How To Stay Paleo-Ish When You're Pregnant

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I'm the girl who makes most of her meals from scratch, simmers bones for 48 hours in her tiny kitchen, and uses coconut oil in and on more things than she'd like to admit. Yep. You guessed it. I am Paleo. And pretty passionate about it. I even have a Paleo food blog and spend part of my week cooking paleo-ish meals for my clients, as a personal chef. Up until a few weeks ago, I was pretty darn good at sticking to my guns.

But then, I found out the news that changed everything: I'm pregnant (insert jumping up and down here)! Excited as I was, I quickly realized that my new body was not quite as eager about the mounds of vegetables and liver meatballs that I had happily eaten before. And suddenly, my cravings for crackers, cookies, and all things carbs shot through the roof.

There are a lot of benefits that can come from eating Paleo while pregnant. It's a diet full of protein, vitamin A, beta carotene, healthy fats, vitamin D, folate, and iron. All nutrients that are vital to a healthy pregnancy. I knew that sticking to this whole food, unprocessed diet was the best thing for my pregnancy. All I had to do was make a few adjustments.

To save you a little time and heartache (and heartburn), I've put together my tips for staying Paleo-ish during pregnancy. Fear not. There will be no finger wagging, pregnant-shaming, or it's-not-organic! accusations here. You've got enough on your plate as it is. Consider this your realistic guide to a healthy, delicious, and totally doable diet during this nine-month roller coaster.

Tip #1: Make ahead

If you follow the Paleo diet, you've heard it a thousand times: make your meals ahead! But it's doubly important now that you're pregnant because cravings will not wait for you to preheat the oven, cut up some sweet potatoes, and roast them for 20-30 minutes. They will attack anything in sight — usually something salty, sweet, bagged, and crunchy.

Some people go so far as to spend an entire Sunday preparing food that will last them weeks, if not months. And if you're that ambitious, go for it. But most likely you won't have the energy or the stomach to stand in the kitchen for hours at a time making beef casseroles.

Instead, shoot for always having at least one batch of leftovers from dinner in the fridge, a big batch of soup in the freezer, and a few key satisfying snacks at the ready when cravings hit. My go-to make ahead snacks are roasted sweet potato rounds, parsnip fries, and anything that I can dip a plantain chip into.

Tip #2: Add in some carbs

You swore off bread the moment you became Paleo. But pregnant you is not the same as pre-pregnant you. Pregnant you craves nut butters on toast, meaty mile-high sandwiches, crusty cheesy pizza, or simply, a plain piece of bread to settle your ever-queasy stomach.

Guess what? There is good reason to listen to your body on this one. Many people in the Paleo community, including Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac, Laura Schoenfeld, RD, and Paleo researcher Stefanie Ruper, advocate for women who are either trying to conceive, or are already pregnant, to increase their carbohydrate intake. According to Schoenfeld, women need adequate carbohydrates during pregnancy to help with fetal brain development, to ensure adequate growth during a full-term pregnancy.

What's more, a study from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that a diet rich in protein and lower in carbohydrates can greatly improve fertility. This may sound counterintuitive to this argument, but in fact, the study's definition of lower carbohydrate intake is 40% of the diet. For somebody following a Paleo diet, that is actually quite a bit higher than they're used to.

Tip #3: Make this lifesaving plantain bread

Of all the Paleo carbohydrates, my pregnant butt had a special love for plantains. Not only are they incredibly versatile (you can use them to make cookies, bread, chips, fries and tons of sweet treats), but they are just so darned satisfying that you feel like you're cheating.

If you learn one thing from this article, please let it be this: Make plantain bread. It saved me in more ways than one. Queasiness, insatiable hunger, and one nasty craving for almond butter and banana on toast.

Best part is, it only requires three ingredients. Puree two yellow plantains in a high-speed blender or food processor. Mix the puree in a bowl with one teaspoon of sea salt and one cup of tapioca flour. Make small, round, flat circles from your dough and put them on parchment paper. Pop them in the oven at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, and voila! Your pregnant life just got 10 times better.

Tip #4: Be a pregnant rebel

Do a quick search on "healthy diet for pregnancy" and most sources will recommend consuming the opposite of what you eat on a Paleo diet. Eat more dairy. Low-fat is best! Get lots of beans. And more than anything, make sure you have your six to eleven servings of whole grains per day!

Schoenfeld puts it best when she says, "When people say that pregnant women need grains, what they are actually saying is that pregnant women need carbohydrates." And the reason for the dairy? You need calcium to build bones and maintain a healthy blood pressure. Beans are for protein which helps make the building blocks of your baby's cells, and iron which helps carry oxygen to the blood. Of course, whole grains are for those wonderful carbohydrates we just discussed. But just like the whole grains, there are plenty of other (sometimes better) ways to get these nutrients from vegetables, meats, nuts, and seeds.

Consider looking into some alternative prenatal books such as Beautiful Babies: Nutrition for Fertility, Pregnancy, Breast-feeding, and Baby's First Foods by Kristen Michaelis, or The Everything Paleo Pregnancy Book: The All-Natural, Nutritious Plan for a Healthy Pregnancy by Tarah Chieffi. They're both chock full of recipes and wisdom about eating an ancestral diet for optimal fertility. Understand for yourself what your body needs. In fact, forget the labels all together. What's most important is that you feel comfortable with your personal prenatal diet.

Tip #5: Embrace packaged foods

I'm a big advocate for more home-cooked meals and reducing Dorito addictions. But when you're six months pregnant, and ready to puke or pass out if you don't eat something right now, you're willing to bend the rules.

The silver lining? Paleo-approved snacks are becoming more and more available every day. Just look for the "Paleo-friendly" label or flip the box, bar or bag over and look at the ingredients list yourself. As always, the less ingredients, the better. Be cautious of anything that uses vegetable oils like canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean, or peanut. A word of warning: it's hard to not find these oils in packaged goods. But lucky for you, I have done plenty of research on this subject and have a whole arsenal of Paleo and pregnancy approved pre-packaged goodies.

For morning sickness, you can't go wrong with Simple Mills sprouted almond flour crackers or sprouted seed crackers. When chip cravings hit, Terra chips, hands down, have the best plantain chips, while Jackson's Honest has got you covered for every chip flavor under the rainbow – all made with GMO-free ingredients and coconut oil. When you're on the go and you just need a bar to get you through the next hour, I love rX bars for their ridiculously simple ingredients — listed smack dab on the front of the wrapper, and Lara bars. When you can't get to a meal, and you need something substantial with high protein, go for the Epic bars. They're pasture-raised, full of flavor, and they get the job done.

Tip #6: Bone broth is the best medicine

This stuff is the magical elixir of the Paleo diet. Bone broth is made from raw animal bones and simmered over a 24 to 48-hour period to allow the water to absorb all of the bones' minerals. There are more benefits for an average person to drink it than I can name. But never has it been so important than when you're growing a baby inside of you. According to the book, How To Conceive Naturally: And Have A Healthy Pregnancy After 30, bone broth contains highly absorbable forms of calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, and sulfur that are essential to a baby's growing bones.

You know how people keep telling you that you need to get enough protein in your diet? But maybe the sound of meat makes you turn green? Your answer might be bone broth. It provides easily digestible protein and packs a lot of nutrients without having to eat a heavy meal. It also supports the immune system (during a time when our immune systems are compromised) and helps digestion (a welcome relief for the common pregnancy constipation).

You're also going to want to make this one ahead. But the great thing is, it's a set-it-and-forget-it type of meal. Here is a good, straightforward recipe to follow, or you might even be able to buy it straight off the shelves at your local Whole Foods. What are you waiting for? Drink up!

Tip #7: Give yourself a break (i.e. the "ish")

I love the Paleo diet and what it has done for my health. I know continuing to follow this lifestyle during my pregnancy will be the best thing for my body, and my baby's body. That said, pregnancy is filled with enough rules as it is.

Every time I go to a restaurant, I find myself asking the waiter if the cheese is pasteurized, if the mayo is homemade (raw egg yolks!), and if he could make absolutely sure that the meat is cooked all the way through. It's impossible to look at a nutrition label without seeing the warning, "Do not consume if you are pregnant or lactating" or "Consult your doctor if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant before use."

The last thing you need is yet another "No." So I say, if a bag of salty pretzels is the only thing that will make your morning sickness go away, go for it. If you have an irrepressible craving for a burger — bun and all — embrace it. Now is not the time for perfection. It's a time for self-care. So take care of yourself to the best of your abilities, because before you know it, you're going to have somebody else that's going to require all the care your self can muster.