Science of Food: What to eat when you’re expecting (column) |

Science of Food: What to eat when you’re expecting (column)


What: “Lunch and Learn: Nutrition for Pregnancy,” a workshop with Dr. Lisa Julian, Ph.D.

When: Wednesday, Sept. 14 at noon

Cost: $25

More information: Call 970-401-2071 or visit,

I have been writing this Science of Food column for the Summit Daily for just over two years now and some regular readers may have noticed that I just took a short break from writing my column. This is because I just had my first baby in July, a precious and healthy little girl. And I am happy to report that she is strong, happy and growing well. When I learned I was pregnant, I had already decided, contrary to common practice, that I wasn’t going to use a prenatal vitamin. I decided I wanted to take in all the nutrients I needed through whole foods.

So as I return to writing my Science Of Food column this month, I thought to discuss the general idea of using whole foods to obtain all the nutrients we need, throughout our dynamic lives, from childhood to being an endurance athlete to supporting brain health of the aging population to being pregnant, without having to take a supplement or vitamin in the form of a pill. Could we go back to a diet of quality organic whole foods and receive all the required nutrients to support human health in any stage of life? Could eating a clean whole food diet actually help to eliminate the epidemic of chronic diseases in our society?

When I teach the lecture “Nutrition for Pregnancy” in my human nutrition course at Colorado Mountain College, I teach students about the specific nutrients that the mother needs to nourish the growing baby. The study of nutrition, simplifying food down to individual components that we call nutrients, names five nutrients that are vital to support growth of a baby. Those nutrients are iron, calcium, protein, fats (especially omega-3 fats) and folate.

Folate, also known as vitamin B9, (sometimes found in its related form folic acid) is perhaps considered the most crucial in regard to supporting the rapid cell growth that is required for proper development of the neural tube, which eventually becomes the spinal cord and brain. We have a scientific understanding of how folate supports healthy growth, it being essential for the body to properly synthesize DNA and to metabolize amino acids — processes that are essential for cell division, especially the rapid cell division happening in the growing fetus. Since this is such an important nutrient, most wheat flours and wheat products are fortified with folic acid with the intention to promote public health (check your food labels).

A prenatal vitamin contains such nutrients and nearly every pregnant woman in today’s times is strongly recommended to take a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy. The recommended daily intakes of these five nutrients have been determined to be the following: 1. Protein — add an additional 25 grams per day (~75 g/day); 2. Folic acid/folate — 600 micrograms per day to support DNA synthesis and cell growth; 3. Iron — 27 mg/day to support the 50 percent increase in the blood volume of pregnant women; 4. Calcium 1,000 mg/day for healthy bone development; 5. Fats for brain health (omega-3s such as DHA docosahexanoic acid).

Now that we have determined the optimal quantitative doses of these nutrients, they have been isolated and combined into a pill form. If a pregnant woman has a poor Western diet, it is important that she take a prenatal vitamin. However, if you think about the fact that women have been giving birth to healthy babies for millions of years before prenatal vitamins existed, it should be possible to do the same today and I felt confident that I could also support the growth of my baby by eating whole foods alone.

Some whole foods that can provide adequate nutrition for pregnancy (that were the basis of my own diet during pregnancy) include lentils, beans, oranges, broccoli, asparagus, leafy greens, especially spinach, avocados, salmon, dairy and eggs if tolerable, grass-fed red meat, peanut butter and quality carbohydrates in fruits and grains. Lentils were my number one source for folate containing nearly 500 mg of folate in a generous serving. Lentils also are a good source of iron, protein and fiber.

I believe it is also important to avoid eating synthetic chemical residues present in pesticide/herbicide sprayed foods and “endocrine-disrupting” molecules like BPA and BPS present in plastics (refer to my previous article “Am I consuming BPA?” at that can interfere with proper estrogen signaling in the body. Eat organic foods and avoid plastic containers and aluminum cans.

I want to emphasize that it’s more than just these five nutrients that are important to support the growth of a healthy baby. All the nutrients together, the synergy of the different components present in the different foods, are important. If you are pregnant or are a health care provider and want more information on how to create a diet specific for pregnancy from whole foods, I will be offering a seminar/cooking demonstration at my wellness studio Elevated Yoga and Holistic Health located in Frisco at 310 E. Main St. on Sept. 14, at noon.

Lisa Julian Ph.D. has a passion for organic chemistry the “molecules of life,” and its application to food and health. She’s the owner of Elevated Yoga & Holistic Health in Frisco and teaches Science and Nutrition at CU Denver and CMC. She can be reached at (970)401-2071 or For more information about services offered at her studio, visit

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