One thing I always seem to do at the start of seeing new clients is always get a food diary. I don’t know what it is, but women in particular always seem to be lacking in protein when we work through their daily food intake. I know its all about veg and protein, but what’s this all about? Possibly that they have forgotten the vital part protein plays in ensuring life and also the importance of this in the preconception diet to give the body the signals that there is enough ‘fuel’ to maintain a new life and sustain hormonal health too! Men on the other hand are all too happy to be given my recipes which contain more meat, beans and legumes ( although to be fair sometimes the legumes make them a bit more unsociable if not told how to properly prepare them!!)
In order to perform as a human being it is vital that we gain ‘fuel’ to sustain life. I’m sure you read all about this in biology at school, but as a trip down memory lane, here is a bit about why we need protein.
The Word protein was coined by a Dutch chemist in 1833 and comes from the Greek word ‘Protos’ which means of prime importance. After water the body is primarily made up of protein. Protein is used by the body to build, repair and for growth of new tissue and to maintain muscle. Protein is made up of amino acids or the building blocks. There are approximately 20, of these 9 are considered essential, as they cannot be made by the body and therefore must be supplied by diet.
If you don’t have adequate protein, your body will begin to break down its tissue.
Our bodies are in a constant state of building up and breaking down tissue and to do this they need protein. There are many thousands of combinations of amino acids needed to perform the necessary ‘transfers’ in the body for tissue and neurotransmitters which all require sequences that are very different from the amino acid needed to complete this process.
According to loads of nutrition textbooks healthy people should have at least 0.8g of protein a day per body weight. This is particularly important for those trying to get pregnant, as hormones are made up largely of protein!
Unfortunately this calculation isn’t accurate for everyone as we all have different levels of activity, stress in our life and we also have to be careful of acidity of the protein! If you are deficient I would recommend upping this to 1.2 – 1.8g per body weight. However if you have inflammation in the body as seen on blood tests in high amounts of C-reactive protein, in this instance excess protein will be harmful to the liver.
Another important thing to consider is - what kind of protein are you having? You always need to consume the highest amount of bioavailable protein with the full package of amino acids. Nutritional Scientists will rate this using a scale called the Protein- Energy Ration. (PER) and Biological Value (BV) ratings of proteins, which measure how well the body utilizes amino acids in a protein. Here’s how the main proteins rate (from highest to lowest) by how well they are utilized in the body.
· Whey protein
· Egg white
· Dairy products
· Legumes (e.g., beans, lentils)
For me Whey is out, as its just so mucus forming and lots of people lose the enzyme to digest this past 3 years of age, I do however like raw prepared and fermented kefir and I'm really starting to become obsessed about fermented food ( more about this in later posts)
However - Top of my list is always Eggs! At least 2 daily, and if lacto ovo veggie 3-4 daily.
Cold water fish, great, but with caution large fishes build up heavy metals in their tissue so only go for wild caught or in non polluted areas.
Chicken, quite a substantial amount of protein! So please add this also but make sure its free range and organic.
Grass fed and organic red meat, such as lamb and beef and buffalo at least once weekly
Beans and Legumes – and make sure these are produced organically! Huge amounts of folate, prepare by popping a piece of seaweed in the pot while cooking t absorb the gas. Also pre-soak and rinse a few times.
Other forms of ‘protein’
I don’t like soya at all, i'm sure you have heard me banging on about this! – unfortunately this is creeping into the UK quite rapidly, and many with dairy intolerances are having this as an alternative to lactose! Also it is used almost without a thought by a lot of vegetarians in some form as it has been touted as a ‘ health food’ and is a source of protein. Soya can have a very strong effect on your thyroid disrupting vital hormones here and disturbing fertility. Soya is also a low sulphur based amino acid, and sulphur is the compound that is vital for glutathione to get a kick start, and support your methylation cycle, which is one of the most important things that happens in the body billions of times a second in order to survive and replicate our own DNA. Glutathione is one of the most important substances in this process as it helps with detoxification, so is the ‘ cleaner’ so to speak and gets rid of excess nasties in the body and is a major antioxidant. Other proteins do have sulphur bases, and most meat has the complete package! Soya is also not a good choice for sperm health as it has been cited as reducing count in some studies, and is very detrimental as a whole, so if you are using soya, as milk substitute or to increase protein as a veggie or vegan, consider the other options of hemp, beans and legumes instead.
Do vegans get enough protein and is this a wise choice to follow for preconception and pregnancy?
Speaking of vegans, this is one group that eat and have a fantastic knowledge of food combining and in my experience have the basic foundations for an excellent diet! However as much of what they eat is lacking in B12 deficiencies can build up, so its wise to always take a B12 supplement such as Methylcobalamin ( low dose, to begin with) It sounds factitious to say this but the level of veggies vegans eat is enviable, however – the proteins to help sustain the metabolic processes in the body are incomplete and over time this may pose health issues. Thankfully many do keep an eye on the protein levels they eat, and also if you are vegan, its worth going for regular vitamin and mineral blood tests as well as having regular Full blood counts to see if inflammation is setting in.
Personally I recommend a diet from a paleo perspective, with a mixture of animal and vegetable protein but modified depending on your circumstances where you may have more need for it during times of stress or illness and heavy exercise. Pregnancy is a time where you need less protein as the liver and kidneys are under a tremendous amount of stress hormonally. At different times of your life will have more need for certain things and a balance ratio of carbs to protein based on your situation.
I'm not about ‘ one size fits all’ as your genetics will also play into this and if you have MTHFR and other mutations expressing your need for folate will be huge and the diet will need to reflect this ( beans and legumes must be had here until coming our your ears!). Some may also may have compromised digestive systems and need digestive enzymes to help them to break the food down in order to optimize absorption of the amino acids in the protein. As I always say everyone is a snowflake, and your level of protein needs to be a safe 50g as a woman ( if average weight and not overweight and 60g as a man in a similar situation. To be safe try the calculation mentioned above 0.8x kg weight and start off at a lower amount I mentioned and build up to your level. If you find this is too much, you may have weaker kidneys and anything more than that may be too much for your kidneys to process. However you need to try this and see how you get on with it before throwing higher protein away as a lifestyle and preconception model suggestion!