dietary protein and fat lead to increased satiety, while the low glycemic load of vegetable and fruit-based carbohydrates mediates the hormonal fluctuations that cause hunger.  Conventional pregnancy nutrition recommendations suggest that women should eat immediately upon waking, then every two to three hours thereafter, in order to prevent nausea/crankiness/fatigue/etc. (insert favourite pregnancy symptom here), and in order to ensure a steady supply of nutrients to the placenta.

 

If a woman is eating in accordance with the Paleo diet, chances are that the hormonal fluctuations that cause nausea/crankiness/fatigue/etc. will be greatly reduced, so the woman will not have to eat every two to three hours to feel good. Certainly that has been my experience, as I often don’t eat my first meal of the day until close to noon and then don’t eat another major meal until late in the evening (I will generally have a snack somewhere in there).  I’ve had no problems whatsoever with this arrangement.  I am starting to find, however, that as my stomach gets crowded out by my growing uterus, I can’t quite eat as much in one sitting as I’m accustomed to, so I will probably shift to a schedule of smaller and more frequent meals/snacks as it becomes necessary.

 

One thing I need to make absolutely clear is that within normal parameters (i.e. not being in a famine situation), there is no correlation whatsoever between frequency of meals and the amount of nutrients being supplied to the growing fetus.  The human body is amazingly well-adapted to prioritize the baby’s needs, so as long as you are eating when you’re hungry, and eating nutritionally-dense Paleo foods, it is perfectly safe to go without food for as many hours as it takes before you become hungry again.

 

Workouts:

 

TUESDAY (yesterday) – 5 rounds of:

2 Turkish get-ups (16 kg kettlebell)
5 deadlifts (185 lbs)
10 box jumps (20″)

7 min 43 sec

 

WEDNESDAY – Rest day.

22 responses to “PREGNANCY AND THE PALEO DIET

  1. Thanks so much for posting all of this information. I started Crossfit in October and went paleo in November. I was worried about how to stay paleo while pregnant and your blog has been a great help regarding nutrition, exercise, supplements, etc. Now I know I can safely increase my carbs without having to go back to the horrible processed stuff.

  2. This blog is FANTASTIC! Good on you for promoting paleo during pregnancy – I couldn’t agree more with you! I have to ask though: Did you struggle with nausea at all? You mentioned that eating paleo decreases your chances of having nausea (as well as other symptoms) but it wasn’t clear whether you battled with this or not? If so, how did you manage to eat enough veggies, meat, etc. as these are my biggest food aversions right now. All I want is fruit, yogurt, and *gasp* toast! Any suggestions? I’m 7 weeks and I’m really having a hard time with food :(

    • I had a little bit of nausea (occasional and fleeting), but my main symptom was a strong aversion to cooked vegetables and green vegetables — and especially cooked, green vegetables (broccoli… ew!). I also found meat somewhat less appealing, but not totally gross. I just ate a lot less of it than I normally would.

      In retrospect, when I wrote that post I didn’t have much to go by other than my own limited experience. Since then, I’ve heard enough stories to convince me that even Paleo women can have morning sickness (I think it’s mostly a genetic predisposition). I’ve heard no end of anecdotes from women who couldn’t stand the thought of meat and veggies in their first trimesters, and basically reverted to eating starchy carbs for the entire first three to four months of pregnancy, so I think you’re in good company.

      I still think that eating Paleo leading up to the pregnancy is highly beneficial (and who knows if your nausea and food aversions would be even worse for having not done that), as it gives a good, healthy basis that can help to offset the impact of any deviations during the initial period of morning sickness.

      My advice now, a year later, would be to eat as well as you can, but not to beat yourself up if you can’t stick to strict Paleo. You can only do the best that you can do, and there’s no sense in feeling guilty about the things over which you have no control. You will have lots of time to make up for it in the second and third trimesters when the nausea and food aversions go away. :)

      Congrats on your pregnancy!!

      • Thank you! This is so helpful. I am familiar with the paleo diet and like it but I am not strict with it. I try to eat more just natural non processed foods, enjoying greek yogurt and other dairy. I am 9 wks pregnant, and I have just been hit by a train it feels like with nausea. I kept beating myself up because I literally can not stomach meat! I love meat my mind tells me, but my body says different. Unfortunately starches have been my friend, and I’m eating a lot of things that I normally wouldn’t even think about eating. Not only that but eating every few hrs because of my severe lack of protien, other than greek yogurt, protien is pretty much repulsive. So this is encouraging, and good for my husband to see, because he thinks I have lost my mind. Thank you!

        • You’ll feel a lot better in a few weeks, and then you can get back to your regular healthy eating. In the meantime, just remember that it’s better to eat *something* that is less than optimal, rather than eating *nothing* because everything that’s healthy for you is unappealing. :)

  3. Hi. I am NOT currently pregnant but plan to be in about a year. I tried out a Paleo diet for the first time this past October through my CF gym as a nutrition challenge. After a month, I had noticed mood swings a week before my period, which I’ve never had in over 20 years of having my period. And subsequent periods since Oct. have been the same. I’m more emotional now than I’ve ever been & I really don’t like it. Have you noticed that too when you first started the Paleo lifestyle? I’m trying to research online to see if it could possibly be the intake of more protein than my body is normally used to. Thanks for any insight & for such a great blog.

    • That’s really interesting… I think it’s pretty common to have a lot of hormonal shifts in the early weeks of Paleo (which can definitely lead to mood swings), but I’ve never heard of it continuing for months! In fact, most women report the opposite – that their moods are generally much more stable after switching to Paleo eating.

      This might be a question worth sending to Robb Wolf (www.robbwolf.com) as something to be answered in one of his podcasts. He’s pretty expert on all of the biochemical changes that are brought about by the Paleo diet and he might have some insight for you.

  4. Gosh, you have no idea how EXTREMELY thankful and elated I am to find your blog on paleo/crossfitting and being pregnant. My husband and I just found out on New Years that we are pregnant. I am 5 weeks along and as soon as he found out he immediately told me it was no longer safe for me to do crossfit. I have literally been moping around the house having mixed feelings about everything. I have been crossfitting since April 2012 and on paleo since mid November. Nutrition and staying fit just means so much to me. I didn’t want to be out of shape even while being in pregnant. I truly believe I can still feel sexy and do the things I absolutely enjoy doing (ie. crossfit/paleo) while being pregnant. I really was scared I couldn’t do all of that anymore; but after reading your blog along with other articles I found I’m happy to find that it’s still okay to do crossfit and stay on paleo even though I’m pregnant (with a little bit of adjustments, of course). Again, thank you! You just made my day!!!!!! :)

  5. Great information thanks a lot! I’m 6 months pregnant and I’m still doing crossfit and running. My coach modifies the workouts for me, but I am still able to do a lot of the workouts. I was paleo before I got pregnant, but haven’t been since and I am thinking about returning to it for the remainder of the pregnancy. Any experience with starting the diet during pregnancy?

  6. Carli, did you take the ‘oral glucose tolerance test’ during your first pregnancy? I’ve heard it’s not recommended especially for paleo people. What did you do?

    Good luck with your second pregnancy :-)

    • No, I did not, for exactly that reason! I have heard of so many Paleo women failing it because their bodies simply couldn’t handle the glucose load. And then they have to do the follow up test with even more glucose, which makes absolutely no sense at all, in the context!

      Instead I did the two-hour postprandial glucose test. You fast overnight, then eat a regular breakfast and have blood drawn exactly two hours after the meal ends.

      You could also ask for the glycated hemoglobin (Hba1c) test, which shows your average blood sugar levels over the past three months. It is considered a much more accurate measure for diabetes than the Oral GTT.

      Hope that helps! :)

  7. Many thanks Carli, it helps a lot :-) So I’m assuming you did the postprandial glucose test yourself at home with a glucometer right?

    I find it quite unbelievable that while testing for diabetes can be done cheaply and conveniently at home, without subjecting oneself to the awful OGTT, doctors routinely order 1-hour (and sometimes 4-hour) GTT…

    Many thanks again for your feedback!

    • I did it at the lab, just as I would have done the OGTT. I had no problem with getting my health care provider to agree to this alternative. I am honestly surprised they don’t use it more often, though, as it’s a lot less unpleasant, and it’s healthier, too — who wants to put that garbage into their body?!

  8. I hope you don’t mind but I cited you on my own blog. My husband has just switched to a paleo diet in the hopes of being at a healthy weight before our baby is born however I tried to switch with him and it was PAINFUL. I decided to keep Vitamin D milk and two pieces of bread in my diet and it’s been an awesome few weeks on the new diet– we’re loving it. Looking for some info now showing that it’s safe to go Paleo while pregnant!

    • No, of course not; I am flattered :)

      Curious – do you mean that you found it physically painful (and if so, how?), or just painful as in difficult to follow while pregnant?

      • I would also like to know if it was physically painful to switch during pregnancy or just mental because of the cravings and such I’m 5 1/2 months along and have done a few days of Paleo a week to try it out and see if it was something our family of 5 would be capable of committing to and we really like it. I’m just concerned about the detox side effects affecting the pregnancy. Is there any research on that or any personal testimony from others you know of?

  9. Pingback: We’ve gone Paleolithic and it’s Paleo-RIFFIC | myhousewifetales·

  10. Thank you so much for all of this info! It is refreshing to have someone write a sensible first hand view of paleo through pregnancy! I’ve been reading so much about this and there are some extreme opinions out there! Good on you for being so balanced :)

  11. Pingback: 2nd Pregnancy, Crossfit, and Paleo…say What? | Crossfit.Paleo.Mama·

  12. Thank you is much for this information! My situation is a little different than other comments left…I am currently 5 weeks pregnant and overweight. My diet before getting pregnant was horrible and now that I am carrying a baby it has “awakened” me big time. I want to change my eating habits so that I do not risk having a healthy pregnancy. The paleo diet has stuck out to me as one of the best ways to achieve optimum health. I am concerned that starting something so far off from how I was (am) eating will cause issues, but I know I need to make a change. Thanks again for the inspiration concerning paleo and pregnancy!

    • Congratulations! :)

      This is just my personal take (for what it’s worth – I’m definitely not a medical professional), but I don’t see that there could be any down side to totally cleaning up your diet. The only thing you might want to do is cut the carbs back fairly gradually (you could eat lots of “clean” carbs like fruit and starchy vegetables, rather than grains), as while Paleo is not inherently “low-carb,” it does tend to be lower carb than most standard diets, by default. It can be quite a shock to the body to have to adjust suddenly to burning more fat and protein for fuel.

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