Experts recommend women who are pregnant and nursing to take an extra 25 grams of protein a day. This might be a tall order to fill for women who basically want to throw-up every time they smell, let along look at any meat, dairy, and fish. Protein supplements are a great way to get that extra protein, but are protein shakes and powders safe during pregnancy? The short answer is yes, the long answer, is well… longer. The concern with protein supplements revolve around the type of sweetener used, how clean the protein is, and what other ingredients it contains.
Heavy metals in proteins
Most, if not all proteins, have some naturally occurring trace heavy metals. Veggie proteins tend to have higher heavy metal counts as do lower quality proteins. Animal based proteins (whey and whey isolate in particular) tend to have much lower heavy metal counts. If you are going to supplement your protein with protein powder, be sure it comes from a quality source.
Sweeteners to avoid
The American Pregnancy Association cautions women who are pregnant or nursing to not take products that contain cyclamate or saccharin. Some nutritionists suggest women who are pregnant or nursing to stay away from artificial sweeteners that haven’t been thoroughly studied on how they might impact a woman who is pregnant or nursing.
But there is good news if you have a major sweet tooth when you are expecting… Rebaudioside A (Stevia), acesulfame potassium (Sunett), aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet), and sucralose (Splenda) sweeteners are all generally recognized as being safe by the Food and Drug Administration and American Pregnancy Association.
The final concern with protein supplements relates to what other ingredients or additives it contains and if it is potentially harmful to you or your baby. Here is a rule of thumb when making decisions – read the label! And then keep this in mind: products that are marketed to athletes might contain something that is not meant for pregnant or nursing women. Most protein products that are not safe for women who are pregnant or nursing come with a warning label that will say just that. The safest approach is to consult a nutritional expert to ensure you are not taking something that could be harmful.
Why do I need protein?
Protein is very important during pregnancy and you need an extra 25 grams while you are pregnant or nursing. Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of the Pittsburgh Medical Center, says that protein is necessary because “it has its hands in every critical function of the body.” For pregnant and breastfeeding women a protein-rich diet is essential to support the growth and development of your baby. Use the Mommi protein calculator to determine how much protein you need based on your weight and activity level.