The 11 Best Foods to Get Your Body Back After Pregnancy
Second to having and caring for a healthy, happy baby, many mothers set their sights on shedding excess pounds soon after labor. Slow down there, mama! The National Library of Medicine recommends waiting at least six weeks after childbirth before attempting to lose weight to allow your body time to recover. If you're breastfeeding, wait until your baby is two months old. Avoid heavy calorie restriction, which poses health risks, and seek your doctor's guidance before making any significant diet changes. Eat a diet based on foods rich in lean protein; fiber and healthy fat promote appetite control. Keep reading to learn more about foods particularly useful for healthfully regaining your pre-pregnancy body.
If you love sweets but want to avoid the excess calories and processed sugars, swap candy for fresh or frozen berries. "Sometimes people think they need to reduce fruit in order to lose weight because of the sugar, but this is not true," says Elizabeth DeRobertis, a registered dietitian in Scarsdale, NY. She recommends fruit as an anytime snack while shedding post-pregnancy pounds. A rich source of water and fiber, berries promote fullness while contributing relatively few calories. One cup of blackberries provides 7.6 grams of fiber and only 62 calories. And one cup of raspberries provides 8 fiber grams.
2. Whole-Grain Bagel Thins
Bagels made with whole grains can be a good addition to breakfasts or lunches. Even so, a large bagel can pack on a lot of calories, making weight control more difficult. "Instead of having a bagel, which may have 400 calories or more, buy the 100-calorie bagel thins," suggests Elizabeth DeRobertis, RD. Whole grains contain more protein and fiber than refined grains, such as white flour, so they'll keep you fuller longer between meals. Whole-grain bagel thins also contain valuable amounts of B vitamins, which support normal energy levels and metabolism. Top whole-grain bagel thins with healthy fixings, such as low-fat hummus and sliced veggies, for a simple, healthy entree or snack.
3. Oatmeal With Fruit
Starting your day with a nutritious breakfast can help keep your appetite in check and sustain energy levels while meeting the needs of a busy mom's lifestyle. A rich fiber source, oatmeal is a whole-grain cereal that can keep you nourished. "Instead of pouring a big bowl of cold cereal that may end up being 500 calories, make a 150-calorie-size bowl of oatmeal," says Elizabeth DeRobertis, RD, who recommends using the instant variety to save time. It's nutrient-rich, filling and light. For a healthy breakfast, top steel-cut oatmeal with fresh fruit for natural sweetness and add protein by preparing it with low-fat milk instead of water.
4. Grilled or Baked Salmon
Salmon, a cold-water fish, is a valuable source of protein, zinc, iron, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. It's also low in mercury, which is especially good for nursing moms. A September 2010 study published in the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition" showed that overweight adults who ate fish, particularly salmon, as part of a calorie-controlled diet for eight weeks not only lost weight, but also had significantly reduced inflammation. Less inflammation means less bloating and a lowered risk for cardiovascular problems. To meet your omega-3 needs, the American Heart Association recommends eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of cold-water fish per week.
Coconut can help satisfy your sweet tooth while managing your weight and wellness after childbirth. In addition to promoting appetite control, coconut contains lauric acid — a nutrient that promotes strong immune function, says Megan Roosevelt, a registered dietitian in Portland, Ore. "One of the only other places this type of immune-boosting nutrient is found is in human breast milk," she says. She also suggests using organic, unrefined coconut oil in place of other vegetable oils in baked goods and stir-frys. Plus, one 2-by-2-inch slice of fresh coconut provides 4 grams of satiating fiber.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a key nutrient for women, during and after pregnancy. They guard against inflammation and promote positive moods and brain function. "Eating a diet rich in whole foods, and specifically plant-based foods, will help you to consume a variety of key nutrients," says Megan Roosevelt, RD. Flaxseed is a prime plant source of omega-3 fats and a rich source of fiber, which aids in appetite control and digestion. Add ground flaxseed to yogurt, smoothies, cereals and baked goods routinely, particularly if you tend not to eat fish. You can purchase ground flaxseed at many health food stores or grind whole seeds in a coffee grinder.
7. Milk and Yogurt
Calcium not only helps strengthen your and your wee one's bones, but it may also help you shed excess pounds. A September 2010 study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found a strong link between higher levels of calcium and vitamin D and weight loss over a two-year period. Three servings of milk or yogurt fortified with vitamin D — which helps your body absorb calcium — fulfills women's daily requirement for calcium. For a healthy meal on the go, blend together frozen berries, a banana, flaxseed and milk for a smoothie.
Complex carbohydrates and protein are important for moms, and it's tough to beat quinoa in either department. The nutrient-dense seed with the profile of a whole grain provides 5 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein per cooked cup. Protein-rich foods keep your blood sugar stable, staving off between-meal munchies. Quinoa also cooks faster than other whole grains like brown rice. Whip up a large batch in 20 minutes, reserving leftovers to work into meals over several days. You also can freeze cooked quinoa in airtight containers. For a healthy meal, pair quinoa with beans or fish and a hearty portion of steamed veggies.
9. Bananas With Nut Butter
Bananas provide valuable amounts of potassium, vitamin C and fiber, making them significantly more filling than fruit juice and processed snacks. Add a tablespoon of nut butter, such as almond or peanut, and you'll reap more fiber, healthy fat and 4 grams of protein. Both foods contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your brain better utilize calming chemicals that help you sleep. A banana with nut butter makes for an ideal snack if you find yourself uncomfortably awake before bedtime. For a cool treat, freeze peeled bananas, with or without nut butter. At 105 calories, a plain medium banana provides a light, healthy alternative to sugar-rich ice cream.
Vegetables are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, providing antioxidants, water and fiber. The more you eat, the less room you'll have for denser foods, making calorie-control a given. To get the most fiber bang from your greens, serve them cooked. A 1/2-cup serving of cooked spinach provides 3.5 grams of fiber, versus less than 1 gram per serving fresh. Satisfy cravings for crunchy snacks with carrots, pickles or cucumbers. To lower the calorie content of your meals, load half of your plate or more with fresh or cooked veggies. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that most women eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables per day.
Popcorn is a hearty whole grain with relatively few calories and ample fiber per serving. Research conducted by University of Scranton chemistry professor Joe Vinson in 2012 showed that popcorn contains as many polyphenols — antioxidant substances — as fruits and vegetables. Working antioxidant-rich foods into your post-pregnancy diet plan is important for keeping your immune system strong, particularly as you lower your caloric intake. A 3-cup serving of popcorn contains fewer than 100 calories and more than 3.5 grams of fiber. For a healthy treat, spritz air-popped popcorn with olive oil cooking spray, and then dust it with Italian seasonings and a dash or two of sea salt.
Hungry for More?
Which of these foods do you most enjoy? Which ones would you like to try? What else would you add to the list? Share your thoughts in the comments! Remember, a healthy diet contains a variety of nutritious foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fat sources and lean protein-rich foods. Do your best to make healthy foods enjoyable, and allow yourself some wiggle room. No one eats perfectly, but making wise choices most often makes way for lasting weight control and wellness.
- Elizabeth DeRobertis; Westchester Nutrition Consultants; Scarsdale, New York
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Fiber Content of Selected Foods
- American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide; 2006
- American Heart Association: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Megan Roosevelt; Healthy Grocery Girl; Portland, Oregon
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Calcium Fact Sheet
- Environmental Protection Agency: What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish