Pregnancy Wellness: Talking Prenatal Nutrition & Natural Cooking With Dr. Sonali Ruder

NATPREGCKBK-covDr. Sonali Ruder–a board certified Emergency Medicine physician, a culinary school graduate, a recipe developer, an author of nutrition books like Anti-Aging and The Greek Yogurt Diet and the blog the “The Foodie Physician“–has written a new book that combines two of her big passions: The science of nutrition and the art of cooking. In Natural Pregnancy Cookbook, Ruder draws on her background as a physician and applies scientific nutritional knowledge to a myriad of delicious recipes, giving some practical advice about pregnancy along the way, skillfully juggling between the medical and the chef’s coats. With many pregnancy cookbooks out there, Ruder’s book stands out because it comes from a physician’s point of view, who also happens to be a foodie and a chef.

What was the inspiration behind this cook book?

I came up with the idea when I was pregnant and wrote it after I had a baby. There are many pregnancy cook books out there, but I personally found that they were either just cook books or focused on the nutritional aspect only, so I wanted to have one go to book that combines both. Even as a physician I had a ton of questions about what I should or shouldn’t be eating and there were a lot of inconsistencies in the information on the internet. My own OB-GYN gave me a book during my first visit written by an the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and there was just one chapter in it about nutrition! So I had so many questions myself with my background, I was sure that most pregnant women have the same experience.

Who is your intended audience for this book?

This book is obviously targeted towards pregnant women but the recipes and guidelines are applicable to everyone, it’s more about eating healthy natural food. Pregnancy is a good time to make changes in one’s life. This is the time to stop smoking, to limit the alcohol, to make positive dietary changes. A lot of women stress out if they went out drinking after they got pregnant. It’s fine because plenty of women have done it before and have gone on to have absolutely healthy babies. Just focus on the rest of the pregnancy.

How did you develop the recipes in the book?

I did include about a dozen recipes from my fellow bloggers, but otherwise I developed them myself. That’s my passion: Recipe development, food, and I get inspiration from everywhere. I read pretty much every food magazine. I go out to eat a lot; I watch all the cooking shows. I’m a born and raised New Yorker, but my husband and I moved to Fort Lauderdale, FL, a few years ago and the hardest thing with the move for us was we missed all the restaurants! When I developed the recipes my main goal was to include a wide variety of recipes that would suit any taste because in pregnancy women have a lot of cravings. My first trimester I had I did not want anything to do with anything except for fruit and vegetables. I included a good number of smoothies and drinks, like mocktails because while pregnant you still want to celebrate with everyone else even though you can’t drink. A lot of women have morning sickness, at least in the first trimester, and don’t feel like eating anything. For that reason I added some smoothie recipes so that women can put in a bunch of nutritious fruit and vegetables and be able to tolerate it better. A lot of recipes are also easy and freezer-friendly because once you have the baby you won’t have much time so cooking things ahead and freezing them in batches is great.

Your recipes address not just the physical well-being of a future mother, but also her psychological needs, such as occasional indulgence.

Well, take my craveable chocolate ganache cupcakes. Chocolate is one of the most common cravings in pregnancy so I knew I had to do it. A cupcake is a limited serving so you eat one but you still feel like you’re indulging without feeling guilty.

Safe food is always on the minds of mothers to be. Can you give our readers some tips on safe nutrition during pregnancy?

Big things to avoid are traditionally unpasteurized cheese and dairy products. However, a lot of products today, even soft cheese like brie and camembert, are made with pasteurized milk so read the labels carefully. Eliminate foods with high mercury content. Another thing is organic vs. non-organic fruit and vegetables. It’s a personal decision you have to make because a lot of research is coming out how pesticides can have negative effect on our health and also on our developing babies. Organic food is more expensive in general so it’s not in everyone’s budget so in the book I have what is called the “Dirty Dozen” (established by the Environmental Working Group) the most highly contaminated fruits and vegetables. If you can buy those organic that will be decrease your toxic intake. You want to cook foods to proper temperature since undercooked foods increases risk of bacterial infections that can be more serious in a pregnant women. Caffeine is a controversial one, but a moderate amount is okay.

What are the most important micro-nutrients for pregnant women to have in their diets and what food sources can they get it from?

Omega-3 fatty acids, folate, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and fiber. Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, mainly found in seafood, are very important. Our bodies don’t produce it so we have to get it from food. It’s crucial for baby’s brain development and has a lot of other benefits on our health, such as stabilizing mood and helping with post pregnancy depression. Folate is fortified by US government in a lot of cereals, breads since 1998 because folate deficiency causes neural defects. Fortified is because folate deficiency occurs very early in pregnancy, within the first few weeks, often before the woman even knows she’s pregnant. So by time a woman finds out she’s pregnant it might be too late already. Iron is another one for hemoglobin as iron deficiency anemia is extremely common in pregnancy. People usually think iron is found in meats, poultry, eggs, but there are actually a lot of good vegetarian iron sources as well: grains like quinoa, oats, rice, lentils, chickpeas, dried beans, spinach, and kale. One tip about iron is to eat it with vitamin C, it helps your body to absorb iron better. Cooking in a cast iron skillet can actually increase iron content in your food. Calcium and vitamin D work together. If a baby doesn’t get enough calcium he or she will take the calcium from your body to supply their own needs so it is important to take enough calcium to support yours and baby’s calcium needs during pregnancy. The last one is fiber. Pregnancy and constipation go hand in hand and getting enough fiber is key to minimize that.

Are you planning a follow-up book about post birth nutrition?

There’s going to be a follow up book coming out next year called Natural Baby Food. It will cover everything from solid food to start your baby on to a toddler’s balanced diet.

To read more about Dr. Sonali Ruder, visit!