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Are Raw-Food Diets Dangerous If You’re Pregnant?

Are Raw-Food Diets Dangerous If You’re Pregnant?

Who hasn’t read about Loni Jane Anthony, the pregnant woman who adheres to a raw vegan diet? According to reports, the 26-year-old Australian follows the “80/10/10,” a diet developed by Dr. Douglas Graham, a raw foodist. It provides 80% carbohydrates, 10% fats, 10% protein and revolves around eating whole, uncooked fruits and vegetables. According to an interview the first-time mom-to-be gave to an Australian news site, it’s not unusual for her to have 10 bananas for breakfast.

The story -- not surprisingly -- has drawn both criticism and accolades. It also reminded me of how strong people’s opinions are on nutrition during pregnancy --and the neurosis that can develop. “Did I eat enough calcium today … the cheese I ate yesterday is on a list of foods forbidden in pregnancy … what about that friend who ate peanut butter and her child now has a peanut allergy?” It’s enough to drive anyone to madness.

And as my husband may attest (well, he won’t, because he knows what’s good for him), it doesn’t take much to drive a pregnant woman (such as myself!) to madness.

Is a strictly raw fruit and veggie diet healthy for you and your baby? There are so many nutrients that we need to take into our body when we’re pregnant -- some which are just believed to be beneficial, while others, such as folic acid, are crucial to prevent severe birth defects. The reality of any exclusion diet (such as vegetarian or vegan or junk food-arian or what have you) is that it’s exceptionally difficult to get all of the nutrients that your body requires. Consequently, to follow any restriction diet requires paying very close attention in order to get the necessary nutrients -- especially when baby is on the way.

Another problem with restrictive diets is that you may end up eating large amounts of the same types of foods. It’s important to eat a variety -- too much of any one nutrient, such as excessive potassium, vitamin A and other vitamins and minerals can lead to problems.

Women on vegetarian or vegan diets should make sure that they’re getting adequate essential amino acids, iron, trace minerals, vitamins B12 and D, calcium and healthy fats. All of these nutrients are at risk in diets without any animal fats. Lean meats and fish are considered “high quality proteins” because they contain all nine essential amino acids, whereas plant-based foods are often lacking in one or more. However, this shortage can be fixed by the addition of soy products, making sure to eat an adequate mix of foods to get all amino acids, and increasing dairy or eggs, if possible.

There are some good lessons from the raw food diet -- such as limiting trans fats, foods with preservatives and adding a good helping of vitamins -- but they can also be followed with any other healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, veggies, grains, and healthy fats.

Some key highlights of your goal pregnancy diet:

  1. Your baby eats the trans fats that you eat. Trans fats cross the placenta -- and are felt to adversely affect some metabolic systems in the fetus. While other fats, in particular monounsaturated fats such as olive and canola oil, are beneficial, there’s no benefit to trans fats in your or your baby’s diet. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed that trans fats be eliminated from foods completely.
  2. A fetus needs approximately 2.2 pounds of protein during your pregnancy, meaning that you need to eat 1.1 grams/kg/day of protein (up from 0.8 grams/kg/day when not pregnant).
  3. Did you know that your blood volume expands by up to 50%? All the more reason why iron supplementation is so important. Note: If it’s causing you constipation, talk with your doctor about intermittent (one to three times per week) supplementation instead of daily.
  4. Calcium is needed to keep YOUR bones strong. If you’re not getting adequate calcium, your body will take it out of your bones to provide the baby. So, do yourself a favor here, and make sure you’re getting adequate calcium in your diet or vitamins.
  5. Don’t overdo it. Too much of any one food is NOT a good thing (be it anything from bananas to broccoli to bologna. Avoid supplements with higher than the daily recommended dose for iron, selenium, vitamin A (higher than 5000 IU or 1500mcg/ day), and vitamin D (to be safe, stay at 4000 IU or 100mcg or less). 
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