Nutrition and Pregnancy

(The most annoying post ever. It even annoys me.)

This month my baby’s brain started developing little nerve cells. They are forming at a rapid rate especially at the front of his brain, the part that does the most thinking. And his spinal cord and its nerves are developing as well. Sheaths are forming around the spinal column. They act as like insulators on electrical wires and speed up messages as they travel to his brain. Upon realizing this, I immediately began figuring out ways to help this process along. I am, after all, his vitamin dish.

(Taken yesterday of my little guy’s spine.)

Now that I’m almost 6 months pregnant and am constantly thinking about what I ingest, I started to read up on brain food. I read that DHA and omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important for healthy brain development. Granted, there are vitamins one can take stocked full of DHA and omega-3. I take 3 prenatal vitamins every day. They include the DHA, not the omega-3. And even though there are vitamins for omega-3 as well, I don’t like to cut corners especially when there are foods we can eat in lieu of taking a bunch of vitamins.

(I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this, but screw it. I am huge, man. HUGE.)

Sometimes I come up with hypotheses based on little to no scientific evidence. For example, I recently decided that it’s not entirely impossible that all these prenatal vitamins are to blame for the growing number of peanut allergies in children. And it’s not entirely impossible that prescription prenatal vitamins are responsible for birth defects, autism, and asthma. Unlikely, sure, especially since I made it up. But the uncertainty has me seeking more natural ways of feeding Ndugu.

Another thing that I have convinced myself of is that the growing need for prescription prenatal vitamins is, in part, due to the fact that our food (here in the states) has become less and less nutritional over the years due to commercialization. (I am writing about things I know very little about, speaking from the heart once again. I know that I have no scientific evidence or statistics to back these ideas up, but it’s a little window into how I think and these flippant ideas are directly responsible for the decisions I make.)

People eat strawberries even if they aren’t in season and often times the strawberries taste like nothing, (which makes one wonder that since they carry little taste, all the good stuff – the nutritional stuff – is absent as well). Eggs don’t taste the way they used to unless the chickens are grain fed and free range. And eggs aren’t naturally bright white, either. Shrimp today tastes nothing like it did when I was a kid and I don’t remember being able to buy it all year round like I can today. It was more of a treat back then. Now, due to farms and commercialization, you can buy it anywhere and the taste suffers because of it. Tomatoes don’t grow all year round yet you can buy them anytime. (Have you ever compared a fresh tomato with one bought during the off-season? The difference is astounding.) Is it wrong of me to assume that the foods we eat are becoming more and more available, and less and less flavorful and nutritious in the process? Isn’t that why more and more people are buying locally grown, seasonal produce?

Commercial farms currently feed most of America. And because of that we’ve seen E coli show up in spinach – a bacterium that is specifically found on raw meat – because commercial cattle farms lie too close to commercial produce farms, leaving contamination at an all-time high. And instead of trying to remedy the problem at the source, we’re coming up with new ways to kill it after the fact using techniques such as the irradiation (which we already do with some of our meat, the irradiation of produce is currently being discussed by the FDA).

(Image of heirloom tomato from I’m salivating.)

Every year, right before heirloom tomato time, I become giddy with anticipation. And in Mid-May, off the coast of Alaska in a place called Copper River, a few brave salmon begin making a difficult trek in order to spawn and lay their eggs. The journey is so long, they must store extra fat and oils in order to survive. It’s no lie when they tell you that Copper River Salmon is some of the best salmon there is. I believe that it tastes so good because the process is entirely natural. Tobyjoe and I look forward to every year. And the waiting is one of the best parts.

Unfortunately, one of the highest groups of food containing both omega-3 and DHA is fish, and more specifically, salmon. And we all know about fish and pregnancy and the mercury levels in our polluted waters. And we can blame many of those industrial monstrosities I mentioned earlier for the contamination of these foods.

(I don’t swallow the quarter, I just put it there for scale. But if someone told me that quarters made for healthier babies, I’d swallow one every day.)

I’m not trying to sound all doomsday in writing this, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you had you given up on this preachy post long ago. Hell, I’m irritated even writing it, to be honest. I have gone and annoyed myself once again. But I do wish things were a little different here in America. Until I met Tobyjoe, I really didn’t give much thought to what I ate. I just ate whatever seemed easy, with little regard to where it was grown, how it got to me, and what it was going to do once it got inside of me. When it comes to the food I eat I have changed a lot over the past 6 years. I try and eat as much seasonal produce as possible and I try and keep it local. I guess I believe that if folks supported their local communities more, our foods would not only taste better, but we’d gain nutritional benefits as well. Perhaps then pregnant women wouldn’t be forced to take 3 massive prenatal vitamins a day whose aftertaste alone can make my stomach turn. But seriously, what do I know? I’m just a pregnant gal starving for knowledge.

(Look at Tucker’s face in this picture. He’s thinking, “Man, does that ever look gross!” It’s not that bad, I swear.)

Lucky for us pregnant ladies, there are high amounts of omega-3 is flax seeds and walnuts (as well as tofu and soy beans), which are all totally acceptable and safe to eat. So until I am able to fearlessly sink my teeth into a juicy salmon steak again, I’ll continue taking vitamins and chasing them with a glass full of ground flax seeds and water. I want my boy to be smart – smarter than his mama (but probably not smarter than his papa because his papa is pretty f’in smart).


  1. Wild salmon from Alaska and thereabouts is actually one of your better choices as far as seafood is concerned – it’s things like tuna that are more of a risk as far as mercury levels go.

    The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a really awesome guide that shows what your best choices are and what to avoid, breaking things down by region (with little printable .pdfs, even!), explaining which fish are poor choices because of toxins or overfishing, that sort of thing. Here’s the page on salmon:

    It’s a great resource. :)

    You might also check out what Nina Planck has to say about nutrition and pregnancy – unfortunately her new book on the subject isn’t out yet, but she has lots of good info on her site:


  2. Jen, you’re the best. Yeah, I do believe I will be eating me some of that wild salmon this year. It runs a fortune but considering it’s a once-a-year treat, who cares, right? (The copper river stuff, that is.)

    I had salmon once during the pregnancy. I am starting to become a little more open minded with the foods I eat as I get further along. So, I think I’ll introduce a little more fish into my diet. Goodness knows, the freaking Japanese have been doing just fine although I wonder if they have the pollution problems we do.


  3. Yeah, my personal thought as a person who is not now nor has ever been pregnant is that you probably just have to let some things go and not drive yourself too crazy over it at some point. :D You should definitely treat yourself to some of that Copper River salmon – it’s awesome.

    Also, do you like sardines? They’re loaded with the good omega-3s and are very low in mercury. One of my favorite snacks these days is sardines on Triscuits with some good dijon mustard and those little bitty pickles. YUM.


  4. I totally forgot about sardines! I am not a HUGE fan only because I don’t think I have ever eaten them fresh before. I will try that, Jen. Can you help me out as to where you get yours?


  5. Honestly, we usually just get those little packages of King Oscar brisling sardines in olive oil from FreshDirect – but we have also just gotten those same packages from the local grocery store. Bedford Cheese Shop had a variety of different packaged sardines when we were in there last weekend, and we plan to try some of those once we eat through the ones we have a home and see which ones we like.

    As far as fresh sardines go, from time to time Wild Edibles in the market at Grand Central has them. When I was there yesterday they had wild sardines from Portugal that looked really good. They’re kind of a pain to clean, but the guys there would probably actually do it for you if you asked. Those are awesome just grilled or broiled with some good olive oil and lemon drizzled on top.


  6. I could eat them like a cartoon sailer, bend my head back, stick it in, pull and VOILA! Bones!


  7. Then the cats could fish (ha!) the heads and skeletons out of the trash can and walk around with them in their mouths!


  8. Damn spelling errors. I meant SAILOR.

    And, yes, Tucker would LOVE that, the little orangemani terrorist.


  9. How do you feel about breastfeeding? :{)


  10. I am absolutely 150% for it. If the baby will have me, I am happy to oblige. I read so many wonderful things about breastfeeding. Plus, well, it will save us some money!


  11. Actually, the best thing about breastmilk is the immunological benefit. Newborns benefit from the immunoglobulins in breast milk until their own immune systems are fully functional.


  12. And mama can lose some of this pregnancy weight!


  13. I heart your little orangemani terrorist. He makes me smile.

    On the subject of heirloom tomatoes, I’m putting 8 different varieties in the ground this year in our little chemical and pesticide-free Brooklyn garden. I will totally give you some.

    Man, now I want a tomato sandwich. Or just slabs of fresh just-picked tomato with salt and pepper.


  14. Unfortunately, my father and mother are away on the Great Retirement Tour of 2007, which means no tomatoes for me this year. :/ Unless I want to buy one of those shady year round tomato kits (as seen on TV!). You just KNOW those things kits are full of chemicals.

    See ad here


  15. Be careful what you eat while breastfeeding. Our kids hated it when Kerry ate broccoli, onions, garlic or spicy food.

    Curiously, my kids LOVE spicy food and hot sauce now. They make little puddles of that sodium-rich liquor of the gods on their plates for every meal.


  16. from my sister’s experience, breast feeding saves “huge” amounts of money! and i say, do it in public(within reason) and if someone is offended tell them to go f&^k themselves! : )

    as for the mercury, i’ve read that the fish that tend to “retain” the evil-mercuryoxide -compound collect it in their fatty tissue near their bellies. luckily, most of this is cut off during the cleaning and filleting process. but, better safe than sorry seems to be the standard opperating procedure these days. ironically, in the old days, people used to drink straight mercury to help with stomach and intestinal problems….but don’t touch it!!!!


  17. There was an study published a while ago that said that the benefits of eating fish far outweigh the risks, and that there are only 4 or 5 types of fish to avoid eating completely.

    Did you read the Michael Pollan article that was on the cover of the NY Times a while ago? He basically took down the entire nutritionist industry and said that, yes, we are too dependent on vitamins and also that we worry too much about them. His credo is eat as natural as possible and as vegetarian as possible, and you’ll be fine.

    The things that pregnant women really need that they can’t get from regular food are the folic acid and sometimes iron. Other than that, you don’t need to overdue it with the vitamins. Of course the easiest way to get the folic acid/iron is with a prenatal vitamin. But I wouldn’t take anything else. And you’ll need to keep up with the prenatal afterwards as well for breastfeeding…

    It’s hard to NOT be paranoid when you are pregnant, but don’t stress out too much about things like food and nutrition. It sounds like you are a healthy eater in general. Just make sure you get enough protein – also very important when you are breastfeeding.

    Finally – my dad is a professor of Horticulture (at Penn State, actually). I probably should know more than I do about vegetable production but I do know that eating locally and in season is best (and probably more important than eating organic). Also, the e.coli thing probably had to do more with someone not washing their hands in the packaging plant.

    Anyway, if you have any more specific questions about vegetables, I can ask him…I’ll ask about the vitamin thing, but you are probably right on that.


  18. very interesting lowy…….. i read a health article many years ago that was written by a vetenarian who’s best friend ran a “port-o-potty” business. well, the article was basically asking why people were depending on vitamin pills so much without complete understanding to what was in them and what was actually needed to absorb their contents etc etc….maybe the vet was trying to make a point, but he said his buddy always had to filter his port-o-john waste before he could take it to the sewage treatment plant. he’d pull out the occasional wedding ring wallet and money, but the thing he pulled out on a regular basis were vitamin pills! not only that, but some had such a strong protective coating that he could still read the name on them!!!!!! now i read this and who knows how true it is, but it sure made me wanna test his theory. come to think of it i think he was trying to get into the high-end vitamin sales business. still a funny story i guess.


  19. Also, the e.coli thing probably had to do more with someone not washing their hands in the packaging plant.

    Seriously, everything I have found says that this wasn’t the case, that it was due to contaminated ground water. I find it really hard to believe that someone not washing their hands, even a few people not washing their hands, contaminated that much produce.


  20. Oh, and greg? I saw that exact same story! Although I saw it on the news I think. I just remember the photograph or image of the pills totally intact.


  21. Lowy: from the FDA’s Web site:

    Potential environmental risk factors for E.coli O157:H7 contamination at or near the field included the presence of wild pigs, the proximity of irrigation wells used to grow produce for ready-to-eat packaging, and surface waterways exposed to feces from cattle and wildlife.

    And from an article printed later:

    The joint FDA/State of California field investigation found the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 as was involved in the illness outbreak in samples taken from a stream and from feces of cattle and wild pigs present on ranches implicated in the outbreak. The investigation team also found evidence that wild pigs have been in the spinach fields. We continue to look for more information as to the source and mechanism of contamination.

    I’ll totally look up that Times article about vitamins. Sounds very interesting and right up my alley.


  22. HOLY SCHMOLY! I haven’t been by for a lil’ while I guess?! You got a bun in the oven CONGRATULATIONS!


  23. Oh my god what a cute belly Michele!


  24. The casually coincidental anomaly of having “STORE IN PROGRESS” on the screen of whatchamacallit and now in the image material [.jpg] made me laugh.


  25. okay, a little off subject here and i kind of wanted to wait until i actually see you to say this but i cant wait to hear you explain ‘ndugu’ to the little guy. i want to be there for that.
    also, you guys look lovely in the sunlight. not huge.


  26. and now for some thing completely different [but wait fifteen mins, it might change]


  27. fyi, you can bake with flax seed as an egg replacer

    flaxseed brownies are way tastier than that glass of flaxseed stuff


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