By Ali Weatherford

So much happens during pregnancy that is outside of our control. We don’t get to decide the baby’s exact genetics, or where the placenta decides to attach to the uterus. Each baby is different, and every pregnant body handles pregnancy differently. That can be VERY hard for the control freaks out there to accept. I can definitely include myself in those numbers. I don’t like it when I can’t control everything!

What happens to the body during pregnancy is stunning, and sometimes disappointing. There are countless amazing things happening in there to grow a new organ and a new baby, and sometimes things go a little sideways.

Preeclampsia is a condition that most people don’t hear about until they are pregnant.

During routine prenatal care, your provider is watching carefully for any signs of this condition. They take your blood pressure at each appointment and check your urine for proteins. They may ask you to watch for certain symptoms that could indicate illness if they see some telling signs.

What is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that occurs during pregnancy that can cause organ dysfunction. Most of the time, it gets worse toward the end of pregnancy, and can even sometimes show itself during the first couple of weeks postpartum.

The most common treatment for this condition is to get the baby born. If preeclampsia is suspected, you will likely be offered an induction if it’s not too early. The symptoms usually go away pretty quickly once the baby is born. If it’s too early for an induction, there are other treatment options including medications for blood pressure, bed rest, closer monitoring, and possibly hospitalization and other medications to prevent seizures.

Minimizing the Risk

This article is about some good news though. There are some things that are within our control.

There are ways that we can lower certain risks. Through scientific research, we are learning that there are things that we can do to keep ourselves healthy and minimize the chances that things will go sideways. Of course there are no guarantees that things will go perfectly even when you take all the right precautions, but those of us who love control out there might be happy to snatch up any opportunities!

There is still a lot to find out about pregnancy and nutrition, but there is a lot of information out there already. We know more everyday about healthy levels of protein and fats. There are new versions of prenatal vitamins coming out all the time with a better balance of nutrients. There is more helpful nutrition advice for managing morning sickness, and there is even some research offering guidance for the prevention of preeclampsia through nutrition.

It can be so hard to monitor what you’re eating during pregnancy. Sometimes it’s hard to eat anything at all, and other times it’s hard NOT to eat a certain food everyday for every meal. These guidelines for lowering your risk for preeclampsia through nutrition offer suggestions for ADDING certain foods and nutrients into your diet. You don’t necessarily have to stop doing everything that you’re doing, but can you ADD some things?

First, Whole Foods

A basic guideline for most anything related to nutrition is to focus on eating whole foods as much as possible. When you are eating whole foods, you’re most likely to hit the other goals listed below.

A whole food looks like what it is. It’s an actual orange instead of orange juice. It’s a bowl of brown rice instead of rice cakes or crackers. Try whole wheat bread instead of refined flour white bread. Have salad and all the fruits and veggies. Have meat, eggs, and even many whole milk dairy products. Oatmeal, nuts, and seeds are whole foods. There are plenty to choose from, and when you stick to mostly these kinds of foods, you’re probably doing a great job!

Sticking to whole foods is good for everyone, and especially when you’re pregnant and trying to lower your risk for preeclampsia. When you’re eating whole foods, you’re getting everything that food has to offer. You get the complex carbohydrates, protein, fats, fiber, and also all of the vitamins and minerals and other micronutrients. When food is refined or processed, some of the food’s value is lost and you don’t get the full benefit. When people eat a mostly whole foods diet, the risk of preeclampsia can go down.

Protein is Good for Everything!

You may have learned that the newest recommendation for protein intake during pregnancy is 80-120 grams per day. That’s a lot! This shows a range, because you can start out pregnancy with less protein and then your needs increase as your pregnancy progresses. Especially when you’re getting your protein from whole food sources like meats, whole milk dairy products, nuts, seeds, eggs, and legumes, you’re also getting some other important nutrients that can be helpful in preventing preeclampsia.

Higher levels of protein are also shown to reduce some other pregnancy discomforts and risks, and keep you feeling your best. Many protein rich foods are also high in glycine, which is especially good for keeping your blood vessels healthy which can help prevent preeclampsia.

Antioxidant Rich Foods

Antioxidants are especially important, because it’s thought that preeclampsia is caused by oxidative stress. Our bodies have ways of fighting oxidative stress, but sometimes it’s not enough, and that’s when antioxidant rich foods can be helpful.

Vitamin E and flavonoids are excellent antioxidants and can be found in a lot of foods, mostly seeds, nuts, and colorful vegetables and fruits. There are a lot of different kinds of flavonoids, so be sure to eat lots of different fruits and veggies to get the most variety for the most benefit.

Minerals

A lot of people get deficient in certain minerals during pregnancy, even when taking prenatal vitamins. It’s important to also get plenty of these minerals from food sources. Food sources are often better than supplements. You’re more likely to absorb the nutrient better and get the most from that nutrient AND all of the other benefits from the food. Some of the minerals that you might want to focus on for preeclampsia prevention include:

  • Sodium: You don’t need to limit salt intake, especially in pregnancy! The general rule is that you can “salt to taste.” If it tastes like the right amount, you’re probably doing just fine. Salt restriction has not been shown to lower blood pressure for preeclampsia. In fact, research shows that MORE salt can actually lessen the severity of preeclampsia….. as long as you’re also getting plenty of potassium.
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

These minerals are found in many whole food sources including colorful vegetables, especially leafy greens, but also nuts, whole milk dairy products and some meats and seafood.

Watch your Blood Sugar

In general, eating a lot of sugary foods is a bad idea. You won’t be able to feel your best. You may be more irritable, have low energy, and have more trouble sleeping and exercising.

It might be obvious that you should minimize the ice cream, candy, cookies, and cake, but it’s also important to watch the kinds of carbohydrates you are consuming. Remember to focus on the whole foods! When you do that, you likely won’t get much of the bad carbs.

This piece is critical when you’re working to keep your blood sugars stable. Keeping your blood sugars stable can help prevent preeclampsia, but also gestational diabetes! So whenever you can, focus on the complex carbs which only include WHOLE FOOD sources like fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

I hope you feel inspired to take some simple steps to better health and preeclampsia prevention. It often is very simple to make these positive changes, even if it feels intimidating at first. Take some small steps. Buy some extra eggs and fruits and veggies from the produce section next time you’re at the grocery store and see if you can work those in more at snack time and meals. Buy yourself a roasted chicken and add that in whenever you can for a protein boost. After a little while, you might even like the way you feel so much that it’s easy to keep it up.

Resources

Much of the information for this article is from Lily Nichols, RDN, especially the article PREECLAMPSIA: 5 WAYS NUTRITION SUPPORTS BLOOD PRESSURE IN PREGNANCY

Other resources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551541/
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-e/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3650511/
https://ift.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1750-3841.12101
https://www.aicr.org/resources/blog/flavonoids-in-your-foods-where-to-get-them/
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/potassium/
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium/

Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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