Pregnancy is an amazing time when a woman’s body undergoes tremendous changes to accommodate a growing baby. Despite these amazing changes, pregnancy can also be stressful for many women. This is partly due to the increased demand on the body’s systems in conjunction with a number of new hormonal changes that occur throughout pregnancy.
During this stage, it is no wonder that dietary choices and a healthy pregnancy go hand in hand. Thus, women need to be mindful about their diet to ensure they get enough essential vitamins and antioxidants, to aid their developing baby, who is highly susceptible to damage from free radicals.
Benefits of Antioxidants During Pregnancy
When we discuss antioxidants, we tend to think increasing the orange juice intake to boost the body’s immune system, but it’s a little bit more than that. In fact, there are a number of benefits that antioxidants can have on the body before, during and after pregnancy.
During pregnancy, free radicals (unstable atoms that can cause damage to cells in the body) are still generated. These free radicals do have beneficial properties at physiological levels, however when their production rates overwhelm the actions of available antioxidants, a number of harmful outcomes may ensue, including adverse pregnancy outcomes. To prevent this cellular damage from occurring in the first place, it is important that a healthy amount of antioxidants are present in the body to maintain a healthy balance of free radicals and protect the body from any negative damage they may try to cause.
Because of the impact on cells, it is safe to say that antioxidants are important for not only your pregnancy, but your overall health. During pregnancy, it’s even more important to get enough antioxidants because they can help to protect your baby’s cells as well as your own.
During pregnancy, your immune system is under constant strain as the changes in your body lead to a higher risk of infection. As your immune system is already busy protecting your developing baby it can lead you susceptible to getting sick. This makes it even more important to take steps to bolster your immune system, and one way to do that is by getting plenty of antioxidants, as antioxidant nutrients can improve various immune functions providing protection against bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Additionally, some studies have shown that antioxidant supplementation during pregnancy can help to improve the health of both mother and child.
During pregnancy, due to hormone level fluctuations and a weakened immune system, inflammation can occur. This inflammation is an array of physiological responses to foreign organisms such as human pathogens, dust particles, and viruses. In addition, free radical production due to an imbalance of natural antioxidants can further lead to inflammatory associated diseases. This added inflammation on the body can cause harm to both mother and baby. Because antioxidant nutrients can protect the body’s cells and tissues from free radical damage, they can also prevent negative inflammatory responses from occurring and help reduce inflammation.
One serious pregnancy complication is preterm labor, or premature labor, which can occur when the uterus begins to contract before the baby is full-term. According to the American Pregnancy Association, around 12 percent of all pregnancies will show signs of premature labor, although this does not mean that everyone who has early signs of labor will deliver early.
Regardless, while there is no sure way to prevent preterm labor, some experts believe that antioxidants may help, in part that they help reduce inflammation, which has been shown can be a contributing factor to preterm labor. As a result, having adequate antioxidant intake or taking antioxidant ingredients in prenatal supplementation during pregnancy may help to prevent this complication.
It’s well-known that pregnant women should be taking a prenatal vitamin and antioxidant ingredients are part of that. The added nutrition can help lower the risk of congenital disorders as their demand increases during the development stages of pregnancy. Studies have shown that getting enough antioxidants can reduce oxidative stress and the number of free radicals formed, thereby possibly preventing some congenital anomalies caused by oxidative damage during embryogenesis. Additionally, they may help reduce the risk of certain congenital disabilities, such as down syndrome, spina bifida, and cleft lip.
Like many other factors, oxidative stress, which occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, has been proposed as a key contributor in the development of preeclampsia. As a result, it is suggested that adequate antioxidant intake may help counteract the effects of oxidative stress and thus decrease the risk of preeclampsia onset during pregnancy.
Healthy Sources of Antioxidants
While many antioxidant properties can be found in a daily prenatal vitamin, the role of antioxidants is so significant that ensuring proper dietary consumption as well is key to maintaining healthy antioxidant levels in the body. Thus, consuming foods that are high in antioxidants is a healthy way to ensure proper nutrition and antioxidant support in the body before, during and after pregnancy, and there are some foods that have exceptional levels to consume.
1. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a great source of antioxidants, especially ones that are darkly colored, such as cranberries, goji berries, blackberries, strawberries, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, artichokes, dark cherries, beets, carrots and plums. These contain high levels of essential vitamins, which help to protect cells from oxidative damage. Blueberries especially are rich in anthocyanin, which is a powerful group of antioxidants.
2. Herbs and Spices
Partaking of a lot of herbs and spices is not only a tasty addition to meals but many are also loaded with antioxidants. Herbs and spices such as garlic, cumin, parsley, basil, cinnamon, turmeric, sage, thyme, marjoram, ginger and tarragon are good antioxidant sources and many also contain flavonoids which are a beneficial group of phytonutrients.
3. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a good source of flavonoids. They contain vitamins A, C, and E and minerals such as zinc and selenium. Brazil nuts, pecans, chestnuts, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are a good source of antioxidants.
Believe it or not, dark chocolate is also a source of antioxidants that can help to protect cells from damage. The key is choosing a brand containing at least 70% cocoa solids, ensuring a high concentration of flavonoids.
If chowing down on a chocolate bar isn’t your thing, there are a number of healthy chocolate recipes to fulfill chocolate pregnancy cravings and dessert options.
Pinto beans, small red beans, and black beans are all legumes that have high fiber content and are a good source of antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation.
All-in-all, it’s safe to say that antioxidants are not only an important nutrient but an essential one for protecting cells from damage. While the body does produce some naturally, it’s not enough to meet the demands of pregnancy. That’s why experts recommend that pregnant women supplement their diet with antioxidant-rich foods as well as prenatal vitamins.