Everything I Learned About Nutrition from being Anemic and Diabetic
In about a week’s time, my son is going to be four months old. Time is moving unimaginably fast right now. Just me?
This is a post that I’ve been planning on writing for months, but have been postponing because it’s going to take me a while to write. Tonight, I have the opportunity because BOTH OF MY CHILDREN ARE ASLEEP AT THE SAME TIME. Each in his or her own comfy little bed.
My pregnancy with my son was my fourth pregnancy. Three were back to back, his being the most recent. It was no surprise to me when my midwife called me up and told me that my blood tests showed low iron levels. After all, I showed every symptom in the book. Muscle weakness and fatigue (beyond the first trimester mononucleosis-like fatigue).
I began taking a wonderful supplement (recommended to me by my midwife) called Hemoplex. I recommend it highly – from someone who pukes up most iron supplements.
When I still felt weak after a few days of supplementing, I took my usual tack and began some reasonably extensive research.
Some Things I learned about anemia during my pregnancy:
* Red meat is probably the most efficient food-based method to get iron into your bloodstream
In terms of food, it’s the best way to get ‘er done. I’ve never been a huge red meat eater and I wasn’t really willing to add more than my customary once a week consumption of it.
* In terms of plant-based irons, there are some options
Spinach is great. Pumpkin seeds are great. Dried fruit. There are a few rules though. I’ll get to those.
How about now?
* The rules of efficiently absorbing plant-based iron-rich food are:
– Don’t mix it with dairy. Minerals such as zinc and calcium compete with the iron for absorption. Not that you need to cut it out entirely, not by any means. But if like me, you were making a smoothie with kale and spinach and greek yogurt and thinking that you were taking care of your iron deficiency, you probably aren’t.
– Tea and coffee, also a no-no. As adults of the species, it’s best just to give ourselves some room between iron and our fix.
– Add some vitamin C. Unlike calcium, vitamin C aids the body in the absorption of iron
* Oh, and grain
I admit to having jumped on the gluten-free train a few summers ago. Turns out, we get a lot of our daily recommended iron intake from grains (which are fortified with the good stuff). If you’re gluten-free, it might be a good idea to have a blood workup done. Same goes for vegans
* Anemia is related to depression
The year prior to my pregnancy I was taking a low dose of Cypralex to help me through a depressive time in my life. I’ve spoken about this before on this blog. What I didn’t know at the time that these drugs were helping me save my own bacon was that A) they were hard to come off of (talk to your doctor about a safe taper schedule) and B) they can cause your bod to have trouble absorbing Vitamin B, Folic Acid and Iron.
Just something to be aware of.
Furthermore, the symptoms of clinical depression and anemia are pretty much twins.
Take from that what you will.
With anemia firmly handled in the exact way I like to handle things – with food first and supplements second, I waddled my way into the sunset of the third trimester of pregnancy. With renewed energy, I even taught yoga until June when it got too difficult to get up from sitting without sounding guttural.
As my third trimester chugged on, no one believed I would make it to my due date, largely because I was so….large. I had declined to take a gestational diabetes test earlier on in pregnancy. This was partly because there was no history of it in myself or my family and partly because I take issue with the way that the tests are administered.
However, my midwife began to grow concerned with my rapidly growing belly and sent me off for a glucose test around 32 weeks.
“Are you feeling thirsty? Tired?”
“it’s thirty five degrees out, and I am super pregnant”
This is why there’s the blanket testing during pregnancy. Because the symptoms are often indistinguishable from just being pregnant.
A word about diabetes, if I may. I’m much more familiar with Type 1 than Type 2 Diabetes, having seen a few brave youngsters coping with it from a very young age. Please don’t think I am minimizing their plight. I have the utmost respect for them and for their parents who help them navigate the murky waters of growing and maintaining steady sugars.
Nonetheless, I could not have been more shocked when my midwife called me up to say that after three hours, three blood tests, NO BREAKFAST, and a McDonald’s orange drink on crack, I did indeed have diabetes of pregnancy.
I saw a brilliant dietitian and diabetes specialist at our local Public Health Unit and found out that I was a few mere points out of the preferred range.
I seriously could not have been more shocked. I was so much healthier this pregnancy than I had been with my daughter, back when I was twenty five. Back then, I ate 7-11 hot dogs every day. The Erin of now juiced! and taught yoga! I felt like I was somehow responsible for my pancreas’ insulin resistance.
I had a lot of shame about it until I started talking about it. I was sad that I had possibly bathed my unborn baby in white, sugary death and that I would be unable to be give birth vaginally (none of these things turned out to be the case).
Keep in mind that I never would have heaped this judgement on a friend. This is the special kind of shame that we save only for ourselves.
What I learned about gestational Diabetes:
* Everybody’s doing it
Turns out, that if I was having a convo with ten of my friends, seven and a half of them would have been insulin resistant during pregnancy. Of those seven and a half, three had larger than average babies (average is considered to be about eight pounds, five ounces). A few others had babies with lower than average birth weights. Some had premature births, some were induced, some had C-Sections. Not a lot of conclusive data was obtained during this “study” but it made me feel a bit of solidarity.
* The testing has changed
You used to have to fail three glucose tests before you were considered diabetic. Now, only one.
Knowing these things made me feel a bit better. Still, armed with a glucometer, test strips, and the request to test myself at least twelve times a day, I gathered the following information.
* The placenta causes the trouble
The placental hormones are what causes insulin resistance. It was good to blame the placenta and not myself.
* We tend to be the most insulin resistant in the morning
My resting sugar levels were within the realm of normal. In fact, they tended to be low. However, I had to be really careful about what I had for breakfast.
*The offenders were not what I thought they would be
It was not difficult for me to cut processed sugars out of my diet. What surprised me was how much eating FRUIT spiked my blood sugar. Particularly in the morning. Bananas are pretty much the devil to blood sugar, as are potatoes. Your BFF becomes Glycemic Index which tells you what the worst offenders are. Sweet potatoes became a love affair of mine during this time. It seems like potatoes > sweet potatoes, but in spite of their sweetness, sweet potatoes have more nutritional density and help balance their sugar content.
* All calories are not created equally
Once I started eating to keep my sugars level, I lost a considerable amount of weight during my pregnancy. I was in no way eating a reduced calorie menu. I ate everything in site, as long as it didn’t spike my sugars.
*Exercise is handy
For me, when I am pregnant, exercise consists of folding laundry. Even so, sweeping floors immediately after consuming a larger meal, seemed to even out my levels
*Protein and fibre are also pretty groovy
Combining proteins and fibre with higher GI foods help slow down the rate at which your body chugs through sugars. Also, they taste good and we need them to live.
* Those of us who are lucky enough to be insulin resistant in pregnancy are more likely to receive a late-onset diagnosis as well
So it’s good to learn these tools early…
One last thing:
I was really blessed to have some very empowering caregivers during my pregnancy (midwives, public health nurses, lab techs, diabetes nurses, dietitians). If the care you receive off the bat seems limiting or employs a shameful methodology, I implore you to keep searching. Become an architect of your own health.
So, to summarize (which really isn’t any new information for any of us but is worth repeating): we need to eat more whole foods and fewer processed ones, veggies are better than fruit but fruit is better than chocolate (boo), make lunch your biggest meal, get lots of protein and fibre, exercise, manage your stress (excess stress hormones can make us more insulin resistant). Most important for all of us to remember is that WE ARE PARTICIPANTS IN OUR OWN HEALTH. We have a choice to allow a diagnosis to bring us down or lift us up.
There are a million and one great online resources and recipes for either one of these diagnoses. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with you, in the hopes that it provides you with some tools to take better care of your wonderful self.
So much love,