Thursday, November 18, 2010

Eating To Improve Heredity

Organic fruits of labor
A shot from the harvest of Ginger's family's 2010 organic garden

This week's guest post is from Certified Nurse Midwife & Yale graduate, Beth Genly, CNM, MSN.

Nutrition Can Create Better Heredity 

We’ve always thought our genes were a given, not subject to any control.  At the time you conceive a baby, the family genetic dice are thrown, and the baby inherits a smorgasbord of family traits, good and bad, perhaps including an increased risk of a degenerative disease such as diabetes or heart disease. We understood this was the fixed, “nature” side of the nature/nurture health cocktail.

Now we are beginning to understand the “nature” side is, in many cases, not fixed.  Instead, it is very susceptible to nurture and your own self-care during pregnancy is a wonderful opportunity to influence your baby’s heredity.  Let me explain.

In the larger world of nutrition, research has established very clearly that you create and support optimal health through lifestyle choices. A most important part of this healthy lifestyle is a eating widely varied, plant-based diet.   Certainly, in the non-pregnancy arena, we now know that optimal plant-based nutrition prevents, and diminishes the severity of:
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Many cancers
  • Autoimmune illnesses
  • Infertility
Yet, in the pregnancy world, it seems that most pregnancy advice has not quite caught up with the times, as such advice is often still largely focused around single nutrients.  In my view, this is an outmoded and inadequate model.   

In just the last 15 years or so, a new study has taken the biological sciences by storm: epigenetics.   

I like to call it your reset button, because it shows that the genetic component of inherited health and illness is under our control.  Our diet and lifestyle determines whether those genes will be switched on or switched off, and our diet and lifestyle, while our baby is developing in the womb, has the most influence of all on their lifelong health.  

The Simple Solution

This is wonderful news, because the solution is so simple. Thankfully, we do not have to consciously design our diets to be sure that we get enough riboflavin or zinc, or even iron, or any other isolated nutrients.  Instead, if we go for sufficient variety, we’ll get all we and the baby need, along with a great deal of enjoyment.  In fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds there are, quite literally, tens of thousands of nutrients -- in each food.  And the plant-based diet that has been so phenomenally successful in creating and maintaining non-pregnant health is the same that creates pregnancy health – just a little more. 

Most critical, in my view, are the nutrient systems that most Americans do not get enough of: fresh fruits and vegetables.  So, my central advice to you: eat the rainbow!  A great guideline: eat 4 green, 1 red, 1 orange/yellow, 1 blue/purple, and 1 white – every day.  

A great way to eat the rainbow is to make a rule that no meal is complete without 2 servings of produce.   Leave out the processed sauces and dressings that can typically drown them.  The water and fiber content in fruits and vegetables will fill you up fast, which will help naturally self-regulate your diet.

Of course, in early pregnancy you may not be able to stomach all of this.  As soon as you are able to eat a wide variety of foods again, this is what you are aiming for.

Personal Support

Let me hasten to admit that this can be a tall order, especially at the start.  I am steeped in all of this information through my education and experience, and I still find myself sometimes eating a far less than optimal diet.  

However, going to nutrition conferences, reading excerpts from books like Ginger’s, and being an active educator on these topics through my own blog and public talks, all provide me the needed support that gets me to return to the excellent diet I enjoy and that makes me and my family feel good.  
In my sometimes-rushed world, with a lot of meals and coffee meetings away from home, it is so easy to slip into the SAD  (Standard American Diet) once again.  I recommend you return to the well of great information and supportive people  -- such as Ginger’s blog -- as often as possible. 

Behavioral and lifestyle change is not just about knowledge.  It is about creating and discovering our own support structures and supportive people -- and, of course -- supportive self talk.  

In pregnancy we are perhaps more motivated than at any other time in our lives to embark on this life-long journey for optimal health.  I wish you – and your baby -- good eating and great health!

Beth Genly, CNM, MSN is a retired nurse-midwife.  She got her midwifery education at Yale University, and for 20+ years provided provided women’s health care in a variety of settings, from small birth center to university hospital.  At Oregon Health and Science University she was on the nurse-midwifery faculty for many years, where she enjoyed the opportunity to offer water birth to laboring women.  Now she influences the health of generations through evidence-based nutrition seminars and products, including Juice Plus+, with which she is extremely proud to be affiliated.  She also has a blog called “Wholly Nutritious,” where she pursues her passion for plant-based nutrition.  She and her husband will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in 2011, and they have two grown children.


  1. TIME Magazine has featured two cover stories this year about the science of epigenetics and nutrition in the womb: TIME Magazine, October 4, 2010: "How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Your Life," by Anne Murphy Paul.  Read it at:,8599,2020815,00.html 
  2. Earlier, January 6, 2010, TIME published :"Why Your DNA Isn't Your Destiny," by John Cloud. Read it at:,8599,1951968,00.html 
  3. For information from Dr. David Barker, MD, the founder of the science of epigenetics, including some of the latest research articles: 
  4. Here’s a somewhat technical tutorial site to help you understand more about epigenetics: 
  6. For  information on how Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (like many other doctors who use similar protocols) have very successfully helped people with severe heart disease create optimal health:   (Note:  be warned about a link in the sidebar on this site:  while the text of the Dr. Esselstyn’s article is excellent, the editors of the journal where it was published chose to illustrate it with a very explicit 19th-Century drawing of a radical mastectomy, which you may find disturbing.) 
  7. Similarly, for  information on how Dr. Neal Barnard has very successfully helped people with diabetes create optimal health, explore:

1 comment:

  1. I understand that the mum's diet during pregnancy can influence the health of the next TWO generations! So that's certainly food for thought as one chooses the food for one's tummy. Yay for Beth's good motivating comments on what we all know we need to do. I wish she had talked more about the research on the variety of fruits and vegetables in her "magic" Juice Plus capsules.
    Doula Julie