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Protein in Pregnancy and Beyond: How Much Do You Need?

Protein in Pregnancy and Beyond: How Much Do You Need?

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Motherhood begins the moment that pregnancy test turns pink. Long before the birth story, the baby registry and even the baby bump, motherhood bursts forth with it’s eternal, never-ending question: am I doing this whole motherhood thing right?

A newly published study on the topic of protein intake in pregnancy just made answering this question in relation to diet a whole lot easier.

How simple is this: just eat the amount that feels good!

Why Protein?

First of all, why eat protein in the first place?

Protein is one of three macronutrients necessary for healthy body function. Protein properly digested is broken down into individual amino acids that are used for building muscle tissue, hormones, blood hemoglobin and countless other functions. 

During pregnancy the maternal body is producing significant amounts of each of those items – and others! – beginning with the surging hormones that turn the test pink, to the incredible growth of an additional organ (the placenta) to the blood volume increase responsible for supplying fetus nutrients, oxygen and for removing waste. Whew! 

Consuming good levels of quality protein in the beginning of pregnancy can help curb morning sickness. And protein plays a huge role in fetal weight gain, too. Growing a healthy baby (and feeling good while doing so!) has a great deal to do with your protein intake. 

So how much do you really need?

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How Much Protein Is Enough?

The amount of protein required for a healthy pregnancy has been a hot topic in obstetric circles. But a new study published in the Natural Medicine Journal suggests the debate may be over.

And the answer is simple and individualistic: eat an amount of protein that makes you feel good.

Says Dr. Kaycie Grigal, a naturopath who summarized the results:

This study finds that the protein needs of women throughout pregnancy are higher than previously recommended and possibly closer to what women may be craving.   

The average amount of protein that typically produces healthy results is 70-100 grams per day, depending on the stage of pregnancy. You can calculate your personal intake amount this way:

  • Identify your total weight
  • Multiply your weight by 0.54 (for the early part of pregnancy) OR by 0.68 (for the later part of pregnancy)
  • The new number is the approximate grams of protein you may want to consume

Keep in mind this will look different for everyone and can be influenced by the amount of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and phytonutrients (nutrients from plants) that are present in the diet, too.

Use these numbers simply as a guideline for protein intake. Remember your best guide is how you feel!

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Where to Find Protein…

Based on the study the following diet was suggested:

Breakfast: 2 eggs, 2 slices toast = 21 g protein
Snack: 1 oz cheese = 7 g
Lunch: 1 c cooked lentils with steamed veggies = 18 g
Snack: 2 T peanut butter on 2 rye crackers = 12 g
Dinner: 1 c cooked chicken breast with 1 c quinoa and steamed veggies = 51 g
Total: 109 g protein, approximately 1300 calories

This example provides a great balance of protein from animal sources and plant sources. It’s tempting to try to meet our daily protein needs through animal products alone, but doing so removes the opportunity to gain additional nutrients like vitamin C, fiber and antioxidant flavanoids that are prevalent in plants. 

Here are some tips for eating protein, without focusing on meat alone:

— Plan for a salad as the main course of your meal, rather than meat. Dark, leafy greens are good sources of protein. Consider adding hard-boiled eggs, protein-rich sprouts and a handful of nuts. Shredded meat on top is fine, too. 

— Use lentils to replace half of the meat required in recipes. These tasty legumes adapt well in Mexican dishes, stuffed peppers, and even meatloaf. They’re budget-friendly, too!

— Include a main dish comprised of quinoa and vegetables, like our favorite Quinoa Vegetable Salad or Broccoli Quinoa Satay. Use meat only as a side dish.

— Use a handful of nuts or seeds as an afternoon or evening snack. (Bonus points if you can eat them soaked and/or sprouted. Here’s an overview of how to soak and dehydrate nuts.) 

At the end of the day…

It’s been my experience (with myself, with friends and with clients) that eating well comes intuitively for the most part in pregnancy… but the reminder to eat frequently doesn’t not.

Eat some protein-containing food every few hours. And eat enough that you feel great!

Doing so will do you and your baby a world of good. 

To your health!

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