Suné Markowitz-Shulman is a nutritional therapist and emotional eating coach. She is also a trained chef and supports her clients to make sustainable changes and form new habits that can last a lifetime. We asked her to help us on our quest for a healthy diet in pregnancy. Mum to Naima, aged 4, she lives in Forest Hill.
What are the key nutritional needs for pregnant women?
If you’re thinking of getting pregnant, change your diet beforehand. The best window for preparation if you know you’re trying is to make changes 3-4 months before you fall pregnant. The environment for the egg and foetus is important even before conception, so get your health in peak condition before you start trying.
Think about cutting out potential toxins like alcohol and caffeine, or taking vitamin supplements and don’t stop moving and exercising! The best way to eat healthily is to eat (slowly) and a varied diet, eat three meals a day and when you’re pregnant, add two snacks. Your diet should include a good mix of vegetables, 2 fruits, nuts, protein, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, beans and pulses. I’d also recommend buying organic if you can, as these products will contain less chemicals. This adds as bonus support for the development of your baby.
I know it can be tough when you’re feeling nauseous – it’s hard to make good choices if you only want to eat certain foods that you know are bad for you. If you’re craving something high in sugar, for example, chocolate brownies, think about making your own lower sugar, gluten free alternative brownies with substitutes like sweet potato or maple syrup, and make a batch so you have a healthier alternative to turn to when the cravings kick in.
When I meet a mum-to- be, I assess their blood sugar through monitoring their diet and completing a questionnaire. Through diet, coaching and with practical advice we will work together to balance blood sugar levels. It’s important to do this before, during and after pregnancy.
A balanced blood sugar through following a Low Glycaemic Load diet (Low GL) is key to optimal energy, less cravings, avoiding mood swings, better concentration and prevent excessive weight, especially during pregnancy.
How does what you eat affect your baby?
A key thing you need to think about is essential fats – they’re crucial for brain, eyes and CNS development (especially in the third trimester) so they can even help with the intellectual development of your baby!
Studies have shown that babies used to a ‘starvation’ (Barker hypothesis) diet in the womb, will be conditioned to this level of nutrition after birth, and may be prone to obesity and other metabolic diseases later in life. So you’re really building the framework and building blocks for the health for their lifetime in those pregnancy months.
Studies have also shown that eating a varied mix of flavours and tastes in pregnancy may help your baby be less fussy when it comes to trying new things at weaning. If you for example eat a lot of garlic during pregnancy the amniotic fluid will taste garlicky to the baby.
How can second-time mums meet these needs in quick and easy ways?
I know time is scarce when you’re a second time mum. But planning and organisation can help you think ahead. Think about what you want to eat for each day of the week (or at least Monday to Friday), and when you see a meal plan laid out you can really see what key foods you’re missing or eating too much of. This kind of planning helps with shopping and avoids waste too.
Just as you would do with weaning your baby, you need to always have the right foods at hand, and know what you’re planning for dinners and what you can use for leftovers or take out the freezer to make your life easier. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but trust me; if you don’t have a plan it’s far too easy to give in to temptation, be driven by your emotions and grab the most convenient and least nutritional foods for immediate gratification (e.g. takeaways, pasta, sugar etc).
Always try and think: ‘does this meal have a mix of protein, fat, fibre and some form of fruit and vegetables – and will it keep me feeling full and nutritionally satisfied?’ Or ‘Do I want this cake because I’m tired/sad/overwhelmed or is it because I haven’t had a proper meal in the last 7 hours?
For a quick and easy idea, I’d suggest something like wholegrain toast with cream cheese and tomatoes, Nut butter and a few slices of banana or plain yoghurt with low sugar museli and fruit. Or make a healthy meal out of your leftovers with last night’s brown rice, some scrambled egg and frozen mixed vegetables and Tamari Soy. (Kids love this too)
I would also suggest starting the day with a smoothie, so that you at least have one good ‘meal’ each day that contains a good mix of everything you need. Plus, smoothies are quick to make and eat, and you can even drink it on the go if you’re out and about with your little ones.
Another way you can Supplements will help you get enough. A high quality one is really important. Fish oils are really important but I know lots of women can’t face the taste (or smell) of certain fish in pregnancy, so this is a great example of a supplement that can be really useful. Look for a high quality supplement that’s BCG approved.
What are the best foods/snacks to keep up energy levels?
Nuts and seeds are great for this. I always carry a little pot with mixed nuts in my bag for an emergency snack. Or you could try a small pot of yoghurt with fruit and seeds, or bounce balls and packets of oatcakes for snacks on the go. If you eat a balanced meal which consists of good quality lean protein, healthy fats and plenty of veggies and some carbs consistently this should be enough to keep those energy levels from flagging.
If you do every have time, it’s great to have a homemade snack like banana bread – I loved eating this when I was pregnant and lived on it when I was breastfeeding because I was so hungry all the time! Replace white flour with brown, and leave out most of the sugar in whatever recipe you’re following. A slice of banana bread with almond butter is satisfying, filing, tasty and great for energy, without the sugar low afterwards.
Can you recommend anything to help give tired skin a glow?
Drink plenty of water! This is really important whether you’re pregnant or not, especially as you get older. Eating essential fats will help with this too (like fats from seeds, oily fish, nuts, avocados and coconut oil) and you can even use coconut oil on your skin as a moisturiser for a double hit. I also like to use a rose beauty balm from Neals Yard on my skin – it’s completely natural and gives a lovely glow.
Make sure you limit caffeine and sugar – I know they both seem like a great idea when you’re sleep-deprived but the satisfaction is short lived and the consequences are long-lasting and can contribute to looking a little pasty. Lifestyle-wise, it’s also very important to get as much sleep as you can. Although I know how difficult that can be with a family…
How can we fit healthy eating into a busy routine?
Ideally try to eat three meals a day and if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, add two snacks. Try to be mindful about your eating: eat when you’re hungry but stop when you’re full. Try not to eat for emotional reasons like tiredness or when you’re feeling down.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage to have a perfect diet every day. Even if you have one great meal in a day, that’s better than nothing. Don’t give up completely just because you have a bad day. Again, planning will help you make good choices so this is the way you can turn your diet around.
I’d also suggest considering a meal planning and delivery service – anything to make your healthy eating easier. So look at options like online grocery shopping, Cook meals or Hello Fresh. If they work for you and help you prepare proper meals more quickly, that’s better than opting for takeaways or unhealthy snacks, even just to get you through those challenging first months of having a new baby (and toddler or two)
Are there any key vitamins/nutrients we need in Winter?
Generally, it’s important to have a balanced diet throughout the year so that your immune system is healthy and this will help see you through the colder season. Remember that stress and lack of sleep affects your immune system too.
Whether you’re pregnant or not, you may want to consider a good multivitamin as an insurance policy. During the winter months, it’s good to get some extra vitamin C, D and A, as well as Zinc and Echinacea – they all help boost your immune system.
Tell us more about what you do
I’m a nutritional therapist and emotional eating coach. So, unlike a Nutrtionist, who might work in a hospital or for a food science organisation, I work mostly with women on a 1:1 basis or in small groups to listen, educate and support them to make practical, sustainable changes to end emotional eating, improve energy, regain confidence and never ‘diet’ again but still loose weight and feel comfortable in their bodies.
I trained to be a chef so I know how important food is and understand how much you love it! I can design easy recipes and coach you to be better organized and take the stress out of meal planning and cooking for the family.
I can also visit your home and take a look at the way you store, prepare and cook your meals and go through your cupboards to look at the kind of things you eat. I can then show you how to swap more unhealthy items for better options, and give you some advice about how to incorporate these into your diet.
Changing your diet is very psychological, not just practical. I want to know what your values are, need to know why you want to change your diet, and what you want to achieve, so I can work out the best way to approach your new lifestyle and coach you. If someone comes to me simply asking to lose weight, that’s not really enough. Is it because they want to be healthier, or live longer, feel better? What we eat and how we eat can help us improve so many health factors, from sluggish and compromised digestion to lack of energy and dull skin, so there can be so many benefits to working with a nutritional therapist and coach.
I also run workshops such as my upcoming Feed your Family Right workshops. I run 4-week groups where parents can learn about foods to eat, how to make them, and how nutrition can help with behaviour, energy mood and concentration. I also host regular 6 or 8 week group courses for women to change their relationship with food, lose weight and improve their health.
Is your little girl a super-healthy- eating angel?
I try my best to eat healthily at home but like any toddler, she can be fussy about certain things! I wouldn’t say she eats everything, but she has a healthy appetite loves anything sweet, but I won’t give up introducing her to new flavours.
Do you have any practical meal ideas for mums who need to make quick and easy meals for themselves and their toddlers?
Think about what to make for yourself first, and then how you can adapt it for your toddler, rather than the other way around. We shouldn’t really be making ‘kids meals’ for our children – they should be getting used to eating what we eat.
So something like fishcakes would be great – it’s soft and not too ‘weird’ for little ones. And it doesn’t have to be a fancy recipe. You could simply mix tuna and mashed potato to make your own basic version. And I’m very pro frozen fruit and vegetables – they stay fresh for longer and they’re a quick and easy way to make healthy meal additions for you and your children.
As a fellow South Londoner, where do you like to hang out with your family?
We live 2 minutes away from the Horniman and Sydenham/Dulwich woods so we spend a lot of time there. The Montage in Forest Hill has a little playroom and good coffee for rainy afternoons and of course we are spoilt for choice for amazing parks, Mayow Park is one of our favourites!