Guest Blog: Eating to Heal - Reducing Inflammation Postpartum
One of the most important things to focus on postpartum is healing and recovery -around caring for your little one which is no easy job. It’s OK to not ‘bounce back’ and instead decide to restore, realign and restrengthen slowly- but if you consider food as a fuel ( a fuel to support healing and a tired mama), perhaps this is a time, to consider choosing ‘fuels’ which nourish and heal.
Amongst other things I discuss with my postnatal exercise clients, I discuss inflammation and eating in a way that reduces inflammation. Some mamas may be healing from a traumatic birth, c-section delivery, or perhaps healing abdominal separation and / or pelvic floor dysfunction. If you want to know more about abdominal separation and how to test yourself at around 6 weeks postpartum - please visit my blog post here. Your body is likely already in a period of stress, hormonal changes, biomechanical shifts etc - all this - coupled with lack of sleep and amongst a time of change for your family. With my favoured holistic and gentle approach to postpartum exercise, improving pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms and helping to heal abdominal separation - food is key- and yes abs are made in the kitchen not the gym. If we think of our body as a series of pressure systems: the chest cavity, abdominal cavity and pelvic cavity - and - we are trying to heal something external (and internal) in the abdominal cavity/pelvic cavity- the better functioning the abdominal organs are (i.e. less inflamed), the less affected is the pressure system and thus the forces pushing on the areas that are healing are reduced. In a nutshell, feeling bloated, perhaps constipated with a poorly functioning (inflamed) gut - all can affect how your body (perhaps pelvic floor and abdominal separation) heals and repairs.
I often advise avoiding sugar, caffeine and alcohol- and early postpartum is most certainly NOT a time to diet but perhaps it is a time to chose your ‘fuel’ a little more wisely MOST of the time - but there is so much more to this topic. Think nourish. Think reduce inflamation. New mamas need energy to feel their best, maybe breastfeed and recover from birth, and this is why I am both excited and delighted to welcome the most wonderful expert guest blogger, Registered Dietitian, Kristin Brown, who specialises in supporting women from preconception to postpartum. Running a virtual nutrition practice across the country, she lives with her husband and twin toddlers in Fredericton. I hope you enjoy and make sure you connect and follow Kristin.
Hugs, Sarah x (BTW, where did summer go???)
Eating to Heal: Reduce Inflammation Postpartum
By Kristin Brown, Registered Dietitian, Owner, Grounded Health Nutrition & Wellness
Something that I discuss with all of my prenatal and postnatal clients is inflammation and eating in a way that is anti-inflammatory. We often think of inflammation as only occurring when we have an injury or arthritis but most of us are walking around with low-grade inflammation all the time. Inflammation occurs when our immune system attacks what it determines as foreign invaders in our body. This inflammation should only last a short period of time and then our body should return to normal, however because of our diet and lifestyle habits sometimes this inflammation does not go away.
Chronic inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and autoimmune conditions.
If you’ve just had a baby, your body has gone through quite a journey to grow your baby (or babies ) and focusing on reducing inflammation postpartum can be extremely beneficial.
Let’s start by discussing which foods may promote inflammation in your body.
This one probably doesn’t come as much of a shocker. Sugar comes in many different forms and can be called so many different names but the sugar that I am talking about here is the white, refined sugar that is added to the foods we eat. The best way to limit or avoid added sugar in foods is to read the ingredient list. There will be naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables and dairy products so sometimes just looking at the nutrition facts label will not allow us to determine whether or not a food contains added sugar or if the sugar on the label is simply from the fruits, vegetables or dairy products that the food contains.
The many names of sugar
There are many “code names” often used by food manufacturers to “trick” consumers into thinking the sugar that their product contains is “healthy” or that there is no added sugar at all.
Here are some of the names that are often used for sugar. Keep these names in mind when you’re reading ingredient lists.
Agave nectar, molasses, cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, date sugar, diastatic malt, florida crystals, galactose, golden syrup, icing sugar, maltodextrin, muscovado, refiner’s syrup, barbados sugar, brown sugar, caramel, corn syrup, demerara sugar, diatase, fructose, glucose, grape sugar, invert sugar, maltose, raw organic sugar, rice syrup, treacle, barley malt, buttered syrup, carob syrup, corn syrup solids, dextren, ethyl maltol, fruit juice, glucose solids, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, panocha, sorghum syrup, turbinado sugar, beet sugar, cane juice crystals, castor sugar, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, golden sugar, honey, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, yellow sugar
Trans fats are the man made fats that use to be more frequently used in processed foods. Luckily, trans fats are now considered by the FDA to be harmful to our health and therefore they have been removed from many of our food products. We still see them in some baked foods, so it’s always good to keep an eye on the label. There are labeling loopholes that companies often use so that they can say “this product contains zero trans fats”, which isn’t always accurate. But check the label and try to keep pastries to a minimum.
Make sure you’re using the right oils for cooking and that you’re using a good QUALITY omega-3 supplement if you’re not consuming enough from fatty, cold water fish (we will discuss them more below). When we consume damaged fat it causes inflammation in the body (this includes omega-3 supplements). Recent research has shown that 4 out of 7 omega-3 supplements sold in Canada contained damaged fats. This is why it is critical to ensure that your supplements come from a reputable company whose supplements are undergoing regular testing (preferably by a third party).
I love cooking with avocado oil and coconut oil and using olive oil for very low heat or cold uses only.
Let’s switch gears now and talk about foods that can reduce inflammation in our bodies.
Tomatoes contain something called lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant meaning it has the ability to combat free radicals in the body which otherwise would cause damage to other cells in our body. Food fact: the bioavailability of nutrients in most foods decreases when cooked (think: vitamin C is damaged by heat); however for tomatoes it is the opposite. When we cook tomatoes the bioavailability of lycopene actually increases.
Food sources of omega-3 fats include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, tuna, herring), walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds to name a few.
Chia seeds have been very popular in the media today and for good reason – this little seed is a nutritional powerhouse. Chia seeds contain the plant form of omega-3 fats and they are a great source of antioxidants. Flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and walnuts contain the omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that is converted into the useable fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Unfortunately, the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is estimated to be less than 5% in healthy individuals. Food fact: Flaxseeds MUST be ground in order to digest and absorb any of the healthy fats. The oil in flaxseeds is easily damaged by heat, air and light. I recommend storing ground flaxseeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Recommended daily intake: In general, 1-3 grams of good quality omega-3 fatty acids per day is a good starting place (3 ounces of wild salmon delivers about 2 grams of omega-3 fat). According to American Family Physician omega-3 doses of 3 grams or more per day has been found effective at reducing morning stiffness and the number of joints that are tender or swollen in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Remember – choose a high quality omega-3 supplement to avoid the inflammation-causing side effect of consuming damaged fats. I like the brand Nordic Naturals and recommend it regularly to my clients.
Don’t fear the long word – anthocyanins are water-soluble flavonoids pigments that give the bright red-orange to blue-violet colors to fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that the health benefits of anthocyanins goes beyond the fact that they contain a significant amount of antioxidants and that some unidentified chemical properties make them potent anti-inflammatory foods.
Anthocyanin-rich fruits and vegetables include berries, red and purple grapes, cherries, red wine, eggplant, blood oranges, black plumbs and red cabbage. Food fact: Red wines are higher in antioxidants (anthocyanins) than white wines because the anthocyanin is mostly found in the skin of the grape, which is used in the fermentation process when making red wine but not when making white.
Spice Up Your Life
Some of the most potent anti-inflammatory spices include turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper and ginger. These spices have been used in ancient times as medicine for reducing inflammation and preventing illness. The research is not strong enough right now to suggest dosage recommendations so for right now just keep these spices on hand as easy additions to any meal! Food fact: When using turmeric for it’s anti-inflammatory properties, add black pepper as well to increase absorption.
If you’re reducing your intake of sugar, trans fats and damaged fats and incorporating many of the foods above, you’re doing a great job! There are many other aspects to our diet that can be incredibly healing postpartum, so head over to my Instagram @prenatal.dietitian for tons of free information on this topic!
Disclaimer: I never recommend changing your supplement routine without speaking with your personal practitioner.
I stopped nursing my youngest son earlier this summer and reached out to Kristin for a meal plan that would provide us some variety (ever feel stuck in your favourite 20 recipes and need some new ideas?) and I felt tired, drained, needing something nourishing to help my body heal and replenish after 2 pregnancies, 2 babies and nearly 3 years (combined) of breastfeeding. Kristin’s recipes are designed for mamas, simple, delicious and come with a ready-prepared grocery list. (Oh and are totally 4-year-old William and baby Jamie approved) If you are trying to conceive or a busy-mama you may appreciate her advice.
If you are a Personal Training or Stroller Strong client of mine, you can get an incredible 15% discount on her services -reach out to me and I will provide Kristin with acknowledgement that you are a current client. Kristin also shares a wealth of invaluable wellness and health posts on social media for both you and your family. Oh, and she truly is super knowledgeable, caring and lovely - and someone I would recommend you would benefit from including in your postpartum support network.
Follow Kristin here on: @prenatal.dietitian on Instagram or @groundedhealth on Facebook. Kristin also offers incredible, holistic online training for pregnant and postnatal moms. Incredibly Kristin has produced an online course for Stroller Strong moms - the Postpartum Nutrition Mini Course - its just $39!
Want to know more: check out this link. If you chose to buy, I will receive a small commission, but you will pay no more. : )
This post is designed to be informative and is no way intended to replace the professional guidance of your GP, OB, GYN or Midwife. If you have any concerns about your health seek medical advice soonest and it is imperative that you speak to your healthcare provider before returning to exercise.