Don’t skimp on Vitamin D during Pregnancy

We’ve written about the benefits of vitamin D when it comes to fertility, but research is also showing that the positive effects of this vitamin extend well beyond the phase of trying to conceive. Sufficient intake of vitamin D in pregnancy is now also believed to be very important.

A recent study found an association between deficient vitamin D levels during pregnancy and a higher risk – almost a 2-fold increase – for multiple sclerosis in the children of these mothers later on in life. This finding comes after previous research has shown low levels of vitamin D in pregnant mothers can lead to heavier infants, as well as an increased risk of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.

In New Zealand, recent research has shown that vitamin D supplementation can help prevent not only the development of allergies in young children, but also asthma. In the clinical trial that was performed, vitamin D supplements were given to pregnant mothers beginning at 27 weeks gestation and continued until the infant was 6 months old. A year later – at 18 months of age – these children still showed signs of reduced allergies (house dust mites were specifically measured). This extended protection shows the importance of vitamin D on the developing immune system, which happens in late pregnancy and early infancy, and the way that intervention early on in life can alter a child’s sensitivity to allergens.

Finally, and perhaps most interesting, findings from a meta analysis published earlier this year examining vitamin D and adverse birth outcomes added to the growing base of information. Although data was limited in the study – and the authors were transparent about the need for further randomized trials before firm conclusions can be made – it appeared that vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of preterm birth and having a baby with low birthweight. There was also some evidence that vitamin D supplementation increases infant length and head circumference at birth.

While specific correlations or benefits may still need further analysis, one thing seems clear: if you’re pregnant, increasing your daily vitamin D intake is a good idea.

If you’re interested in learning more about your own levels of vitamin D, starting a supplement, or perhaps taking an in-home test, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider.




Easy, Beneficial Snacks for Pregnancy and Beyond

The list of detrimental effects due to delivering a premature baby is long. The United States’ rate of preterm birth has continued to increase in recent years, leading us to have one of the worst rates in the world and a dismal global ranking: 131st among all other countries. Prematurity is the number one cause of infant death and, unfortunately, even when a premature baby does make it to his or her milestone first birthday, they may still encounter behavioral problems or neurodevelopmental disabilities down the road. Evidence shows that babies born very early have a greater risk of developing psychiatric disorders in childhood and chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes as adults.

While little is still known about exact causes of prematurity, more and more research is linking inflammation and microbial infections in the genital tract to spontaneous preterm delivery and preterm pre-labor rupture of membranes (which means your water breaks before 37 weeks). With this knowledge, scientists have turned to diet and the consideration of foods that have antimicrobial properties in them, as well as foods that fight inflammation, such as a diet with high intake of vegetables, fruit, and berries.

So, if you’re pregnant, what should you be eating?
Research tells us it’s as simple and easy as garlic and raisins.

The diets of 66,000 pregnant women in Norway were studied to see if a plant-based, “prudent” diet (vegetables, fruits, oils, water as beverage, whole grain cereals, fiber-rich bread) compared to a “Western” or traditional Scandinavian diet (salty and sweet snacks, white bread, desserts, processed meat products) yielded different results. Not surprisingly, the “prudent” diet was associated with significantly reduced risk of preterm delivery.

Further research then looked specifically at the consumption of garlic, onion family vegetables, and dried fruit intake among pregnant women and again a reduced risk of preterm delivery was found. Raisins and garlic stood out in particular among these food groups.

Garlic is known for its antimicrobial and probiotic properties. Dried fruit contains fiber and also has antimicrobial activities thought to combat some of the bacteria suspected to cause preterm delivery. Even more interestingly, it doesn’t seem you need to add much of these common foods into your diet – just a clove of garlic per week and the equivalent of one mini snack box of raisins a month can provide these protective benefits.

What are some other healthy, easy, and beneficial foods you should be snacking on while pregnant?

  • Nuts, seeds, dried apricots: Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Magnesium
  • Bananas: Potassium, Fiber
  • Avocados: Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Folic Acid
  • Berries: Antioxidants, Fiber, Vitamin C
  • Yogurt: Calcium, Probiotics, Vitamins B12 & Vitamin B2

For more ideas of good pregnancy snacks & healthy recipes, visit our Pregnancy Health Pinterest page here.




2016’s Dirty Dozen

For the past 20 years, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has compiled and released what they call the “Dirty Dozen” – an annual list of the 12 fruits and vegetables believed to have the highest level of pesticide residue compared to other produce. This year, strawberries top the list and are followed by common fruits and vegetables such as apples, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, and tomatoes. This list can be a helpful tool when thinking about what produce you buy regularly, as well as how you prepare and wash these fruits and vegetables before eating and cooking. If you’re trying to introduce more organic items into your or your family’s diet (and budget!), then the produce types that make up this list may be the best place to start.

Tests done by both the USDA Pesticide Testing Program and the Food and Drug Administration were used to rank the produce; the EWG then looked at 6 different measures:

  • Percent of samples tested that had detectable pesticides
  • Percent of samples that had two or more pesticides
  • Average number of pesticides found on a sample
  • Average amount (in parts per million) of all pesticides found
  • Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
  • Total number of pesticides found on the commodity

According to the EWG, the fruits and vegetables that made the Dirty Dozen list “…tested positive for a number of different pesticide residues and showed higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce.” All produce are tested as they are typically eaten, so first they are washed and then peeled if applicable (in the case of a banana, for instance).

The Clean Fifteen

To complement the the Dirty Dozen, the EWG also releases the “Clean Fifteen.” The two lists make up what the EWG calls their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in ProduceWhile the Dirty Dozen contains produce that tends to have higher levels of pesticide residue, the Clean Fifteen focuses on fruits and vegetables that are safer to consume. Because they absorb a more minimal amount of crop chemicals,  it’s less important to purchase organic when it comes to these 15 types of produce. Avocados top this list and are followed by produce such as sweet corn, onions, asparagus, mango and grapefruit.

What does all this mean for us?

These lists shouldn’t scare us away from eating fruits and vegetables; in fact, we should be eating more! A diet rich in fruits and vegetables leads to a healthy and longer life than a diet without these foods – it is far better to eat produce on this list than sugary, less-healthy snacks or processed foods. The USDA has found that Americans have been eating roughly the same amount of fruits and vegetables for some years, and this plateaued behavior is worrisome for nutrition and health experts. Even the EWG states, “The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.”

So the takeaway message here is to always try to increase your fruit and veggie consumption – just be sure to wash produce thoroughly before eating (especially when non-organic). And it’s important to not only be mindful of the produce we’re bringing into our kitchen, but also the ingredients found outside of our food – in their packaging, for example – and beyond to common items in our home. To that end, the EWG has also published a “Dirty Dozen: Cancer Prevention Edition,” which highlights the 12 worst ingredients known to be carcinogens that are often found in everyday items such as food packaging, cosmetics, and furniture. These ingredients to stay away from are:

1. Bisphenol A (BPA): a chemical used in the plastic lining of food and beverage containers

2. Atrazine: a widely used herbicide often found in drinking water

3. Organophosphate Pesticides

4. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP): found in soft plastics such as shower liners and raincoats

5. Lead

6. Mercury

7. PFCs: used in grease and stain-repellant coatings on carpet and furniture

8. Phthalates: often added to perfumes or included within products under the ambiguous term ‘fragrance’

9. Diethlyhexyl Phthalate (DEHP)

10. PBDEs: a fire retardant that was used to treat furniture, mattresses, and pillows manufactured before 2005

11. Triclosan: used in many antibacterial soap products

12. Nonylphenol: found in items such as laundry detergents, personal care products, and paints

 

Additional Source: Mind Body Green’s ‘The 12 Worst Cancer-Causing Ingredients in Everyday Products’




Why Scientists Want You to Stay Away from Stain-resistant, Waterproof, and Nonstick

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There are many products we use on a regular basis that seem to almost work magic, whether it’s stain-resistant carpet and upholstery, waterproof jackets, or the way some of our cookware keeps food from sticking to its surface. But have you ever stopped to think about how these little tricks and modern conveniences occur? In May 2015, more than 200 scientists and health and safety professionals from all over the world came out with a call to education and action that is now known as “The Madrid Statement.” Their goal was to provide a warning about a harmful group of commonly-used chemicals – polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFASs or highly fluorinated chemicals – that cause serious harm not only to the environment, but also human health.

One of the most dangerous qualities of these manmade chemicals – found in common food items such as nonstick pans, wax paper, and pizza boxes – is that PFASs are resistant to breakdown in the environment. Because these chemicals are made up of ultra strong carbon-fluorine bonds, they can take millions of years to disintegrate.

The damage and risks to health associated with PFASs were identified as long as a decade ago; it was then that the EPA first began working to phase them out of production processes. Multiple studies have shown connections between PFASs and cancer, liver malfunction, hormonal changes, obesity, low birth size and thyroid issues. Research has found no safe levels in animal studies and build up of these chemicals within the human body. A Danish study conducted last year found up to a sixteenfold increase in the risk of miscarriage among pregnant women associated with PFAS exposure.

The Madrid Statement authors urged governments and industry manufacturers to conduct more testing and research related to the toxicity, production, and disposal methods of PFASs. While the outlook is grim, there are companies currently working to find safer alternatives, including the use of biomimicry (in this case, imitating the way water beads up and runs off of leaves). Until there’s widespread collaboration in halting the use of these chemicals or using alternatives, however, it’s best to follow the advice of The Madrid Statement scientists and “whenever possible, avoid products containing, or manufactured using, PFASs. These include many products that are stain-resistant, waterproof, or nonstick.”

Additional source: Scientists Issue Warning Over Chemicals Common In Carpets, Coats, Cookware

Image courtesy of Pexels.




Organic Meat & Milk Serve up 50 Percent more Omega 3s

Article by Jenna Kluempke & Beth Mark

The health benefits of organic vs. non-organic food has been an ongoing debate for some time now. Many people who prefer organic want to avoid pesticide use and appreciate that organic farming practices are better for the environment. Some scientists believe there are numerous benefits to eating organic versus not, and some say that the benefits are indistinguishable between the two. While the questions of eating organic have not all been answered, the results of a new study may add another compelling reason to the “pro-organic” list for consumers. An international group of scientists recently found that organic milk and meats contained levels of omega-3 fatty acids that were 50% higher than in their conventional counterparts.

The true power of Omega-3s

Omega-3s, which are found more commonly in grasses versus grain, are a polyunsaturated fat known to help reduce the risks of heart disease, including high cholesterol and low blood pressure. The dietary guidelines put forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2010 recommended Americans eat more seafood – rich in omega-3 fatty acids – due to the many health benefits of these fats. In the case of this study of organic milk and meat, however, the source of the increased omega-3 may have more to do with what the animals are eating than anything else. Animals raised under organic standards spend time outside grazing on grass, compared to grain-fed cows that produce conventional beef and milk. (Organically raised cattle are also not given hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified feed.)

The study, led by Carlo Leifert of Newcastle University in London and published in The British Journal of Nutrition, used a meta-analysis to examine all current papers on the topic and synthesize findings into a common conclusion. Because there are so few studies on organic beef alone, reports and studies looking at all categories of organic meats – 67 in total – were analyzed. A study led by Dr. Leifert two years earlier reviewing fruits and vegetables found that organic varieties had higher levels of antioxidants and less pesticide residue than conventional produce.

Skepticism about the real benefits of organic vs. conventional foods remains

With previous studies that have found consumption of 200 milligrams of omega-3s per day to improve one’s health, critics say that one serving of organic meat or milk will not produce any noticeable nutritional benefit. Adding a couple glasses of organic milk and a few servings of organic fruits and vegetable would certainly help. Still others argue that replacing red meat altogether with poultry or fish is the better, more beneficial option.

Leifert continues to explore the potential health differences between organic and non-organic foods. In a current experiment, he’s found that crop pesticide residue has an effect on the hormonal balances of rats.

So, the next time you’re at the grocery store debating whether or not to pay the extra price for organic beef or milk, it may be worth taking a step back to think about the broader benefits, both health-related and otherwise. The cost may be an initial deterrent, but the differences could have a long-term impact on the health of you and your children.

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.




The One Thing Every Pregnant Woman Should Be Eating On Valentine’s Day

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Italian researchers recently came to a conclusion that many of us already know to be true: chocolate can be a good thing…especially when pregnant. Although their research suggests additional studies and follow-up is needed, several benefits of chocolate intake during pregnancy were explored, with – most importantly – no negative effects found. Three main benefits were highlighted in the research: antioxidants found in chocolate, blood pressure reduction, and psychological health.

An imbalance of pro-oxidants and antioxidants in a woman’s system can cause “oxidative stress” during pregnancy, resulting in common complications such as miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, endometriosis, and polycystic ovary syndrome. While more evidence is needed to link antioxidant supplementation and these reproductive issues, researchers stated that pregnant women may benefit from increased caloric intake during the 10th to 13th week of gestation – and may show an inclination for foods rich in antioxidants (like cocoa and chocolate) – due to the level of oxidative stress during this time. Additionally, some research has found that flavanols found in chocolate can help support better cardiovascular functioning and potentially lower blood pressure. While these first two benefits may need further validation, the final benefit of chocolate consumption during pregnancy – psychological health – probably seems like a pretty obvious answer to most of us. Researchers concluded that chocolate, as part of a balanced diet, can provide psychological well-being to both the pregnant woman and baby. Chocolate: happy mama, happy baby.

As the research review stated, “In fact, chocolate consumption in pregnancy seems to reduce the negative effect of prenatal maternal stress on infant temperament.”

Need we say more? So if you’re currently pregnant and your interest is piqued (how could it not be?!), then we have a great Valentine’s Day recipe for you to try…to satiate that craving while keeping your health in mind! (Of course this recipe is also for anyone looking for one more good reason to indulge in a favorite treat.) 

This recipe uses both coconut oil and coconut flour as substitutes, providing the wonderful nutritional benefits of coconut. Instead of butter, peanut butter or almond butter can be used. We used a little less sugar than the recipe called for (and only had regular sugar on hand) and still found them to be delicious. These cookies are grain and gluten-free, and very easy to make (only 1 bowl needed!). A food processor can be used or you can simply mix them together by hand.

Paleo Coconut Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies – by Monique Volz of Ambitious Kitchen

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  • 3/4 cup unsalted creamy almond butter (or peanut butter)
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted and cooled
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour (we used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

-In a bowl of a food processor, add in almond butter (or peanut butter), coconut sugar and coconut oil; process until it comes together, about 1 minute. Add in eggs and process again.

-Next, add in coconut flour, baking soda and salt; process again until a dough forms. Gently fold in chocolate chips. Use a cookie scoop to drop dough onto prepared cookie sheet.

-Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies turn slightly golden brown around the edges. Allow them to cool on cookie sheet for at least 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining dough. Makes around 20 cookies.

Enjoy!




Oxytocin Improves Mental Health & Helps Bonding with Baby

Oxytocin Improves Mental Health & Helps Bonding with Baby

Growing, delivering, and nourishing a baby requires sheer physical strength, stamina, and quite a bit of hormonal help. It’s easy to forget the powerful effect of those hormones, especially with rising and falling levels throughout the whole process, and the impact they can have on a woman – particularly on her mental health. More and more evidence is showing the widespread prevalence of maternal mental illness: studies have shown that approximately 10 to 20 percent of mothers can struggle with depression, beginning in the prenatal period and not just after birth. That translates to potentially 1 in 5 women.

In addition to this alarming statistic, the impact on children is also troubling. Children of depressed mothers can be adversely affected emotionally and cognitively; they may be harder to console, have sleeping problems, and increased risks for developmental or psychiatric problems down the road. With a firm and obvious link established between postpartum depression and poor parenting behaviors, several studies have aimed to improve parenting of mothers with postpartum depression. Now a new intervention may provide some insight into the complex interplay of brain chemistry, hormones, and postpartum depression: the use of oxytocin – a crucial hormone for labor, lactation, and maternal bonding – has been tested as a powerful treatment method.

Women with naturally high levels of oxytocin have been found to display parenting behaviors likely to promote and increase bonding; conversely, two studies looking at the connection between oxytocin and postpartum depression found that women with lower levels of oxytocin during pregnancy had higher scores of depressive symptoms.

Only two studies have looked in-depth at the use of oxytocin as a method of treatment and, in both studies, it was actually found that when the hormone was administered, women reported poorer moods.

The mixed findings regarding oxytocin and its effects – whether in its natural state in the body or artificially administered –  suggests the need for a larger sample size and more studies. With continued research, scientists may be able to more fully understand the impact of this hormone and the important role it plays in preventing or prompting maternal mental illness.

Stay tuned for more articles this month on maternal mental illness and learn about symptoms to watch for in all stages of planning, pregnancy and parenting.




Fear of Large Babies Increases Unnecessary C-Sections

Fear of Large Babies Increases Unnecessary C-Sections

For almost all women, the idea of childbirth is daunting. When your doctor tells you that your baby is measuring big, delivery anxiety can worsen. But what if those worries could be avoided? And what if the consequences of a misguided weight prediction can be serious? According to a new study, a significant amount of women are told their babies are growing “quite large” prior to birth. Consequently, the research shows that mothers who believed they were having large babies were almost five times more likely to ask for a scheduled C-section. What’s most alarming is that the vast majority of these women went on to deliver babies who weighed less than 8 pounds 13 ounces, which is the medical definition of a large baby. The study was based on a nationally representative survey of 1,960 new mothers.

With cesarean section birth rates skyrocketing in recent years – according to the CDC, nearly one in three babies in the United States is born via C-section – this is important information to recognize. Equally important for parents and care providers to keep in mind is that ultrasound scans used to predict birth weight are not reliable.

Although the potential risks for large babies delivered vaginally can be serious and should not be entirely neglected (particularly for women with gestational diabetes), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) cautions the use of ultrasound scans to estimate fetal weight. ACOG guidelines from 2014 state that a suspected large baby is only “rarely” an indication for a cesarean delivery. A wider picture of national data also provides insightful information: fewer than 8 percent of babies born meet the medical definition of a large baby.

A care provider purely counseling women on a cesarean section can cause confusion, exacerbating pre-existing concerns about a long or painful birth process; it can sway women into considering an option that sounds medically necessary, but wasn’t an initial consideration. When it comes to the birth of your baby, knowing the risks and realities of choices made available to you is key. Knowledge can provide the power to become your best advocate.




Effects of Smoking, other Environmental Exposures Remain in Kids for Years

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The links between environmental exposures and certain health conditions continue to be made, confirmed, and analyzed. A new study, however, is taking this body of knowledge to the next level. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that blood samples taken from preschoolers detected whether or not the mothers of these children had smoked during pregnancy.

The work of the researchers built upon epigenetics, the study of how genes are expressed in the body – essentially how they are turned “on and off” – when there are certain external or environmental factors present. These genetic ”biomarkers” can help researchers make connections to how cells read genes and the development of certain diseases or health conditions. The findings of this study, published in the journal Environmental Research, were noteworthy not only because blood samples were utilized (which is easy to collect and had never been done before), but also because this adds to existing evidence that the effects of smoking and other environmental exposures during the prenatal period can remain in the body of children and potentially impact their health for years after birth. Researchers tested blood from children at six different sites in the United States, spoke with mothers about their pregnancy, and were able to see positive correlation in up to 81% of the tests. Some of these children were as old as five.

Although it is much harder to ask mothers about prenatal toxin exposure they are not aware of, the hope is that this research could assist in making strides to identify the impact of other environmental exposures, like plastics or contaminants in drinking water.

Ultimately, the study of epigenetics and research like this seeks to understand how detrimental experiences and exposure during the prenatal period may or may not be linked to chronic diseases – such as autism, heart disease, and obesity – later in life. The goal is to prevent the development of these diseases as early as possible….even as early as the first months in the womb.




The Grocery Store is Full of Healthy Food. Why Aren’t We Shopping There?

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New research is helping shape the understanding of what Americans are eating and where this food is coming from. In a time when the sheer number and choices of food products is constantly growing, the options of where we can buy our food is also changing. The study, found in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, focused specifically on packaged food purchases, which are not only taking up a larger share of store shelves, but are also the default option for many American families.

The authors provide a new angle to the growing body of research around access to grocery stores and healthy food; they highlight the fact that little data on where people actually shop, and what they buy, currently exist.

Interesting findings of this study show that food purchased in grocery store chains consistently had the lowest number of calories and better nutrient densities. Convenience stores were found to have food with the most sugar and foods purchased from warehouse clubs had the most sodium. In the twelve years that the study was conducted, the amount of food in American households being purchased at convenience stores, warehouse clubs, and mass merchandisers (like Target or Wal-Mart) increased.

The study also focused on where and what types of beverages are being purchased. While rates of soda consumption have fallen in recent years, this is not consistent among the entire population. Sadly, the majority of food produced and consumed by American children is still junk food. According to the study, 80% of all kids and adults consume over 100 calories of added sugar per day.

The majority of food produced and consumed by American children is still junk food.

An important conclusion of this research is that Americans are now buying their food from multiples sources and, more often than not, it’s not as healthy and nutritious as it should be. It’s yet another reminder of the importance to strive for a healthy, balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or providing the nutritional foundation for a small child. Junk food and sugary beverages may be abundant, but they don’t have to be the go-to staples of your family’s diet.

Look for more upcoming articles and information on Pure Living about how to make healthier diet and nutrition choices for your family, especially as you’re prepping for all the food-heavy festivities of the holiday season!

Photo Credit: Pexels