My low-carb journey over the past four years has taken me from some pretty low low’s to some incredible highs. At my heaviest I weighed a podgy 87kgs with all the excuses in the book; “bad genes, slow metabolism, big boned”… You name it, I had a reason why I could possibly never be a “skinny” person. So when I started down the road of low-carb emancipation never in my wildest, thinnest dreams did I ever think I would get down to a trim 70kg’s and a size 12 all round (WITHOUT a muffin top!). In the best shape of my life and such everyday zest. Gone are those carb-induced hazy days!
I have a lot to thank a Low Carb High Fat lifestyle for. In fact I owe it my life, literally. Who knows where I was heading in my pre-diabetic state of sluggish apathy? So quite frankly, I will never look back. But what do I do now that I’m pregnant? I’ve been met with all sorts of responses, mostly positive and intrigued about the theory behind it. But during my pregnancy I’ve got a lot more concerned queries. So I thought I’d give everyone the low down of a low-carb pregnancy from my personal account.
It’s LOW carb not NO carb – Let’s get this one straight! Even before falling pregnant I still included carbs in my diet, but the key was good carbs and sparingly, my body works best burning fat for fuel. But the occasional right carbs have a place in everyone’s diet too. For example rooty veg like carrots and sweet potato make an appearance a couple of times a week. Butternut, pumpkin, nuts, the occasional whole piece of fruit and full-fat dairy are regulars on the menu too. My body leveled out at it’s optimal weight of 70kg’s and has stayed there for two years without me having to give it much thought. So I must have been doing something right…
I’ve definitely noticed my calorie intake has increased since I started growing another human. So I listen to my body, and these days I get hungry a little more regularly, so I eat what I feel like when I feel like it. Before I’d easily get through the day with only two meals and not even think about food. But my hunger has increased somewhat so I just go with it. If I feel like some berries with cinnamon and a splash of cream then I’m off to the fridge. But the key is to know the difference between eating out of hunger and not just something to do to pass the time. So I wait for that tummy-grumbling feeling and that’s my cue.
To exercise or not to exercise? – Again, I listen to my body. There have been days when I’m flat out on the couch watching re-runs of Master Chef Junior (because why else would people have kids?) But when I do feel like myself again, which is most of the time, then I get on with gentle gardening, I take a saunter around the farm with the mutts and do some gentle weights and resistance training with elastic bands. But most of the time I potter around the place, avoid heavy lifting of course, but by no means am I going to be bed ridden for 9 months!
How do you cope with those cravings? – Honestly not much has really changed. Other than feeling like something more often than I used to. But then I analyse the nutrient requirements behind the craving and that’s when I make healthy, nutrient-dense choices. Strangely though, I still have had a few odd cravings. But mostly for things that are nostalgically comforting opposed to full blown binge eating. Like chamomile tea with milk, which is something I haven’t had since I was very small and my Mom used to make it for me before bed. But if I do find I’m plagued by a craving there’s always a low-carb alternative. Like custard, oh how I dream about custard. But then I make a low-carb version. And I try and see past the actual food and rather the nutrients it’s offering me that is triggering the craving in the first place.
What about supplements? – I make sure that every meal and even snacks are as jam packed with nutrients and anti-oxidents as possible. I take a basic folic acid supplement (MUCH cheaper than those well-branded pregnancy multi-vits that are 10 times the price!) available over the counter at the pharmacy ( a handy hint from my GP who knows the pitfalls of the marketing aimed at hormonal pregnant woman!) Not that I don’t suggest taking the best supplements you can, but if you’re eating a healthy balanced diet full of fresh real stuff it might be a waste of your money.
I eat fresh leafy green veggies grown organically and plucked right out of my garden with every single meal! I’m sure I’d raise an eyebrow or two if I lived in the city, at the sight of this pregnant woman squatting over a patch of rocket pluckily leaf after leaf and shoving it in her mouth like a bald albino gorilla. What a sight! There’s a reason I live in the hills…I also make sure I eat super colourful things everyday. Blueberries, red/green/yellow peppers, aubergines, beetroot leaves (delicious steamed or in a salad!) strawberries. Naturally rich in folic acid, anti-oxidents and very nutrient dense.
Pregnancy staples –
Fish, fish, fish and more fish! I know there is research suggesting concerning mercury levels. But I like to think I drink some of the purest, unadulterated mountain water, and breath the freshest unpolluted African air that whatever is in the fish is being counteracted at least a little bit. Besides it really is the best source for all your fatty acids, omega 3’s and 6’s. Plus we stick to eating a hell of a lot of fresh caught bass straight out of our own dams. So it’s not so much tuna and swordfish as it is bass, trout and blue gill.
Eggs especially the yolks. Yes, this is my sole excuse to making and eating as much Banting custard as I can get my greedy little pregnant fingers on! But please keep your eggs free-range or ideally organic if you can! My hens have no alternative, there’s no chicken McDonalds for them, they only get seeds and green leafy stuff. Spoiled brats!
Green leafy veg – Again it’s all about the folic acid. So hunt out kale, broccoli and spinach like a heat-seeking missile in the supermarket. Or better yet, grow your own! You can’t get better than home-grown veg!
Vibrant colourful stuff – No, I’m not talking about a box of smarties. Go for anything super bright in the veg aisle. Strawberries, peppers, red onions, tomatoes, sweet potato. You get the idea, bright is right!
All you hear when you first fall pregnant is Folic Acid! Folic Acid! Folic Acid! But don’t make the same rooky mistake I made. Buy the cheap pure folic acid tablets from the pharmacy counter (no prescription needed) they’re something like R14 for 100 tabs. And rather use the other R200 odd you would have spent for those well-marketed pregnancy vitamins on real fresh food.
I’m really lucky in that I have access to fresh, free-range lamb and venison livers regularly. I’ve tried to pretend it’s not true, but I just can’t fake it anymore. I hate liver! It’s my nemesis! But you can put anything with bacon, garlic onions and mushrooms and it’ll be edible. But if you really really can’t stomach liver then get yourself some cod liver oil capsules. Liver is some of the most nutrient dense food around so don’t miss out!
Now more than ever I take good fats to the max. Coconut oil, cod liver oil (capsules, otherwise the oil is really gross) homemade grass fed butter, olive oil, avos up to my eyeballs (so thrilled they’ve been in season most of my pregnancy, it also helps our neighbour farms avos). Unfortunately I’ve had to give up the raw grass-fed milk, cream and homemade yoghurt as our dairy we don’t pasturise on the farm. But the minute this baba is weaned I’m going to be back on that udder, man! You can’t beat raw fresh dairy.
So what do you eat? – Here’s a typical day in the life of a pregnant farm wife:
Breakfast – Always used to be a cup of strong coffee with cream which would see me through easily till lunch. But that’s no longer and option, so I start the day with something fatty. Usually a fried egg or two depending on how hungry I’m feeling and a couple of rashers of bacon and an avo if there’s one ripe and some lightly sauteed kale or spinach. The idea of standing over the stove in the early morning to cook breakfast did make me feel green, especially in the first trimester. But I found pushing through the nausea and creeping around the kitchen in a zombiefied manner taking my time to get something in my belly would help me feel a bit more human for the rest of the morning. Otherwise on days I could barely stagger down the passage without feeling woozy then grain-free granola, greek yoghurt and strawberries did the trick. At least it didn’t taste that bad either going down or back up.
Mid-morning – I’ll have an apple and some greek yoghurt, a drizzle of nut butter with a dash of cinnamon and some herbal tea if I’m feeling peckish, but often I get through to lunch without much thought given to food.
Lunch – As farmers, lunch is a big deal and is usually our biggest meal of the day. Which suits me fine as I’ve had the biggest cravings for saucy things. Gravy… cheese sauce… It’s been ridiculous! Everything is now smothered in even more indulgence than before. So it’s often roast chicken or a lamb joint of some kind, and of course tons of veggies slathered with coconut oil. Happy foetus!
Afternoon snack – I never used to snack, but since the pregnancy I find it helps with the constant fatigue if I have a little something to perk me up in the afternoon. Cheese and I are now even more BFF’s than before, if you can imagine that. I gravitate towards nibbling on bits of salami or shaved peppered ham wrapped around cherry tomatoes and rocket doused in black pepper. If I’m feeling industrious, then I make up a batch of homemade salsa, gaucamole, tziki and banting mayo for my dipping pleasure. Or my latest craving are smoothies – Greek yoghurt with some frozen berries, pumpkin seeds and a teaspoon of macadamia butter is my go-to favourite at the moment. I often toss in some fresh kale, spinach or mint fresh from the garden. Smoothies saved my life in the first trimester for those days I couldn’t bare the thought of chewing let alone standing over a hot stove plate. But lately it’s become my afternoon pick-me-up.
Dinner – With my ferocious appetite lately, I’m just going with the flow, and if I feel like gorging on another huge meal come dinner time, then I go for it. There are no complaints from the husband department of course. Because it’s Autumn, and this baby seems to be big into comfort food, there’s lots of stews, casseroles, and bolognese mince coming out my ears. I can almost hear it chanting from inside my belly:
“Mince and gem squash mash!
Mince and gem squash mash!
Mince and gem squash mash and don’t you dare forget the CHEESE! ”
I try and cook as much on-the-bone stuff as possible to get all that hugely nutritious bone marrow, gelatine and micronutrients that cook out into the dish. Speaking of cooking with bones, I make tons of bone broth for this same reason too. I’ll simmer a chicken carcass or some leftover meaty bones, and freeze the broth as a sort of consomme. Which come in handy for those “meh” days when all I want to do is lie in bed with my fur people, surf Pinterest and eat soup. Of course this never happened before I was pregnant. No… never…
So my final verdict on having a low-carb pregnancy is that I feel fantastic. Obviously the odd twinge of nausea and morning sickness aside, I feel happy, nutritionally satisfied, with no weird mind-bending cravings, or major hormonal upheaval. Our doctor is thrilled with our progress, my weight gain has been healthy and the little alien prawn has been growing like mad with an incredibly strong heart beat and really full of oomph as it darts around my tummy during the scans. After all, what is a growing foetus comprised of? Proteins and fats… What is breast milk comprised of mostly? Proteins and fats. I listen to my body, and feel content in my decision to stay away from the conventional advise of low-fat wholegrain outdated bla bla bla that we’ve been told for too long. Is anyone else out there pregnant and low carb high fatting it? I’d love to hear from you. So far it’s been a normal, uneventful happy pregnancy. Right, now I better go and finish off the last of that custard…