Preparing for pregnancy usually involves a little planning, such as making sure your finances are in order, perhaps chatting with your family doctor and maybe even starting to eat better and improve your lifestyle. But asking your doctor to test your blood for certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies may not be on your radar. Your doctor may automatically check your iron levels, as this is fairly standard in prenatal bloodwork, but chances are, she won't check your Vitamin D levels at all before or during your pregnancy, unless you specifically request it.
A total of 31 studies on Vitamin D and pregnancy were reviewed by researchers at the University of Calgary recently, and the findings were published in the British Medical Journal this week. The results showed a strong association between a wide range of pregnancy complications and Vitamin D deficiency. This is worrisome for women wanting to start a family, because there is no way to know if you are deficient in Vitamin D (you usually don't experience obvious symptoms) other than taking the initiative to ask your doctor to test your levels.
Here is a summary of the findings, outlining the complications associated with low Vitamin D levels (according to an article in the Globe and Mail):
The risk of these complications seems to worsen if the Mom's Vitamin D levels drop below 75 nanomoles per litre of blood, which according to Dr. Doreen Rabi, one of the U of C researchers, is considered a mild deficiency in Canada.
Living in Canada puts all of us at an increased risk of having a Vitamin D deficiency (pregnant or not), because of our Northern latitude and long winters (Vitamin D is synthesized in our body from exposure to the sun). Because the findings in this review suggest that there is an only "association" between low Vitamin D levels and these complications (not a direct cause), the researchers have not yet determined what the ideal amount of Vitamin D intake is to prevent a deficiency and therefore the complications that follow. And they have not yet taken steps to change public health recommendations and won't until they determine what the ideal amount of Vitamin D (through both food and supplement) is.
In the meantime, here are some tips for expectant moms or women planning a pregnancy:
I can't tell you how many times I've been asked about the safety of soy foods in the past several years, especially more recently. It seems like everyone is confused about whether or not soy is still a healthy option. And it's not surprising considering all of the negative press that soy is getting. Women frequently tell me that they've heard that consuming soy can increase their risk of breast cancer, so they shy away from it. I've even had men ask me if they will start to grow breasts if they eat too much soy! And the soy controversy doesn't end there. There have also been claims that soy foods can hinder male fertility, and can cause thyroid issues. Since the 1970s, soy foods have gone from a niche "vegetarian" food, to a multi-million dollar industry. Soy now can be found as a popular milk alternative (soy milk, soy yogurt etc.), as an ingredient in breakfast cereals to boost the protein content, as a meat-alternative in foods like veggie burgers and as a filler in many other food products. It is because of this huge increase in soy consumption in North America that a more in-depth evaluation of soy's health effects is happening.
Soy is a great source of protein (one of the only "complete" protein sources coming from plants), polyunsaturated fats (such as Omega 3) and isoflavones (phytoestrogens). It is the isoflavone content of soy foods that has caused so much controversy. Because isoflavones have estrogen-like properties, the question has been raised as to whether soy poses a health risk.
Asian cultures rely heavily on soy foods and consume approximately 7-30 grams of it per day depending on the Asian country. In North America, we consume less much less on average (about 1 gram per day on average) unless we follow a vegan lifestyle (Vegans usually rely more heavily on soy foods). Many studies have suggested that consuming soy foods has health benefits such as decreasing the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, Osteoporosis, Diabetes Type 2 and symptoms of menopause. Most of these findings, however, are inconclusive. Surprise surprise.
A big concern is that soy may do more harm than good for women with estrogen-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer. In some animal studies, it has been shown that soy isoflavones can have growth-promoting effects on cancer cells, especially highly processed forms of soy. However, it just so happens that soy isoflavones act differently in mice and rats than in humans (makes sense), therefore, the findings are not necessarily applicable to women. What's more is that there have been no clinical human studies done to prove that soy increases the risk of breast cancer or recurrence of breast tumors. While isoflavones may have estrogen-mimicking properties, they can also block the more estrogen from binding to the estrogen receptor, according to The American Cancer Society. Soy also has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can help to reduce the risk of cancer. Including soy in your daily routine may even help to prevent breast cancer from ever occuring, according to researchers at the University of Southern California, who compared women who consumed an average of 1 cup of soy milk or tofu per day with women who did not consume any. However, as usual, the findings are still inconclusive.
As a part of a healthy diet, whole soy foods are generally considered safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Yay! This is good news for me, because I'm pregnant and drink soymilk daily due to a lactose intolerance (and I really like the the taste). What isn't surprising though is that it is unclear whether high doses (much exceeding that of a normal Asian diet) of soy and soy isoflavones are safe during pregnancy because human studies are limited. So bottom line: don't munch on tofu all day, every day. Also, I usually suggest that pregnant women stay away from soy supplements (like soy protein powder) during pregnancy because they are often unregulated.
It is known that isoflavones from soy are transferred to breast milk from mothers and one study showed that high doses of isoflavones given to pregnant animals resulted in tumors and reproductive changes in their offspring, although, again, this has not yet been tested in humans. Another study found that male babies born from mothers who drank soy milk while pregnant, had more frequent occurrence of hypospadias (a birth defect where the urethra is positioned on the underside of the penis). Research also shows that kids who are fed soy formula (versus breastmilk or cow's milk formula) in the first year of life may have a significantly lower bone density than other kids. This is why parents considering the use of soy formula should speak with a Pediatric Registered Dietitian to make sure the appropriate vitamins and minerals are provided in the formula or supplemented. On a positive note, most human and animal studies that have examined males or females fed soy formula as infants, and have not found abnormalities in infant growth, head circumference, height, weight, occurrence of puberty, menstruation, or reproductive ability.
Relax guys. You will not turn into a woman if you consume soy. I promise. A recent meta-analysis in the Medical Journal Fertility and Sterility concluded that consumption of isoflavone-rich soy foods does not negatively impact circulating testosterone or estrogen levels in men, erectile function, sperm/semen quality or quantity or... breast size. So ladies... let your husbands and partners know that they can rest easy knowing that enjoying moderate amounts of soy (what would be typical in the North American or even Asian diet) is completely safe.
For many years, we thought that soy protein had a significant cholesterol-lowering effect as shown in some studies, which therefore would suggest that soy decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease. More recently though, experts suggest that because the data is so limited and inconsistent, it is not fair to say that soy protein has a significant role in heart disease prevention. It is still safe to say though, that consumption of soy may act as one way, although likely modest, to decrease heart disease disease risk. My take on this: if you're replacing a fatty piece of processed meat with grilled tofu, you're likely doing your heart (and health) some good.
Bone health: The isoflavones in soy foods may also decrease the risk of Osteoporosis and hip fractures. Soy milk is almost always fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D, which can also help to prevent Osteoporosis.
Menopause: There is some evidence that soy can also help alleviate hot flashes in menopausal women.
Hormone-sensitive conditions: Other hormone-sensitive conditions, such as endometriosis, or Hypothyroid Disease may theoretically, be worsened by consuming a lot of soy, but until additional research is available, women with these conditions should be cautious and keep their soy intake to a lower amount (under two servings per day).
With exception of allergic reactions, there is no evidence to suggest that whole soy foods exert any negative effects on healthy individuals who consume soy in amounts consistent with Asian intake. I recommend that most people continue to enjoy WHOLE soy foods or fermented soy foods (soybeans, soy milk made with whole soybeans, tofu, tempeh, miso etc.) in moderation, meaning in similar amounts to that in the North American or even the Asian diet (about 1-2 servings per day). Soybeans are a great source of protein, fibre, omega 3's, anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals and can safely fit into a balanced healthy diet. If you fall under the higher risk groups that I've mentioned above, I would avoid high doses of soy foods and especially soy supplements with high concentrations of isoflavones, as the data is limited in regards to safety. I also suggest buying organic soy foods when possible, because many conventional soy products may come from genetically modified soybeans and may contain high levels of pesticides/fertilizers.
My guess is that lots of moms like you prepare healthy meals for your kids. But you? You eat the scraps and then snack on convenience foods throughout the day yourself. Sound familiar? According to a recent Becel survey, 48% of Canadian moms spend the majority of their free time planning healthy meals for their families while only 1 out of 10 spend that time preparing healthy lunches for themselves.
Is this you?
A young mom with two or three kids, always putting them first before herself. She makes sure that they are well fed, have the best clothes, are in the best activities, get the best grades and always have the best homemade costumes for Halloween. This mom may appear to be "Super Mom", but she's really not. In fact, she may be at risk of a heart attack or stroke. Heart disease and stroke is a leading cause of death in Canada for women. That includes moms.
The reality is that this particular "Super Mom" also hasn't exercised in years (she just doesn't have time!), she eats when she remembers to eat (and grabs whatever is easiest and quickest—a granola bar or muffin from a coffee shop) and has no energy.
Her self-esteem is at an all time low, partly due to the extra 20 lbs that she is carrying and can't seem to lose. She hasn't been for a yearly physical in years because she doesn't have the energy to book an appointment, let alone go. "Between all of the kids appointments and activities?! Ya right!" she might say.
I must admit, I've always felt a bit guilty and maybe even a little judged by other moms for taking time for myself. And to be honest, I probably do take more "me" time than the average mom.
Some moms might say "well that's good for you, but it's just not possible for me." In fact, according to the Becel survey, the majority of Canadian moms (60%) say that they don't have enough time to take care of themselves. I just don't buy it. You've got to make it happen so you can continue to be here for your kids.
I know firsthand how challenging motherhood can be, and trust me, I'm not perfect. I know too how hard it is to juggle work and home life, trying always to find the perfect balance (which doesn't exist, by the way). Now that I have another baby on the way, I'm already trying to figure out when I'm going to fit in "me" time (insert panicked look on my face), but know that I will somehow. I know that taking that time for myself every day makes me a better mom. Yes, my son may not have the most up-to-date toys or trendiest clothes. But he has a mom who is healthy, happy, and for the most part, full of energy. I may not spend every waking moment doting on him, but when I AM with him, I'm fully present and ready to play.
It's important that you start making yourself a priority and taking care of your heart health. A good way to start is to eat healthfully. Planning meals can be as easy as sitting down with your family on the weekend, brainstorming some yummy, healthy meal ideas that everyone enjoys and jotting them down for the week.
Here's the meal planning template that I created for my clients (we use it at home too). Feel free to click to download and use it yourself.
Even if you don't plan out every single meal and snack, plan out most of your suppers for the week so that you aren't scrambling at the last minute, only to pick up the phone and order in. Taking a little bit of time to plan meals will allow you to not only feed your family healthy meals and snacks, but also to enjoy them yourself. So you too can eat balanced meals and snacks, rather than scarfing down your kids' scraps and then binge eating when the kids go to bed because your body is so starved.
By taking the time to take care of ourselves and through healthy lifestyle choices, women can reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke by up to 80%. Here are some healthy meal planning tips to get you started:
I know it sounds impossible, but it's not. When you prepare your kids breakfast, make an extra serving for yourself. When you pack your kids lunches (or make them lunch), make an extra sandwich and wash and cut some extra veggies for yourself. Instead of just sitting with your kids at dinner, eat with them. Eating with your kids will allow you to eat at healthy intervals throughout the day so that you don't become ravenous. Your meals will likely be more balanced, your mood will be better and you can improve your metabolism. You'll also be modelling healthy eating to your kids—after all, they are modelling after you! There are many short- and long-term benefits to family meals too. It's a win-win.
Including your kids in meal planning and preparation has a whole host of benefits—from decreasing kitchen chaos to improving your child's self-esteem and long-term health. Getting your kids to participate by stirring ingredients, adding herbs and spices, setting the table, or even preparing the entire meal will make your life easier, add more fun to meal prep and benefit the whole family.
After you've done a bit of meal planning, write down what you need from the grocery store and use it as your guide. Otherwise, you'll forget key ingredients that you need for your healthy meals and instead, buy foods that appeal to you at that moment and that you don't really need (e.g., potato chips and candy). We've all done it, right? Do yourself a favour and bring a list.
If you're growing weary of the 'same old, same old,' which we all do, try some new healthy recipes. Becel has many easy, healthy, and tasty recipes for you to try. My favourites right now are the Tortilla Crusted Chicken Fingers and the Whole Grain Cinnamon French Toast.
We all struggle as moms to find the balance between taking care of our kids and taking care of ourselves. We often put our kids first, at the expense of our own health. But it's important that we start making our health a top priority.
If you know a mom who needs to be reminded of this, please personalize and share this video from Becel with them.
Encourage a Mom to take care of herself today!
In its role as founding sponsor of the Heart and Stroke Foundation's The Heart Truth™ campaign, Becel wants to empower moms and encourage them to prioritize their own health and well-being as much as they do for others.
To help spread this important message, Becel made this amazing video:
You can go to the Becel website to easily personalize and send the video to moms in your life to remind them to take care of themselves too!
She’ll thank you for it. And so do we!
This sponsored post has been paid for by our friends at Becel®
A select group of YMC bloggers who believe in the importance of moms taking care of themselves, have written sponsored posts like this one for the Becel Encourage a Mom program.
In its role as founding sponsor of The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s The Heart Truth™ campaign, Becel® wants to empower moms and encourage them to prioritize their own health and well-being as much as they do others. To help spread this important message, Becel released this video that can be easily personalized and sent to encourage a mom to take care of herself too.