Healthy Pregnancies: Looking at Epigenetics and the Difference a Healthy Lifestyle Makes

Healthy Pregnancies: Looking at Epigenetics and a Healthy Lifestyle

Friends, fellow blogger Lee from the website, Well Fed Family, is sharing an important message with us today about how the study of epigenetics is showing that our lifestyle choices can indeed make a difference in the health of our pregnancies and the future of our children. This is great news!  As someone who has lost a baby to a birth defect, I think it’s also important to say that this information is not shared to create parental guilt, but rather to give hope that our choices matter. If you have dealt with childhood illness, or the death of a child, you may want to read my post, When a Healthy Diet Doesn’t Translate into a Healthy Baby.

I hope that this post from Lee encourages us that while we can’t control everything and every outcome, that our choices and lifestyle decisions do play a crucial role in the health of the next generations.- Kimi 

By Lee, From TheWellFedFamily

What if it were possible to press a genetic reset button? To wipe away something that has been plaguing generations of your family. To give your children and grandchildren a fresh new future. The key to finding this genetic reset button lies within the science of epigenetics, and then the application of some timeless wisdom.

This article is possibly one of the most exciting for me to write because this topic melds two fields about which I am passionate; these fields intrigue me and make me want to learn more and more and more. The first is the cutting edge field of science called epigenetics, and the second is the historically significant field of ancestral diets. “Cutting edge science combined with dusty old diet studies from 100 years ago or more? How can this possibly excite?” you ask. Well because when you link the new information with the old you have the ability to radically change families, to help parents give their children AND grandchildren the best health possible, in some cases to even save lives.

From two words – “epi” meaning above or on top of, and “genetics” or the study of our genes – epigenetics studies the many layers of chemical signals and switches able to activate, silence or crank up our genes. What many people don’t realize is that just because you have inherited the genes for something doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. Many genes stay dormant or asleep until something in their environment flips the switch that turns them on. As British writer David Derbyshire explains, “[Epigenetics] is where nature bumps into nurture.”

Dr. Bruce Lipton, considered by many to be the founding father of epigenetics, verifies we now have research showing it is absolutely possible for lifestyle choices and our environment to profoundly affect our genes without actually changing their basic blueprint. Meaning we can control and modify our genes by what we do, eat, breathe, where we live and even what we think. Amazingly these “above genetic” influences can actually be passed from generation to generation.

Although the field of epigenetics is still relatively new there are already real life applications to be made. One thing we know for certain is that there are definite periods during growth and development that are particularly sensitive to these outside influences on our genes. Furthermore the things that happen during these sensitive times are powerful enough to continue influencing our cells throughout their lifespan and beyond as they multiply, grow and make more cells. Nowhere is this more true than with the creation of a new life.

The first sensitive period is during the development of germ cells. If you recall your high school biology, germ cells are types of cells involved in reproduction, the two most well-known being the sperm and the egg. The second extremely sensitive period is during the first five to seven weeks following conception when everything about this tiny life is brand new and full of promise and potential.

Conception and following

Let’s examine the second period first. From the moment of conception the two parent cells fuse and combine into a tiny ball of life and energy growing at amazing speed. It is during this time that old epigenetic information, including baggage epigenetic information inherited from mom and dad, can be removed. Here is that window of opportunity – that reset button! But at the same time this microscopic person is extremely vulnerable to environmental damage. Looking at it optimistically, however, this means this little person is extremely open to positive and protective influences as well.

Parents who take time prior to conception to become as healthy as possible, optimizing their gut flora, cleaning up their diet and eliminating unhealthy habits are setting the stage for positive epigenetic support. Lifestyle changes which reduce or eliminate exposure to both dietary and environmental toxins as well as stress are also particularly powerful.

Germ cells

Depending on whether the baby is a boy or a girl determines when the germ cells, the reproductive cells, begin to develop.

With boys the sperm lie in wait until puberty when they are then able to mature, and from puberty onward new sperm cells continue to be made giving males the gift of being able to make constructive lifestyle choices (including diet) that positively affect each new generation of cells.

With girls, however, these germ cells begin forming even while the baby girl is still within her own mother’s womb. This places mothers of baby girls in the unique situation of having three generations – herself, her daughter and her grandchildren – under the influence of her personal environment and lifestyle choices. How many of us realize this when we are pregnant?

So now that we know all of this, what does this mean? What can we do?

Every choice we make is important – from the time we reach an age of fertility through to the conception, birth and the entire upbringing of our children. Our choices determine not only our children’s health but that of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We hold impressive power for health or disease. If you, or someone in your care, is of childbearing age then begin right now to nourish their bodies and nurture a healthy lifestyle.

Someone once said that the seeds of adult disease are sown in the womb and the first two years of life. I would amend that epigenetics shows us the seeds of disease are sown in the lifestyle choices of our parents as well. You see, a baby is not nourished simply from whatever momma eats once she learns she is pregnant. There are many crucial nutrients needed by baby that come from reserves momma has built up in her body in the years before conception. And not only mothers, but epigenetic studies prove that the lifestyle choices (such as smoking) by the fathers, even before they reached adolescence, can affect their children’s life chances.

This is where respecting the wisdom of traditional cultures, and learning from their lessons becomes a valuable part of this puzzle. Studies of healthy traditional cultures done by Dr. Weston Price  show that these cultures knew to give special care to those of childbearing age to insure continued generations of healthy children. Just as the seeds of adult disease are sown in the womb, so are the seeds for lifelong good health. Giving purposeful, thoughtful preparation for parenthood should be more important than the kind of detailed planning frequently given to the wedding day. The wedding may be expensive, but it only lasts a day. Children are yours for a lifetime.

(I am not a doctor or health care provider, and the above and below are offered for educational purposes only.)

What we can do:

Coursera – epigenetic control of gene expression by Dr. Marnie Blewitt, University of Melbourne
(Lipton, Bruce, PhD. The Biology of Belief. p 67-68. CA:Mountain of Love/Elite Books, 2005.)

Lee headshot2Lee holds a Masters in Music Education from Florida State and was a band director in her past life. Married to her college sweetheart for over 27 years, she has been homeschooling their two children for the last 9 years. A lifelong foodie, her real food journey got a kickstart when her sister took her to hear Sally Fallon speak on Nourishing Traditional Foods in 2007. Together with her sister, she produced a DVD on making nourishing traditional breads using the soaked flour method. Today Lee is co-leader of her local WAPF chapter, and teaches about real food and alternative health topics to her local community. She is busy pulling out the shrubs from her home in the suburbs of Orlando and replacing them with edible landscaping. She also blogs at Well Fed Family, shares videos on the Well Fed Family YouTube channel, and interacts on all the usual social media networks: Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

4 Reasons You Should Eat Seaweed

Seaweed can add so much flavor and depth to dishes, plus it is a great source of iodine and other nutrients! Learn 4 reasons why you should eat seaweed here.

Eating seaweed was something I heard a lot of jokes about in high school. It was viewed as kind of the ultimate dorky health food that “no one” could ever like. That’s changed in recent days because people have finally realized how delicious and beautiful Asian food is, and many traditional Asian dishes contain seaweed. Our sushi obsession has helped changed our mind as well.

Besides being delicious, it turns out that seaweed is a wonderful healthy food to include in your diet! My doctor recommended that I eat seaweed three times a week for health reasons, and I have failed in meeting that goal. So one of my recent pushes for myself was to start making a lot more dishes (for the benefit of the whole family!) on a regular basis that use seaweed in a delicious way.

But I’m not the only one that may benefit from seaweed! Here are four reasons you may want to join me in eating more seaweed!

Seaweed is delicious

From a culinary perspective, what would sushi be without nori, or what would miso soup be without wakame? So many Asian dishes get part of their scrumptious flavor from seaweed. My husband is half Japanese-American, and he has introduced me to Asian cooking that goes far beyond Americanized “Chinese take out”. As I have slowly worked at learning how to use a variety of seaweeds in dishes, I’ve learned there are many ways to enjoy it. So reason number one? It makes your Asian food more authentic and taste great as well.

Dr. Price noted the traditional consumption of it

In his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Dr. Price noted that those consuming a traditional diet who lived far away from the sea often went to extra-ordinary lengths to get seaweed. It was considered a very important food for maintaining health. For those of us who try to take cues from a nutrient dense diet based on traditional foods, adding in seaweed makes a lot of sense for us. This is especially true because many of us don’t eat iodized salt, but prefer unrefined salts that only have very minute amounts of iodine (if any, depending on the salt).

Traditionally, seaweed based soups and foods were given to the ailing, the pregnant, and the nursing mother.

Seaweed is a source of iodine and other nutrients

The reason seaweed was recommended to me was because it is a great source of iodine, and my levels were a little on the low side. Iodine is a crucial nutrient for us to get, and there is a lot of interesting research on the possible health benefits of iodine. It is also a source of vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B2, vitamin A, copper, pantothenic acid, potassium, iron, zinc, vitamin B6, niacin, phosphorus, and vitamin B1, and it contains protein as well.

The Weston A Price Foundation has a fascinating article on iodine’s possible health benefits that you may find helpful. They begin with this, “Iodine is critical to human health. It forms the basis of thyroid hormones and plays many other roles in human biochemistry. While the thyroid gland contains the body’s highest concentration of iodine, the salivary glands, brain, cerebrospinal fluid, gastric mucosea, breasts, ovaries and a part of the eye also concentrate iodine. In the brain, iodine is found in the choroid plexus, the area on the ventricles of the brain where cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is produced, and in the substantia nigra, an area associated with Parkinson’s disease.”

Current research on the benefits of seaweed is encouraging

Take a peek at some of the research out there showing promise for the benefits of including seaweed in your diet.

Sea vegetables and lower blood pressure: “A 2011 study published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reviewed 100 studies on the health benefits of seaweed and reported that some of the proteins in seaweed could serve as better sources of bioactive peptides than those in milk products. These reduce blood pressure, and boost heart health.” Times 

Seaweed and breast cancer: There is a lot of research on this topic as scientists attempt to figure out why Japanese women have such lower rates of breast cancer. Could seaweed consumption be part of the reason they have lower rates? Here are just two of many studies on the topic:

Seaweed May Improve Heart Health: Not surprising if it helps lower blood pressure, seaweed may be a heart protective food.

And those are just a few of the many, many studies out there. There is a reason that many call seaweed a “superfood”! Because of my new push to include seaweed in our diet more consistently, expect to see some dishes including seaweed in them soon.

And if anyone has a favorite recipe using seaweed, I’d love to hear about it!

How to Freeze Meatballs

Follow this simple method to make your own freezer meatballs! You can take out as many as you like at a time. You can use your favorite recipe, or you can use this grain-free, egg-free Italian Meatball recipe. Yum!
Having frozen meatballs on hand is very convenient. You can easily take out just as many as you need and use them in a variety of recipes. However, I don’t know if I have yet seen meatballs made with the ingredients I’d like, in the store, let alone ones that would mesh well with our allergies/intolerances.

Thankfully, making your own frozen meatballs is very easy and simple to do! I used my recipe for grain-free, egg-Free, and dairy-free Italian Meatballs, and made up a massive batch for my freezer. You can use whatever recipe you’d like though! The method is the same regardless.

I lost several weeks to being under the weather recently, and as someone who is expecting to give birth in the next 2-4 weeks, I am playing catch up on both my rest and my chores! I had grand plans for freezer meals but have had to cut back on some of them because of lack of time. However, meatballs were on the “must do” list, and I was thankful to get them done this week.

It was actually some of you who put this idea into my head! Several of you have mentioned that my recipe for meatballs froze really well, and I was always planning on trying it “sometime”. I decided there was no time like the present! There was something so satisfying about putting that bag stuffed full of frozen meatballs into the freezer too. So thank you!

A few notes on the ingredients I used

We choose to use grassfed ground beef. I was thankful to be able to buy some locally for a decent price and we love the added health benefits to grassfed beef. I quadrupled the recipe, and I replaced one of the pounds of beef for chicken liver for even more nutrition. You can read about the nutritional benefits of liver here. You can also read more about nutrient dense foods in general (including liver) here.

How to make Freezer Meatballs

Make and shape meatballs according to the recipe you’ve chosen to use. I used my recipe for Italian Meatballs. I recommend making small meatballs (I make mine about the size of a pingpong ball or even smaller), not the large fist sized ones.

Bake in the oven (my recipe cooks at 400F for 12-18 minutes) until done. If you are using lean meat, use parchment paper or oil the pan lightly.
Remove from oven and let cool.

Place on a parchment covered bake sheet, making sure the meatballs aren’t touching. They will have shrunk in size when cooking, so I put two pans worth of baked meatballs onto one pan for freezing, and place in the freezer on a flat surface. This ensures that the meatballs won’t freeze sticking together. Freeze until hard.

Remove from freezer and pop into a freezer bag or desired container, and freeze! Use within three months.

How to reheat frozen meatballs

I’m told that a favorite way to enjoy frozen meatballs is to reheat them in a slow cooker in a favorite sauce(think sweet and sour or spaghetti sauce). It only takes 1-3 hours on high, and I like that this would help keep the meatballs moist while they reheat. They can also be dropped into a soup for meatball soup, reheated in a sauce on the stovetop, or reheated in the oven (350F for 15- 20, or until hot in the middle).

Follow this simple method to make your own freezer meatballs! You can take out as many as you like at a time. You can use your favorite recipe, or you can use this grain-free, egg-free Italian Meatball recipe. Yum!

Lemony Greek Beef and Rice Lettuce Wraps (or Rice Bowl)

Greek Lemon Beef and Rice Lettuce wraps (or rice bowl)

Rich in flavor, this buttered, lemony rice and beef, peppered with parsley, is an old family favorite. I love that it only takes me about 30 minutes to make, so it’s a great easy dinner. Serve with cucumbers and lettuce for lettuce wraps, or a Greek Salad. (like the one from my cookbook, Fresh!).

My mother in law showed me how to make this recipe, and we’ve been enjoying it since! It’s based on a filling for dolmas (Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves). Sometimes we just enjoy it as a type of rice bowl, but lately we’ve been topping romaine leaves with the mixture and loving it that way as well!

In this recipe, I like to use homemade chicken broth to cook the rice in, butter from pastured cows for the rice and grassfed beef. It makes it a nourishing meal following many of the principles from Dr. Price that can be made up quickly! You will notice that I use white rice in this recipe. Some who consider themselves paleo use white rice as a “safe starch”. Personally, I switched when I learned about the arsenic issues with rice in general, and the fact that white rice was lower in arsenic.

Much of the time, we’ve simply eye-balled the ratio of rice to beef to lemon to butter. But I finally got the ratios worked out for more consistent results. This is a little heavy on the rice, so you could cut down on the rice, as desired.
Greek Lemon Beef and Rice Lettuce Wraps! These only take 30 minutes to throw together and are made with nutrient dense ingredients. Plus, they are delicious, and the whole family can enjoy them.

Greek Lemon Beef and Rice Lettuce Wraps (or Rice Bowl)
If you'd like to make these into lettuce wraps, romaine leaves from the heart of the romaine work well (you often see the heart sold packaged in groups of three). Butterleaf lettuce or endive is also delicious!
  • 2 cups of long grain white rice
  • 2 ½ cups of chicken broth or water
  • 1 teaspoon unrefined salt (leave out if broth already salted)
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 pound of ground beef (grassfed preferred)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced or put through a garlic press
  • 2-4 lemons
  • Half a bunch of fresh Italian parsley, rinsed and dried
  1. Rinse the rice in a fine sieve until the water runs clear. Place in a medium sized pot with the chicken broth or water and the salt. Bring to a boil, stir to make sure the rice isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan, and turn down heat to low. Cover and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Take off of the heat, and add the butter to the pot. Let sit for five minutes, and then gently fluff up the rice and mix in the butter.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cook the beef and garlic together over medium-high until the beef is cooked through and no longer pink. If there is any extra fat, drain from the pan (I push all of the beef to one side of the pan, and then tip the pan allowing the grease to pool to the other side. It can then be easily removed with a spoon). Gently salt the beef.
  3. Cut the parsley greens from the stems, and finely chop. In a large bowl, combine the rice, beef, and parsley, as well as the juice from 1 or 2 of the lemons. Taste test. Usually, I add more lemon and salt. You want a good balance between the salt and the tangy lemon juice, so experiment with it to taste. We enjoy ours quite lemony, so I serve extra lemon wedges on the side. Yum! If using Enjoy