The Benefits and Risks of a High Protein Diet During Pregnancy

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We hear the benefits of protein every day. We hear of fad diets and thin celebrities that swear on only eating lean chicken breast and turkey. However, as with anything, too much of it can be dangerous. It is important to establish that protein is essential during pregnancy, and without sufficient amounts, your baby won’t grow normally. Protein promotes fetal tissue development, including the proper growth of your unborn baby’s brain, according to the American Pregnancy Association. You also need adequate protein because it helps your body produce the extra blood you need to support a pregnancy. Protein is particularly crucial during the second and third trimesters and should be a staple of your diet.

However, regularly consuming more protein than you need, however, can also impede your baby’s development. Protein foods, such as meat, can be high in calories as well as protein. While you need about 300 extra calories per day during pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association, eating more calories than you need each day can lead to unhealthy weight gain beyond what’s appropriate to support your pregnancy. A 2012 article published in the “British Journal of Nutrition” reports that a high-protein, low-carb diet can inhibit the growth of an unborn baby, partly because it can cause a pregnant woman to develop certain nutritional deficiencies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published an article in 2014 about the harms of excess protein during pregnancy titled “High-protein diets during pregnancy: healthful or harmful for offspring?” The Journal concluded that maternal diet during pregnancy can induce developmental adaptations that permanently alter their baby’s physiology and metabolism. The study also found that a high protein diet while pregnant was associated with higher preterm birth rates, lower birth weights, and a higher number of neonatal deaths. Consuming too much protein can strain your kidneys as well. Some animal sources of protein also contain saturated fat. There is no upper-level intake for protein, so be sure to eat a balanced diet and choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products whenever possible.

If you are ingesting too much protein you may be experiencing any of these symptoms: intestinal discomfort and indigestion, dehydration, unexplained exhaustion, nausea, irritability, headaches, and diarrhea. If you are suspicious, see your healthcare professional and OBGYN as soon as possible.

Before pregnancy, you needed only 45 grams of protein a day. That need increases to 70 grams while you are pregnant. You can reach this recommended amount by eating three to four servings of protein a day. If you do not get enough protein, you may experience muscle fatigue or fluid retention. In fact, most women in the United States regularly eat more protein than they need even while pregnant. A hard-boiled egg gives you about 6 grams of protein, and a skinless chicken breast provides 26 grams and a half-cup of lentils has about 9 grams. Eating healthy proteins and a well balanced nutritional diet is vital to your baby’s development as well.

Pregnancy is not the time to start the new restrictive diet you’re reading about in the tabloids. Protein along with iron, potassium, sodium, carbs, and a host of other nutritional parts of one’s diet are imperative when pregnant as they all work together to keep you and your baby healthy.

Shoshi W.
Shoshi is an undergraduate student at Stern College for Women in New York City. Her areas of interest include policy, non-profit organizations, and administration. During winter 2018, she was a White House intern. Shoshi has also interned at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and at Save the Children in New York. As a millennial, Shoshi brings a young and fresh perspective to the worlds of pregnancy and lactation.

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