We’ve all heard the saying “you are what we eat.” And while you are breastfeeding, what you eat is so important for you and your baby.
Once broken down, everything we consume ultimately makes its way around the entire body – our brain, our butt, our breasts; everywhere. We don’t get to choose where it goes, it just happens. As this broken down food is being transported throughout the body, it is being absorbed by different body parts. Since our bodies are merely billions of cells and what we consume directly impacts the life and strength of our cells, we literally become what we eat.
So what’s the best thing to eat?
Really the questions should be, what breaks down to best fuel my body? In short, plants.
From a young age we’ve been told to eat greens, fruits and veggies. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right?
The truth is, many of us aren’t eating as many fruits and veggies as we should. Most of us know that we should eat more, but not many really understand why.
Why should we eat more plants?
Plants contain an abundance of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), antioxidants (which help reduce cell damage and aging), phytonutrients (natural chemicals in plants that allow them to thrive), and fiber (more than for digestive health); all of which are vital to good health and bodily function.
It is also important to note that phytonutrients and fiber are found exclusively in plants!
Here are five ways a plant-based diet will help you and your baby thrive during this new phase of life.
1. Cleaner Breastmilk
We’ll jump straight to the one that has the potential to directly impact your newborn’s health. We are exposed to toxins and pollutants every day from eating, drinking, and breathing. It’s hard for us to choose the air we breath, but we can certainly choose the things we eat and drink. In regards to food, mothers that consume a plant-based diet are found to have lower levels of toxic contaminants, some of which are known carcinogens, in their breastmilk. Don’t be too alarmed! As far as we know, it takes relatively high amounts of these contaminants to cause any real issues, especially when passed through breastmilk. Regardless of the amount needed to cause issues, cleaner is always better. (1, 2, 3)
2. Nutrient-Dense Calories
While breastfeeding, it is recommended to get an additional 350-500 calories per day in order to continue fueling another body. It’s not just about the calories though. These calories need to be paired with plenty of nutrients! As mentioned before, plants contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals that allow the body to work more efficiently.
Another thing to keep in mind is fiber. The first thing that comes to mind with fiber is digestive health. Fiber is much more than that. Fiber helps keep cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure in check as well as help us maintain a healthy weight. Making sure you consume enough fiber each day is a good way to help you naturally return back to your weight before pregnancy, if that’s a goal of yours. Aim to consume at least 25g of fiber per day. (4, 5, 6)
3. Speed Up Recovery & Reduce Inflammation
Since we’re consuming more of these nutrient-dense foods, we get to reap nutrient-dense benefits! All movement causes some kind of wear and tear on the body, but this is especially true during pregnancy and childbirth. Immediately following childbirth, you are then given the task of nurturing your newborn; there’s no break or recovery time. That’s where your plant-based diet comes in! A key component of our bodily function is recovery. The abundance of nutrients (antioxidants and phytonutrients, especially) we’re consuming aids in recovery. Not only will they help reduce muscle soreness and aching joints by reducing inflammation, they also protect from further damage. This helps keep our cells healthy and even slows the aging process! (7, 8, 9)
4. Better Bonding
Bringing new life into this world and connecting with them should be the best days lived. Unfortunately, 1 out of every 7 mothers experience postpartum depression. What some see from the outside as a joyous time can be a dark and lonely place for many new mothers. It’s not the mom’s fault, it’s not the baby’s fault, it’s not anyone’s fault. Depression can simply be defined as being a chemical imbalance in the brain. We know that all food makes its way throughout the body, including the brain, this means that our food can and does directly impact our brain and how we feel. Certain plants contain a type of phytonutrient that allow our serotonin and dopamine (our feel-good chemicals) to be transmitted more effectively throughout the brain. Thus, allowing us to feel better. Those that eat a varied plant-based diet are found to have lower rates of postpartum depression, an overall increased mood, and an increase in energy throughout the day. (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
5. Extra Hydration
Water is essential to life. Being conscious of water intake during breastfeeding (as well as all points in life) to avoid dehydration is important. The great thing about plants is that many of them are made up of a high percentage of water! Cucumbers, for example, are roughly 96% water weight! When considering the nutrients it has (about 60% of your daily vitamin K per serving), it’s basically eating your water in a vitamin! For those that don’t enjoy just drinking water, there are plenty of fruits and veggies that consist of 75%+ of their weight coming from water. Stay hydrated, eat your water! (16, 17, 18)
There are countless reasons as to why a plant-based diet is extremely beneficial to our long-term health outside of these mentioned.
A plant-based diet has the ability to prevent and reverse a number of diseases, many of which plague a high percentage of Americans. While one’s diet doesn’t need to be strictly plant-based, the health benefits increase directly with our plant consumption. (19)
About the Author
Tyler Cambre is the owner of Wandering Workout and Next Day Nutrition, both of which focus on and promote long-term healthy living. His years of studying the body and researching the powerful impact nutrition has on our health has led him to become an advocate of a plant-based diet. To learn more about a plant-based diet, visit www.NextDayNutrition.net
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