Protein plays a vital role in supporting our health and wellness. Without proteins, our body would have trouble forming blood cells and other crucial structures, as well as regulating and maintaining its various functions.
A “high-protein diet” has become quite a buzzword in the health and the wellness field in recent years, especially in the realm of body-building or weight loss endeavors. As nutrition experts specializing in women’s health, we are going to specifically discuss the important relationship between sufficient protein intake and healthy pregnancy as well as potential impact for PCOS.
“I am currently pregnant- what should my protein intake look like?”
The current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If a person weighs 154 pounds or 70 kilograms, 56 grams of protein would be the adequate daily intake.
However, for pregnant women, this recommendation is slightly different. Although the RDA for the first trimester remains the same as regular adults (0.8 grams per kilogram), the second and third trimester requires about 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Furthermore, seafood consumption is highly recommended for pregnant women due to their positive association with young children’s cognitive development. Seafood is rich in healthy fats like Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).The recommendation is 8 to 12 ounces of various types of seafood that is low in methylmercury each week. High exposure to methylmercury is harmful to both the mother as well as the developing fetus.
Here are some of the best seafood choices (not an exhaustive list):
- Atlantic mackerel
- Black sea bass
- Canned tuna
On the other hand, here are the seafoods to avoid during pregnancy:
- King mackerel
- Orange roughy
- Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico)
- Tuna, bigeye
*From the FDA’s “Advice about eating fish”
Blood sugar balance and pcos
Insulin is a type of hormone that is secreted by the pancreas. When food is consumed, this hormone controls if the body wants to use or store the blood sugar. Previous studies have shown that with sufficient levels of insulin, protein does not increase blood sugar levels. This stabilizing effect was seen in patients with type 2 diabetes as well.
Furthermore there was also a study that suggested that a high protein diet is associated with lowering hemoglobin A1C levels (blood sugar level).
Studies have also shown that high protein and lower carbohydrate diets have led to a reduction in insulin resistance for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) who are also more prone to developing type 2 diabetes.
What are the high quality, high protein foods?
There are both animal and plant sources for protein.
Animal sources include meats, poultry, eggs, dairy and seafood. Plant sources include nuts, seeds, soy products, beans, peas, and lentils.
Processed and/or high-fat meats should be limited and instead fresh, frozen or canned forms of lean meat and poultry, seafood, and beans, peas, and lentils are recommended.
There is an increased interest in plant-based diets so here are some good plant-based protein sources:
- Dairy alternatives such as soy milk and fortified nut or pea milk
- Whole grains such as chickpea pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, or whole wheat bread
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, hummus, peanut butter, tofu or chia seeds
- Vegetables such as broccoli, edamame, green peas or lima beans
The average American adult meets the required amount of protein consumption although this target is achieved (and even exceeded) mainly through animal based protein foods. Seafood and plant-based protein are categories that many Americans are lacking in.
Furthermore, despite the benefits that were mentioned in this article, it is important to keep in mind that more protein does not necessarily mean better. Overconsumption of protein has negative consequences as excess protein not only could get stored as fat but also could strain the kidneys as well.
Looking for more support?
If you would like more guidance as to what type of protein sources to incorporate in your diet as well as the adequate amount, check out our meal plans for more inspiration! We would love to support your journey.
- “Advice About Eating Fish.” https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish
- “Are You Getting Too Much Protein?” https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/are-you-getting-too-much-protein#:~:text=Extra%20protein%20intake%20also%20can,people%20predisposed%20to%20kidney%20disease.
- Murphy MM, Higgins KA, Bi X, Barraj LM. “Adequacy and Sources of Protein Intake among Pregnant Women in the United States, NHANES 2003–2012.” Nutrients. 2021 Mar; 13(3): 795. doi: 10.3390/nu13030795 PMCID: PMC7997328 PMID: 33670970
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf
- Dong J, Zhang Z, Wang P, Qin L. “Effects of High-protein Diets on Body Weight, Glycaemic Control, Blood Lipids and Blood Pressure in Type 2 Diabetes: Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials.” Br J Nutr. 2013 Sep 14;110(5):781-9. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513002055. Epub 2013 Jul 5. PMID: 23829939
- Franz, MJ. “Protein: Metabolism and Effect on Blood Glucose Levels.” Diabetes Educ. 1997 Nov-Dec;23(6):643-6, 648, 650-1. doi: 10.1177/014572179702300603. PMID: 9416027
- Gannon MC, Nuttall JA, Damberg G, Gupta V, Nuttall FQ. “Effect of Protein Ingestion on the Glucose Appearance Rate in People with Type 2 Diabetes.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Mar;86(3):1040-7. doi: 10.1210/jcem.86.3.7263. PMID: 11238483
- “Insulin Basics”, https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/insulin-other-injectables/insulin-basics
- Smith A, Colleen A, Spees C. “Wardlaw’s Contemporary Nutrition, 12th Edition.” McGraw Hill, 2022.