Expecting and Nauseous? Consider These Food Options

Early in your pregnancy a wave of nausea hits. You know it’s morning sickness. The taste or smell of certain foods can make you sick to your stomach. Most of the time morning sickness fades by lunchtime—hence its name—but sometimes it can persist throughout the day…and night.1

You are far from alone in your suffering. Up to 80% of pregnant women in their first trimester are affected by the symptoms of morning sickness, which include nausea and vomiting.2 These symptoms are often blamed on the extreme hormonal changes that occur in early pregnancy, but recent studies suggest that diet may also play a significant role.2

Because there is a wide range of morning sickness triggers for pregnant women, it can be difficult to pinpoint which foods might help relieve the nausea.1 While reaching for the ginger ale and crackers is one option, there are several other dietary modifications that can help.

For instance, you can try eating small meals throughout the day so that your stomach is never overly full or empty.3 Starting off the day with a handful of dry cereal or a few crackers can also help. If possible, try to avoid any foods or smells that set off your morning sickness.1,3 If it’s the odor of hot food that’s making your nausea worse, try eating cold meals instead.1

Protein

Inadequate protein intake is a contributor to nausea in pregnancy.4 Although your protein needs do not increase in the first trimester, due to energy depletion, mood imbalance, and nausea (all common first-trimester symptoms), protein intake levels are often low.5 Focus on doable ways to add protein in small amounts throughout the day. Since smells are often triggers, we recommend plant-based or dairy sources of protein in small bites every hour. If you can tolerate animal-based protein, that’s okay, too. An example of how to fit in small and frequent protein intake is with yogurt (plain, no sugar added—you can add honey or maple syrup and fresh fruit), 1-2 tablespoons every hour. You can also choose nut butters with apple or celery as an alternative. For those who can tolerate cheese, cheese sticks and whole-grain crackers are also a great choice.

Ginger

There’s a reason ginger ale is a well-known household remedy for an upset stomach. Ginger has been shown in many studies to be a safe and effective option for various symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders, including pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting.6 Phytochemicals in ginger act on receptors in the gastrointestinal tract help to increase gastric tone, emptying, and motility, which may explain why it helps with nausea.6

It can be very difficult to eat raw ginger root due to its tough, fibrous composition and strong flavor, but grating it and steeping it in boiling water may make a soothing tea.  

Vitamin B6

Consuming foods rich in vitamin B6 is another way to address morning sickness. Research has found vitamin B6 to be as effective as ginger in reducing nausea in pregnant women.7 Foods that contain vitamin B6 and that are not likely to exacerbate morning sickness include poultry, starchy vegetables like potatoes, some noncitrus fruits, and cereals.8  

Other foods

In a study, low intake of cereals (focus on quality whole-grain, low-sugar, or no added sugar) and pulses correlated with improvements in nausea and vomiting in pregnant women, which suggests that increasing your consumption of these foods will help with morning sickness.2 Pulses are dry, edible plant seeds in the legume family and include peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.9

Also, the herb cardamom has been traditionally used to ease various gastrointestinal complaints. There are studies conducted in pregnant patients that support this traditional use.10 

Foods to avoid

When attempting to tame morning sickness, it can also help to know what not to eat. Focus on foods low in fat, as unhealthy fatty foods may further delay gastric emptying, and extra spicy foods may trigger nausea.11 However, for some, spicy foods and healthy fats like avocado are not a problem. Eating meals that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates and consuming more liquids than solids may also improve nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.11 Sugar and stimulants (caffeine) are also culprits in triggering nausea and vomiting.2

Before making any changes to your diet, please discuss with your healthcare practitioner first. 

For more information on pregnancy and general wellness topics, please visit the Metagenics blog.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.

References:

1. NHS UK staff. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/morning-sickness-nausea/. Accessed August 12, 2019.
2. Pepper G et al. Proc Biol Sci. 2006;273(1601):2675–2679.
3. American Pregnancy Association staff. Available at https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/morning-sickness-relief/. Accessed August 12, 2019.
4. Jednak MA et al. Am J Physiol. 1999;277(4):G855-861.
5. American Pregnancy Association. https://americanpregnancy.org/health-fitness/lack-of-energy-during-pregnancy-11450. Accessed November 10, 2020.
6. Lete I et al. Integr Med Insights. 2016;11:11–17.
7. Firouzbakht M et al. Ayu. 2014;35(3):289–293.
8. National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements staff. Available at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/. Accessed August 19, 2019.
9. Pulse.org staff. Available at https://pulses.org/nap/what-are-pulses/. Accessed August 19, 2019.
10. Ozgoli G et al. Int J Prev Med. 2018;9:75.
11. Bustos M et al. Auton Neurosci. 2017;202:62–72.

Submitted by the Metagenics Team

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