Updated: Mar 10, 2022
“It is pre-pregnancy health that has a greater impact on the trajectory of pregnancy, the risk of pregnancy complications, and so forth, than the intervention happening during pregnancy.” Lily Nichols
Almost everyone has heard the saying "you are what you eat", but what does that really mean and why does it matter? Let's talk.
As humans, our culture is heavily built around the act of eating. We commune over food. We savor its many flavors. We.love.food. I mean how can you not? There is nothing better than one of grandma's freshly baked cookies, still warm from the oven. With the way our culture views food, it can make it difficult to remember that once food passes our mouths and reaches our stomachs, it now serves only one purpose; to fuel our body.
Through my observations, American's seem to prioritize one attribute above all else when it comes to their food: convenience. I have witnessed time and time again that people prioritize feeding their family something that is 'quick and easy' over providing a meal that is rich in nutritional value. Our fast paced society has naturally pushed us in this direction. There simply isn't enough time to make a full-on dinner when you get off work at 5pm, have to pick the kids up at day-care 20 minutes away (20 minutes without traffic, that is...), by the time you get home it's 6pm, they have a school function at 7pm, and their bedtime is at 9pm. That leaves roughly 30 minutes somewhere between 6pm - 6:45pm to throw together something that can be fully cooked and eaten. WOW momma, talk about the pressure.
With such limited time at home, it is much easier to pick up pre-made meals at the store as opposed to buying fresh ingredients and meal prepping them ourselves. When buying pre-made food, it can be very easy to only see what in on the front of the box. What I mean by this is when we buy a pre-made lasagna at the store, we are assuming that when we eat it that we are eating noodles, sauce, meat and cheese. What most don't think about is that that meal was made in a factory that mass produces lasagnas and can't afford for these lasagnas to have a short shelf life. A crucial part of the creation of these lasagnas is putting preservatives in them. Are the preservatives put into the lasagna to add nutritional value? No. The preservatives are in there so that when that bite of lasagna goes from your mouth to your stomach, that it doesn't make you sick. Your body doesn't understand why you would put something into your mouth that wasn't directly intended as fuel, so it doesn't simply just pass the preservatives along, it tries to break them down and use them. This means that those preservatives are now part of you. They are now fueling your body as it builds new muscle tissue and makes more blood. We are what we eat.
Our bodies require only a few things to thrive: sleep, water, and food. Our bodies are very efficient at taking these resources and being able to turn them in to energy. When our body is hungry for food, it is requesting for us to feed it with the food that naturally provided to our species from the land. Examples of this would be fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats, and dairy. It does not require preservative chemicals, food dyes, and processed sugar. Our body simply doesn't know what to do with these compounds. When we introduce foreign substances into our body, it causes disruption. This type of disruption can lead to our body not functioning properly and this can be seen in many different forms; diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and the big ol' C word...cancer.
When we conceive a child, that child is made up of equal parts of mom and dad's genetic material. Since we are made up of what we eat, this means the food that we consume is directly impacting the quality of our genetic material. That genetic material is only as good as the food that it was created with. That baby's foundation of health at the time of conception is only as healthy as the genetic material it was provided with. This means that if mom or dad is fueling their bodies improperly that it will affect their off spring on a foundational level.
What is amazing about our bodies is that they want to thrive! They want to live. They want to have the healthiest pregnancy that our bodies are capable of having. If you choose to feed your body with non-nutrient dense food, your body will find ways to compensate. It will provide your baby with what is needs to grow, but that does not mean that there won't be consequences later down the line.
In a study published by The Philosophy Society, they pulled together a series of studies that looked directly at the connection between intrauterine nutrition and fetal development. They found that your baby's "birth weight does not have to be significantly reduced for the physiological effects of reduced nutrition in pregnancy to be manifest. This raises the possibility that the placental or fetal compensatory mechanisms, which occur in response to reduced maternal nutrition, preserve normal fetal growth and hence birth weight, but have postnatal consequences which become important in later life. Thus the adoption of a biological ‘strategy’ needed for development in utero results in an organism in which the strategy for wellbeing in adulthood is not achieved" (Hoet, 1999). This means that while we may birth babies that are seemingly healthy, they might have health complications arise decades later that originated from their conception. Talk about even more pressure to our already chaotic lives!
Now, real talk. It is not a realistic expectation that for every meal of the day, every day for the rest of our lives that we should eat nothing but raw, organically grown food. We can all appreciate the comfort of a sweet treat or a delicious burger from our favorite take-out restaurant. What I am suggesting, is that we all take a step to becoming more conscious about how we fuel our bodies. If we on a whole prioritize eating a clean diet, then we don't have to feel guilty about that occasional treat. As with all walks of life, it is important to find a healthy balance that works for you. Knowledge is power. The most important take away from this post is that the type of food that you consume can and will have certain impacts on your body and can be passed on to your kin. With that being said, find a balance that you are most comfortable with and build a healthy relationship with food.
Hoet, J. J., & Hanson, M. A. (1999). Intrauterine nutrition: its importance during critical periods for cardiovascular and endocrine development. The Journal of Physiology, 514(3), 617–627. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7793.1999.617ad.x