Pregnancy is one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life.
It can also be one of the most stressful, dealing with various symptoms and changes, all while figuring out how to eat to provide the best nutrition for a growing fetus .
Pregnancy is a highly metabolic and nutritionally demanding phase of life, and this means that a little more planning and nutritional consideration is needed to cope with these drastic physiological changes.
Can you have a healthy and prosperous vegan pregnancy?
The answer is a resounding yes, from Lauren Panoff, MPH RD of Chronic Planet, a regular dietitian who counsels women and families who follow vegan lifestyles.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the nation’s largest dietitian organization, released a paper on plant-based diets, saying that a vegan diet is healthy and nutritionally adequate for pregnant women.
This will be the case provided there is proper planning, as women who forgo meat products are at a higher risk of having fewer nutrients, especially iron and vitamin b12.
However, with the explosion of vegan products on the market, especially plant-based milks, getting b12 and iron from fortified foods is no longer as worrisome as it once was.
Regardless, between these demands and the added social pressures, pregnancy can be even more stressful for vegan women, especially the first time.
A vegan diet avoids all animal products of any kind, including:
- The meat.
- The eggs.
Instead, vegans get their nutrients from a plant-based diet, based on foods like:
- Whole grains.
Today, parents can confidently choose to have a vegan pregnancy with reliable information at their fingertips from specialized websites.
A growing body of personal and professional resources, as well as supportive virtual communities, are increasingly accessible to help vegan parents through this phase of life.
Below are some of the most important factors women should consider when choosing a pregnancy fueled by a plant-based diet.
Nutritional recommendations for a healthy vegan pregnancy
1. Eat enough calories
There is a common misconception that pregnancy requires twice the number of calories than normal, as there are now two or more people to count.
In reality, calorie needs remain the same as normal during the first trimester, only increasing to about 300 additional calories per day in the second and third trimesters, Panoff says.
Since plant foods are often lower in calories, vegan women may need to pay more attention to their energy intake.
A good way to increase calories is to choose foods that are higher in calories and fat, such as:
- Vegetable milks.
- Soy foods.
Some other great vegetables for calories are:
- The fruit and flaxseed smoothies.
- The Peanut Butter Smoothies.
- Baked foods like banana oatmeal bread or tofu pancakes.
Pregnancy can be a time of cravings, which differ between women, but it can be for sugary or highly refined packaged foods.
These types of foods tend to be “empty calorie foods,” or calorie-rich foods without much fiber or other nutrients, and should be limited as much as possible.
Eating smaller and more frequent meals and snacks can also help women consume adequate calories during pregnancy.
2. Pay Attention to Key Nutrients
Micronutrients are essential for any pregnant woman, but vegan women may want to pay special attention to the ones listed below and where to find them on a plant-based diet.
Folate helps produce DNA, amino acids, promotes cell division, prevents neural tube defects and megaloblastic anemia. The recommendation for pregnancy is 600-800 micrograms per day.
This can be found in:
- Dark green leafy vegetables.
- Whole grains.
- Peas beans.
- Enriched breads.
Omega 3 fatty acids are necessary to maintain healthy membranes around the eyes and brain, support functions in the heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, and maintain a healthy hormonal balance.
There is no set recommendation for omega-3 needs, but many professionals suggest that the average person consumes between 250 and 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA combined daily, so this may be more during pregnancy.
Omega 3 fats can be found in supplements of:
- Ground flaxseed.
- Canola accepted.
- DHA / EPA derived from algae.
Calcium is essential for heart and bone health, muscle and nerve function. The recommendation for pregnancy is 1000 mg per day.
Good sources include:
- Bok choy.
- Calcium tofu.
- Fortified orange juice.
- Plant-based milks.
- Col china.
Iron is necessary to maintain healthy red blood cells, connective tissues, and hormones that circulate in the body. Pregnant women should get about 27 milligrams per day.
Herbal sources of iron include:
- Green peas.
- Fortified cereals.
- Dried apricots
Eating foods rich in vitamin C at the same time can improve iron absorption.
Vitamin B12 is essential for the health of the nerves and red blood cells, making DNA and preventing megaloblastic anemia.
The recommendation for pregnancy is 2.6 micrograms per day and can be found in nutritional yeast, fortified plant-based milks, and in supplemental form, such as prenatal vitamins.
Vitamin D is responsible for helping the body absorb calcium to strengthen bones and teeth, nerve function, and support a healthy immune system. Pregnant women should consume at least 600 IU per day.
Vitamin D can be synthesized in the skin through sunlight, but because this process is not always efficient and depends on a variety of individual factors, better sources are fortified plant milks, UV-treated mushrooms, and dietary supplements.
Choline plays a role in gene expression, early brain development, and fat metabolism.
The recommendation during pregnancy is 450 milligrams per day, and can be found at:
- Whole grains.
- Cruciferous vegetables.
Zinc is necessary to support the immune system, make proteins and DNA, and support wound healing. The recommendation for pregnancy is 11 milligrams per day.
Zinc can be found in:
- Green peas.
- Whole grains
- Green leafy vegetables.
Iodine is necessary to support healthy bones and brain, as well as to produce thyroid hormones that control metabolism. Pregnant women should take in around 220 mcg per day, via iodized salt, seaweed and other sea vegetables, and a prenatal vitamin.
Protein is a building block for bones, muscles, tissues, and blood. An additional 25 grams of protein per day is indicated in the second and third trimesters.
This can be easily added via food from:
- Green peas.
- Whole grains
3. Stay hydrated
It’s important to drink enough fluids during pregnancy, especially during the warm summer months, to stay hydrated, prevent early contractions, and maintain amniotic fluid and the 60 percent increase in blood volume needed for a growing baby.
A good estimate is to drink 1-1.5 ml per calories consumed; Because pregnancy requires an additional 300 calories in the last two trimesters, this would equal an additional 300 ml of water per day for reference.
Fortunately, whole plant foods like green leafy vegetables, cantaloupe, grapefruit, cucumber, bell peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes are also full of water. An alarm can be used as a reminder for drinking water if necessary.
Well-planned vegan diets benefit mom and baby
Properly planned and well thought out vegetarian diets offer many health benefits for both mother and baby, both during and after pregnancy.
A balanced diet based on whole plant foods provides a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are great for mother and baby.
Statistics show us that rates of diseases like gestational diabetes are lower among vegan women, and that they often maintain a healthier weight range during pregnancy.
Informal pregnancy outcome data from 2,028 pregnancies collected in the same vegan community from 1970-2000 showed a lower-than-average cesarean rate (1.4 percent).
Regarding postpartum depression (1 percent), neonatal mortality (0.4 percent) and preeclampsia (0.4 percent) without complications greater than the average.
4. Seek support
Finding vegan groups that are specifically designed for vegan pregnancies and families, such as Raise Vegan and Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting are always good ideas, starting with recipes and support.
Remember, being alone can sometimes be daunting.