The Importance of Fat During Pregnancy
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What is it and what does it do?
Fat is an essential part of the diet. Every cell in the body is lined with a lipid (fat) membrane. Selecting the right fats during pregnancy literally determines the type of fat that you will make your baby's cells from. That can have implications for the overall health of your brand new baby.
Dietary fat has numerous functions in the body, from the production of hormones to energy production.
Too much fat in the diet can be a major problem, but too little fat can also be a problem for a pregnant woman and the developing baby. Since the low fat craze of the 90's, many people avoid fat excessively and end up with deficiencies of specific fatty acids. This can have knock-on health effects.
In pregnant women some fats can be especially important as the child's nervous system and brain are built using dietary fats. To give your baby the best possible brain development follow the guides in the rest this article.
Different types of fat
Most people are aware of saturated and unsaturated fats, many are even aware of the difference between monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Unfortunately the truth is that even this is oversimplifying the fat story.
There are, in fact, over 30 individual fatty acids. This makes the job of understanding your intake quite complex. Too complex for most people to start trying to understand when they've just found out they're pregnant! Try learning instead which foods to eat to get the correct balance.
Consider also that in recent times science has shown us that fat, even saturated fat, is not as bad for us as we once thought.
A summary of fat and your health is briefly outlined as follows:
These are highly beneficial fats found in fish and wild meats. They have numerous health benefits and most people will benefit from increased intake. Well worth supplementing and there's lots of research showing benefits for mother and baby. Omega 3 can improve your mood, reduce post partum depression, improve cognitive functions such as the learning ability of your baby and even protect the little one against asthma when taken enough during pregnancy.
These are needed in our diets and can be good for you, but are inflammatory. Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory and thus the balance between the two types of fat is essential. Most people have an intake that is too high in Omega 6 and too low in Omega 3. Omega 6 is found in grains, nuts, commercially farmed meats such as beef and pork and commercial oils such as peanut and sesame. An imbalance too much in favour of omega 6 can be negative for the baby. High omega 6 and low omega 3 is not optimal for brain development in the womb.
These are mostly monounsaturated fats commonly found in olive oil. Much evidence exists to suggest omega 9 fats have cardio-protective effects. Meaning they positively affect cholesterol and cardio vascular disease risk. The body synthesizes these fats and we get them in our diets in plentiful amounts if using olive oils for dressings on veggies and salads.
Normally saturated fats are mentioned with hushed fear in the nutritional world. The truth is that saturated fats made up a big part of our diets throughout our evolution. We are adapted to handle them and they are not to be feared as much as many of us think.
Saturated fat has functions in the body such as hormone production and cell structure.
The problem occurs when saturated fat is consumed either damaged (such as fried) or in conjunction with carbohydrates. It's almost impossible to completely avoid saturates, and nor should you try. That said, if you eat normal dairy, good quality meats and nuts it is unlikely you will have a problem getting enough saturated fat.
Some saturated fats are necessary for foetal development but keeping your fat intake in favour of Omega 3's and 9's is advised for best mother and baby health.
Trans fats are unnatural fats created by the food industry to improve shelf life and texture of processed foods. It is well established that there is no safe level of trans fat in the diet and nobody should eat it, ever.
They are found in anything that says "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" on the label. High intakes of trans fatty acids during pregnancy has been associated with fatter babies with a greater predisposition to gain weight easily. Insulin resistance in both mother and baby and pregnancy induced hypertension are also associated with high trans fat intake. In short, there is no possible benefit to having these fats in your diet during pregnancy and every reason to eliminate them completely!
Remember all those benefits of Omega 3 fats? Well trans fat intake interferes with your ability to metabolize them properly. That's even more reason to get them out of your diet.
To try to simplify things, we've provided a brief guide that should help you to make the best choices for you and your baby.
- Anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.
- Fried foods.
- Don't cook with easily damaged oils like vegetable oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil and peanut oil.
Eat less of:
- Seeds and nuts (limit to 4 servings a day, 6-10 nuts per serving).
- Commercially raised beef and other meats.
- Commercial oils such as low grade olive oil, sunflower oil and groundnut oil.
Eat more of:
- Grass fed or free ranging meats.
- Wild meats like rabbit and venison.
- Shallow water fish like herring and mackerel.
- Omega 3 eggs.
- Flax seeds and walnuts.
- Green vegetables.
- Extra virgin olive oil.
- Coconut oil for cooking.
- Avoid cooking in low-grade oils such as peanut/ground nut oils, sunflower or vegetable oils.
- Avoid deep frying.
- Steam more.
- Use extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil to cook.