Before we can talk about prenatal supplementation, you must first understand what it means to supplement. By definition, the word “supplement” means:
“something that completes or enhances something else when added to it. To add an extra element or amount to.”
NO ONE should be looking at supplementing UNTIL they have first address nutritional issues. If you are not eating a truly balanced diet then you must start there.
We live in a time where there is a lot of confusion when it comes to nutrition. We are all used to consuming according to a certain diet — paleo, gaps, atkins, blood type, etc — but are any of these a truly balanced diet?
What does “balanced nutrition” really look like and include?
A truly balanced diet includes the Macronutrients of Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates AND the Micronutrients, or vitamins and minerals, in a form that is as close to their natural state as possible. A truly balanced diet also means that you are eating according to what works best for you as an individual. If your schedule is such that eating 6 small meals during the day places you in a stress response, then this is not balanced eating. If preparing the meal includes negative self-talk and emotions, then you are not eating in a balanced way. So, you must take into consideration your schedule as well as your emotional and mental states as you eat.
Your emotional and mental states matter when it comes to eating and considering the balanced nature of your diet. Anything that increases stress when it comes to eating is not part of balanced nutrition. It’s not just about the food we eat.
We ALL have been told that we need to be consuming whole foods and that processed foods should not be found in a plentiful amount in our homes. What about the “crazy busy days?” Do your best to plan ahead and understand that one meal isn’t going to create a huge nutritional deficit. It doesn’t work that way.
Some people may only need to supplement minerals. Minerals are not stored anywhere in the body and the body cannot create them. The body can create some of the vitamins but it cannot create any of the minerals. What I’ve studied thus far in regards to minerals leaves me confident in saying that 100% of illness and disease is linked to mineral deficiency in one way or another. Minerals are needed by the body in a very small amount, and they play a HUGE role in your health.
When it comes to pregnancy, Dr. Brewer’s Pregnancy Diet is the best thing out there.
So we have to start there. In order to start there, you need to understand Dr. Brewer’s Pregnancy Diet. If you’re hazy on it, go read through the site.
The VERY basic information to know about Dr. Brewer’s Pregnancy Diet is
- 80–100 grams of protein,
- salt to taste, and
- nothing less than 2300 calories.
One thing that you might find helpful is to write down everything you eat for seven days. You don’t need to count anything, just write it down and look at it. If what you see is three square meals with no snacks, then you dive deeper into Dr. Brewer’s Pregnancy Diet in regards to protein, salt and calories. Here’s an image to help get you started:
You must understand that this is about the health of both you and your baby. If you’re feeling like eating more food will “make” you fat, understand that what you eat is for your baby. Food, in and of itself, does not make humans fat.
TRUE STORY: I once had a client who was recovering from anorexia nervosa. She was pregnant with her first child and scared too death to eat too much. When we discussed nutrition during our childbirth education class, she shared with everyone where she was in her journey. She shared the terror she was feeling in that moment as she estimated that she had to consume at least 1000 more calories every single day than she had been consuming to this point. We all became her cheerleaders. She gave birth to a beautiful 8 pound full term baby girl and loved knowing that she had done that for her daughter.
Once you know you are consuming what you and your baby need to be consuming, know also that there are no foods off limits. Why? When you are given a list of foods that “absolutely should not ever be eaten,” you are essentially thrown into a state of deprivation. When you are in a state of deprivation, the “do not eat” foods on the list are the only foods you crave and eventually binge eat. When you give yourself permission to eat whatever you want, you keep yourself from entering a state of deprivation and eventually binge eating. Once you give yourself permission to eat any type of food, the craving for those foods typically diminish.
Yes, high sugar and processed foods deplete nutrient stores in the body faster than whole foods; however, the best way to ensure that you consume mostly high-sugar and processed foods is to tell yourself you absolutely cannot have them. So, release yourself from the dreaded cycle. Nothing is off limits….give yourself permission to eat.
Now that we’ve set the body up for success, let’s keep things heading in the right direction.
What could be wrong with just getting any old prenatal supplement?
Your basic prenatal supplement can be considered a refined or processed item with isolated or synthetic ingredients. Let’s look at an apple. We know what nutrients are found in an apple, right? Or do we? We know that one medium apple with skin contains 0.47 grams of protein, 95 calories, and 4.4 grams of dietary fiber. We also know there’s
- Potassium — 195 mg
- Calcium — 11 mg
- Phosphorus — 20 mg
- Magnesium — 9 mg
- Manganese — 0.064 mg
- Iron — 0.22 mg
- Sodium — 2 mg
- Copper — 0.049 mg
- Zinc — 0.07 mg
- Vitamin A — 98 IU
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) — 0.031 mg
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) — 0.047 mg
- Niacin — 0.166 mg
- Folate — 5 mcg
- Pantothenic Acid — 0.111 mg
- Vitamin B6–0.075 mg
- Vitamin C — 8.4 mg
- Vitamin E — 0.33 mg
- Vitamin K — 4 mcg
Apples also contain trace amounts of other minerals, as well as small amounts of some other vitamins.
So, if you get a supplement with all of these same nutrients, you’ve just consumed an apple, right? Well, no, you haven’t.
What’s missing are all the phytonutrients. We know they are there. We know they are good for the body, and many of them haven’t been named yet. Phytonutrients (also referred to as phytochemicals) are compounds found in plants. They serve various functions in plants, such as helping to protect the plant’s vitality. For example, some phytonutrients protect the plant from UV radiation while others protect it from insect attack.
Not only do phytonutrients benefit the plants, but they also provide benefits to those who enjoy plant food. That’s because they have health-promoting properties.
Fruits and vegetables are concentrated sources of phytonutrients. Other plant foods like whole grains, legumes/beans, nuts and seeds, and herbs and spices also contain phytonutrients. Since many phytonutrients also serve as the pigment that gives foods their deep hues, you can identify many phytonutrient-rich foods by looking for colorful foods; for example, look for foods that are blue or purple like blueberries, blackberries and red cabbage (rich in flavonoids); yellow-orange foods like carrots, winter squash, papaya, and melon (rich in beta-carotene); red or pink foods like tomatoes, guava, and watermelon (rich in lycopene); and green foods like kale, spinach, and collard greens (rich in chlorophyll). Yet, since not all phytonutrients give color, it’s important to not overlook some off-white foods as well — for example, garlic, onions, and leeks are rich in powerful sulfur-containing phytonutrients.
The typical prenatal supplement has been stripped of all of the phytonutrients and give you only the nutrient profiles we know about….the vitamins and minerals we can name and are familiar with have all been isolated, and are missing the additional nutrients that work synergistically together to provide you with optimal health. Because of this, these synthetics can cause harm to the body. Eating the apple isn’t going to harm your body unless you’re sensitive to apples. The apple, in most cases, will nourish your body. Consuming a prenatal supplement that only contains the synthetic copies of only part of the ingredients found in an apple can cause harm.
Let me explain with this analogy: The perfect example of this difference can be seen in an automobile. An automobile is a wonderfully designed complex machine that needs all of its parts to be present and in place to function properly. Wheels are certainly an important part of the whole, but you could never isolate them from the rest of the car, call them a car or expect them to function like a car. They need the engine, body and everything else.
The same analogy applies to the vitamin C (ascorbic acid) or vitamin E (delta tocopherol) you can find on most health food store shelves. They are parts of an entire complex that serve a purpose when part of the whole. However, they cannot do the job of the entire complex by themselves.
With similar logic in place, one can analyze what a typical prenatal supplement or multivitamin truly is. The automobile equivalent of creating a prenatal supplement or multivitamin would be going to a junk yard, finding all of the separate parts you would need to make up an entire automobile, throwing them together in a heap (or capsule in terms of the multivitamin) and expecting that heap to drive like a car!
Obviously, there is a difference. Science cannot create life. Only life can create life.
Synthetic or isolated nutrients are not natural. They are not found alone naturally. There is no Vitamin C tree. Our bodies actually treat these isolated nutrients as if they are foreign substances. They are not recognized and used by the body in the same way that an apple is recognized and used.
Whole food prenatal supplements, also known as food-based prenatal supplements, do create this response from the body.
The unspoken truth about synthetic supplements
If you take an incomplete prenatal supplement, the body will take what it needs from its own nutrient stores. This is not supplementation. This is depletion. Nutritionist Judith DeCava puts it best:
“Separating the group of compounds (in a vitamin complex) converts it from a physiological, biochemical, active micronutrient into a disabled, debilitated chemical of little or no value to living cells. The synergy is gone.”
What does all of this mean? The potency of a prenatal supplement has much more to do with synergy than with actual nutrient levels. It is a combined effect of all the parts of the food, rather than the chemical effect of a single part, that is most important.
Don’t Forget the Basics
I fear all of this talk of prenatal supplements — food-based, isolated or synthetic — has detracted from the most important part of health and healing. The basics of proper diet, exercise, detoxification, structure, mental/emotional and spiritual health, must all be in order for true healing to occur. No prenatal supplement will work on its own if these foundations are not in place.
However, even when these foundations are in place, or if the situation is acute enough to necessitate a more immediate response, prenatal supplement support may still be needed for a while. When these situations arise, I strongly recommend food-based prenatal supplements to be your first choice.
You may be wondering what I recommend.
My first suggestion is always real food. Fill the kitchen with color; lots and lots of color. A good indication of a truly balanced meal is found in the colors of the meal. Far too many enjoy mac and cheese, with corn and a biscuit. YES, people do eat this way. Learn about the rainbow. Look for examples of how to create a colorful meal. Make it appealing to the eye and it will also be appealing to the pallet.
Next, use essential oils, herbs and spices in your cooking. These add to the flavor of the meal while also increasing the nutrient value of the meal. Seek out food-based prenatal supplements. My absolute favorite is called Comprehensive Core made by Mother Earth Labs. It’s by far the best supplement I’ve come across, ever. While it is not designated as a “prenatal” supplement, it is an amazing supplement to use prenatally thanks to how it’s designed.
Comprehensive Core, made by Mother Earth Labs, has been designed specifically for those impacted by MTHFR. While the focus for this supplement is those with MTHFR, taking this supplement benefits everyone. I have used this as a prenatal supplement with my home birth clients for 5 years. Prior to using this supplement I spoke with Dr. Hoover, a Dr. of Natural Health who helped with its formulation. I explained to him who I was and how I wanted to use Comprehensive Core as a prenatal supplement. He was excited to hear it and whole-heartedly encouraged me to do so.
Let’s talk about capsule, tablet, powder, liquid. Which is best?
If it’s a tablet and claims to be a whole-food prenatal supplement. Be cautious. Tablets are notorious for not breaking down enough in the gut for proper assimilation. This means that the binder used to make the tablet may work too well thereby making it impossible for the tablet to break apart in your body. So that’s the first thing I look at….tablets get put back on the shelf. MOST whole-food prenatal supplements will not be in tablet form.
Capsules are better. If you prefer a capsule, look for one. Understanding how the body works will help you understand the best way to take a supplement. If the package says to take 3 capsules once daily. You might consider taking 1 capsule 3 times daily. By doing this, your body is able to use nutrients more effectively. Mother Earth Labs just released a capsule form of their Comprehensive Core formula!
Powders and liquids are the best way to take a whole-food prenatal supplement because they enter the blood stream faster and are more readily available to the body. Powders and liquids can be mixed with other food items or taken alone.
Some people choose to take their prenatal supplements with dinner instead of breakfast. The reason for this is because our body enters its restorative phase in the evening and works on restoring and cleansing during the night. Taking prenatal supplements at dinner gives the body nutrients that are ready to be used during this natural restorative phase. Anything “extra” will then be stored by the body to help replace what has been used during the day. Other people take half their supplement in the morning with breakfast and the other half with dinner.
Regardless of what prenatal supplement you choose to take and when, always start with your daily food intake. Do the best you can there and then use a prenatal supplement to fill in the gaps.