Protein, especially meat, has gotten a pretty bad rap in the last decade in the mainstream wellness community. Meatless Monday, anyone? However, no one can deny the necessity of protein, especially in pregnancy. From building co-enzymes, hormones, immune cells, and blood cells to maintaining and growing muscles cells which turn on the metabolic fire, protein is an ABSOLUTE necessity during any time in a woman’s life. Growing a baby on top of the everyday maintenance pushes the protein needs up and up throughout the duration of the 40 (LONG) weeks. After all, those sweet baby fingers and toes are built by the nutrition that momma takes in through her food and via her previous nutritional stores.
When building a baby, protein should symbolize the BRICKS that layer upon layer make up a healthy baby. These protein bricks are made up of amino acids that each play a specific role in a developing fetus. One specific but very important example is Glycine. This acid is an important during pregnancy as it becomes conditionally essential. This means that one must take glycine in through food in order to meet maternal and fetal needs. Glycine is important for mom’s stretching skin and uterus as well as the both mom and baby’s circulatory system and methylation processes. Secondly, protein rich foods generally contain the rich sources of micronutrients. These micronutrients include iron, zinc, vitamin B12, choline, and DHA. All of which are critical for brain, nervous system, and immune systems. Lastly, protein intake ensures hormonal balance through insulin levels and sugar metabolism. Just as the branches of government balance one another (well hopefully), the macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) have a yin and yang effect on hormones. And, trust me, balancing hormones throughout pregnancy really helps with mood swings and energy levels.
New evidence over the past few years has brought to light the increasing requirements for protein during pregnancy and the need to update current standards. The current recommendation set by the Institute of Medicine states that 0.88 grams per kilogram during early pregnancy and 1.1 grams per kilogram during later stages of pregnancy as the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). In every day terms, this looks like 60 to 75 grams daily for an 150 pound woman. In 2015 and 2016 separate studies, researchers concluded that the protein needs of the average women were actually 1.2 grams per day during early gestation and 1.52 grams per day in later stages. This puts actually protein estimate needs up to approximately 80 to 100 grams per day. That is a substantial difference!
Prioritizing Protein During the Day: Here are a few tips and tricks to ensure mom is getting enough in for both herself and baby.
The PLATE METHOD WORKS! During a meal fill ¼ (25%) of your plate, bowl, or whatever vessel you choose with these guys. This is an easy way to get to your 80 to 100 grams of protein without doing all that MATH. Eating should be fun!
Use the following protein LIST as a resources to gain ideas, meal plan, and shop.
- Grass-fed beef, cut or ground
- Grass-fed lamb, cut or ground
- Grass-fed beef liver or pasture-raised, organic chicken liver (include 1 to 2 times per month)
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Pasture-raised chicken: breast, thighs, wings, or freshly ground
- Wild-caught fish: flounder, trout
- Wild-caught salmon
- Pastured-raised pork: cut or freshly ground
- Wild-caught shell fish: shrimp, clams
- Wild-caught scallops
- Organic chicken, turkey sausage (Applegate is my favorite brand)
- Protein Powders: Collagen, Grass-fed whey
- Greek Yogurt: Grass-fed if possible, watch out for added sugars
- Nuts and seeds
A few pregnancy all stars that are worth double checking your meal plan to include:
Liver (only 1 to 2 times per month)
Here is a sample menu for including 80 – 100 grams of protein.
2 -3 eggs cooked in ½ to 1 tablespoons of grass-fed butter; 1 slice of sourdough topped with ¼ to ½ mashed avocado and sprinkled with sea salt; ½ cup berries; 1 glass of cow’s milk or higher protein vegan milk.
3 – 4 ounces canned salmon; 2 cups spinach; 1 cup chopped bell pepper; ¼ cup sunflower seeds; 2 tablespoons full fat dressing
3 – 4 ounces pull pork; ¼ cup coleslaw; 1 cup roasted broccoli; ½ cup roasted new potatoes; 2 tablespoons BBQ sauce
½ cup Greek yogurt topped with berries and nuts
Beef jerky with carrot sticks
Animal sources (meat, poultry, and fish) are rock stars for pregnancy: I believe the break down between those who have it out for meat and those who praise meat (and eat WAY too much of it) happens when we forget to think about QUALITY and SOURCE of meat. Quality protein is one that is wild and NOT injected with human-made chemicals or antibiotics, having non-natural feeding patterns, or other toxic breeding or producing factors. No doubt that the price tag of these boys is a bit higher; but I guarantee that it is worth it. Unfortunately, access to high quality meats is hard to come by in certain parts of the country. However, you now can have grassfed beef and organic chicken delivered to your front door. I recommend a company called Butcher Box. Find them at www.butcherbox.com. I also recommend Thrive Market for their protein boxes. Thrive has a ton of great products in their online store as well! Find them at www.thrivemarket.com.
What to do on days when eating feels impossible? I wish I could ask the answer was simple; however, some days it is just not going to be easy. I recommend eating smaller amounts of food spread throughout the day. Try to prioritize higher protein foods when feeling hungry. Utilize collagen powders in teas and other beverages as well as bone broths. Both are great sources of glycine and generally more tolerable on uneasy stomachs.
The SIMPLIFIED Savage Solution:
Aim to include approximately 80 grams per day during the first half of pregnancy and 100 grams in the second half as needs increase as the baby grows. Source of protein matters. Look for meat that is labeled “grass-fed” if possible as it ups the omega-3 ratio. Organic poultry and pork are preferable. Watch out for sources and types of fish as mercury levels can buildup and become toxic to baby.
Elango, & Rajavel & Ball, R. (2016, July 11). Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy. Retrieved from Advanced Nutrition.
Nichols, L. (2018). Real Food for Pregnancy.USA: Lily Nicholas.
Stephens, T., Payne, M., Ball, R., Pencharz, P., & Elango, R. (2015). Protein Requirements of Healthy Pregnant Women during Early and Late Gestation Are Higher than Current Recommendations. The Journal of Nutrition, 73-78.