How to Have a Healthy Vegan Pregnancy
Are you a Vegan Mama-to-be?
New figures tell us that Veganism has quadrupled between 2014-2019 so I figured that there must be more Mamas-to-be who are choosing a plant based diet and as a Vegan myself I wanted to write a blog to support you being a Vegan Mama.
Whether you are vegan or not it’s important to eat a balanced healthy diet in pregnancy and as you will be aware a balanced vegan diet can meet all of your normal nutritional needs and this can continue into pregnancy and breastfeeding. However if you are struggling to eat normally due to nausea and vomiting you may want to consider some supplementation to support you and your baby; although supplements should not replace a healthy diet filled with whole plant foods.
Let’s look at the additional nutritional needs of pregnancy and how you can meet them through a vegan diet.
All women are advised to take a 400mcg supplement of folic acid if you’re trying to conceive and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to help reduce the risks of neurological disorders and birth defects such as spina bifida. The good news is that by eating a well-balanced plant-based diet you will generally have a high folate level anyway but it is still advised to take a supplement to be on the safe side.
Excellent dietary sources of folic acid include:
Bear in mind though that folic acid is sensitive to heat (40-70% can be lost through cooking) so it’s best to eat raw vegetables where you can – maybe add them to a smoothie.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is another worry that non-vegans seem to have about the vegan lifestyle. Whilst there are few plant sources that naturally contain B12, there are now several fortified options such as plant based milks, bread etc. Your body can store B12 for a long time (5-20 year) so it is quite difficult to become deficient; however a lack of B12 can also lead to a folic acid deficiency and taking folic acid supplements can mask the symptoms of B12 deficiency so they are clearly interlinked. So you might want to consider a supplement, in fact you can get a combined folic acid and B12 supplement.
Good plant sources of B12 include:
- Fortified milks, cereals, breads etc
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Bean sprouts
- Nutritional yeast
There is a recommendation for all pregnant women to take 10 mcg Vitamin D throughout pregnancy to help with the formation of the baby’s bones and tissues. Some plant based milks have Vitamin D added to them, and you can grab some sunshine to also help (if we ever see it!). But other than that we do struggle a bit as vegans but the good news is that there are a growing number of vegan Vitamin D options on the market. (A regular vitamin D (D3) is generally made from sheep’s wool so look for either D3 made from lichen or a D2 supplement)
How many times as a vegan do we get asked “But what do you do for calcium?” There is this myth that cow’s milk is the best thing for calcium but the truth is that whilst it does contain a lot of calcium, the human body cannot easily absorb it due to the animal proteins also present in milk, which end up leeching calcium from our bodies instead.
Extra calcium is needed in pregnancy due to the development of the baby’s bones and teeth, the baby will get everything they need from your body, so if you don’t eat enough you could be at an increased risk of osteoporosis. If you are eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, and you exercise, you are unlikely to be deficient.
Great dietary sources of calcium are:
- Dark leafy greens (Kale, chard, bok choy)
- Fortified unsweetened plant based milks
- Fortified bread
- Tofu (calcium set)
- Almonds & brazil nuts
- Sesame seeds/tahini
Your body uses iron to make extra blood for you and your baby in pregnancy so it’s important to increase your intake of this nutrient to prevent anaemia and tiredness. There are lots of plant based options for sources of iron:
- Cashew nuts
- Chia seeds
- Dried apricots
- Fortified breakfast cereals
Increasing the vitamin C content of your meals helps your body to absorb iron so try to include the following in the same meal as your iron sources:
- Kiwi fruit
- Oranges or orange juice
It’s also good to know that drinking tea or coffee with your food will make it more difficult for your body to absorb the iron so try to avoid these drinks close to mealtimes.
Iodine is essential to the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system as well as playing an important role in regulating your thyroid gland. Many iodine sources are animal based however there are still some options for vegans although the iodine content of plant foods is variable and generally low and although Sea vegetables contains a lot of iodine, then content is again variable with some types containing too much. The recommended daily allowance of iodine nearly doubles in pregnancy so if you feel that you may be lacking this trace mineral it may be worth looking at a supplement as the most reliable option.
Sources of iodine:
- Sea vegetables eg Kelp
- Haricot beans
Omega 3 fats
Omega 3 is needed for your baby’s brain, nerves and eyes and although non-vegans will look to oily fish for their supply, there are vegan options readily available without having the mercury content to worry about.
Plant based sources of Omega 3 are:
- Chia seeds
- Ground linseed
- Hemp seeds
It’s worth noting that too much omega 6 fat can affect the absorption of omega 3 so it’s best to reduce the use of sunflower, corn or sesame oils as these are high in omega 6 and use vegetable (rapeseed) oil instead. Also watch the serving sizes of seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds because these are also high in omega 6. There is recommendation from some experts that pregnant vegans take a supplement containing just omega 3 from microalgae instead of doubling their intake of omega 6 – a daily dose of 300milligrams has been suggested.
If you eat a healthy balanced vegan diet then pregnancy nutrition can actually be seen as being easier; unlike non-vegans you will not be faced with a long list of foods to avoid!
Be mindful to check that any supplements you chose to take are suitable for use in pregnancy (regular multi vitamins aren’t due to the high levels of Vitamin A) as well as being vegan friendly.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget that all of products are registered with the Vegan society.
Jane – The Midwife
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