10 important things to know for a Healthy Vegan Pregnancy:
- A well planned plant based diet can support you and your baby nutritionally
- Plant based diets have a huge variety of options, keeping things interesting and enabling you to get more key nutrients than the standard American diet.
- Supplementing with a trusted source of B12 every day is important.
- Prenatal supplements are beneficial.
- Keeping track of your protein intake will help assure you that your baby has enough to grow, and will help you answer all the people who constantly nag you about “Where you get your protein from?”
- Gaining about 25-35 pounds during pregnancy is ideal.
- Iron deficiency is common in all pregnancies, not just vegan pregnancies, so working with a health care provider to supplement iron may be beneficial.
- You will need to defend your choice to have a vegan pregnancy often, stand firm in knowing your choices are healthy and are rooted in kindness for animals and the earth.
- Whole grains, beans, fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds are going to be your staples and best friends!
Vegan individuals, or those who follow a plant based lifestyle, that are thinking about or trying to become pregnant often times get pressured by family, friends and even health care providers to start adding animal products back into their diet to assure a healthy pregnancy and baby. This is an unfortunately common myth, that “Vegan healthy pregnancy” is an oxymoron. This myth of nutrition and pregnancy needs to end-but in order for that to happen, Women, pregnant families and health care providers need to be thoroughly educated in nutrition and plant based diets. If you are vegan and want to become pregnant and remain on your 100% plant based diet, find a health care provider who is knowledgeable and able to support you through this journey. This post outlines some myths about vegan pregnancy, key food groups and nutrients to be aware of and some other important and helpful advice.
One of the hardest things about maintaining a vegan pregnancy is confidence in the face of many doubters and nay-sayers who are constantly questioning you and your baby’s health. It is going to be helpful to educate yourself on basic nutrition and the RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowance) of important macro and micronutrients so you have a basis to build your diet on, as well as solid answers for those rude and invasive questions. Remain compassionate, calm and stand firm knowing your choices are your own, and they are made out of kindness for yourself, Mother Earth, and animals. Like I mentioned early, it is very important to find a health care provider willing to support and educate you through this process to not only assure your diet is adequate but to give you confidence throughout your pregnancy.
Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates are the macronutrients we obtain through our diet. Fat is important for hormone synthesis, cell structure and integrity, function of the nervous system and many other things in the body. Protein is the building block of life and makes everything from enzymes to bone to muscles. Carbohydrates are the body’s favorite energy source. Carbs are broken down into glucose, which fuels every process in our body- most of these processes also usually depend on fat and protein in one way or another! Getting the right quality and quantity of all of these macronutrients is always important to maximize health, but is especially vital during pregnancy.
Micronutrients are also vital for the body to run effectively and efficiently. Micronutrients are things like Vitamins and Minerals and are abundant in all plant foods. Some really important Vitamins you may have heard of are Vitamin C, B, D, E, A and K, to name a few. Minerals that your body depends on include Iron, Zinc, Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium, Selenium and many more.
If you are already a healthy vegan, you most likely know more about nutrition than the average Joe- and you are also more than likely to already be eating a balanced diet with lots of variety to assure you are getting adequate micro and macronutrients. In general, as a vegan myself, I follow by the rule of eating every food group, for every meal, differing every day. By switching up plant ingredients it assures that you are getting all micro nutrients that you may be missing out on if you are eating the same three meals every day. Also, the common idea of eating more color is totally important here. (While also remembering white things are important too- as Cauliflower, potatoes, parsnips and fennel are white but extremelynutrient dense!) For me this looks like rotating the fruits and veggies that I typically buy at the store, trying new things, preparing meals with different food combinations, and always keeping an open mind while having fun in the kitchen.
This is all good, right, so why do some people freak out at the thought of a vegan pregnancy!? Turns out, there are some macro and micronutrients us as vegans, need to be a bit more vigilant about to assure we are getting enough of, especially during times like pregnancy, where deficiency in anything is the last thing we want. This is not a negative thing about veganism, especially considering that individuals on the Standard American diet are deficient in at least 8 more key nutrients than vegans. Plant based diets offer unique opportunities to pay more attention to the things we nourish our body with, and form a stronger connection with food as to use it as medicine.
So what are these things we need to be more aware of? As I am sure you already guessed one of them is the infamous protein! Vegans can easily meet the RDA for protein requirements from plant proteins (while also getting awesome amounts of vitamins and minerals!) but because that RDA for protein increases by 25 grams a day during pregnancy, it may take a little more awareness. So the RDA for protein is your body weight in pounds x .4 to give you grams of protein needed per day. During pregnancy you will need to add 25 grams to this pre-pregnancy RDA. This, on average, gives women the protein RDA of 75 grams but please do your own calculation for your unique and beautiful body!
(Weight in lbs x .4) + 25 = grams of protein per day.
So what are some good, protein dense plants to incorporate into your diet while pregnant? First of all, beans and lentils, or what nutritionists are calling these days “pulses”. I cannot say enough good things about pulses. They are simple and affordable staples, high in fiber, high in lots of vitamins and minerals and serve as a huge source of vegetarian protein. They literally make my world go round!
· Lentils = 18 grams protein/ cup
· Black beans/ Garbonzo beans / black eyed peas/ etc. ~ 15 grams protein/ cup
Some other protein sources, to name a few, include…
· Hemp seeds- 10 grams protein/ 3 Tbsp
· Quinoa- 8 grams protein / 1 cup
· Tofu- 13 grams protein / 4 ounces
· Chia seeds- 7 grams protein / .25 cups
· Peanut Butter- 8 grams / 2 Tbsp
Okay, so we covered the big and scary protein. What about the other two macro nutrients, being Carbs and Fat during pregnancy? Carbohydrates are in pretty much everything vegans eat, so no need to worry about getting enough of this, but do just be mindful you are getting whole, complex carbs rather than refined carbs in white bread or highly refined, packaged products. This means whole grain bread is better than wonder bread, sweet potatoes and squashes are better than white potatoes or packaged products, and complex grains like quinoa, millet and brown rice are better than white, refined wheat pasta. Complex carbohydrates help you maintain a steady blood glucose level and decrease your baby’s exposure to spiking levels of insulin and sugars, which research is now showing may put them at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later on in life.
In general you want to get about 6 servings of grains or starchy vegetables every day to assure your body has enough energy to provide for the growing baby! A serving size can be estimated to about “a handful”- whatever that is for your size and shape.
As for fats, vegans do need to be mindful about getting adequate quantity and quality of the essential fatty acids that are important for many pathways in the body and especially during pregnancy- the neurological development of baby! Essential fats include Omega 3s and Omega 6s. The standard American diet is wickedly heavy on Omega 6s, and to bring more balance to the body, we typically want to focus on increasing intake of Omega 3s. Sources rich in Omega -3’s include walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds. Some important Omega 3s like EPA and DHA, that a non-vegan would get from fish oils, salmon and cod, can be sourced from Sea Algae and are sold as supplements from many trusted brands. Getting some saturated fats and polyunsaturated fats is also important. These fats can be found in full fat coconut milk, coconut oil, olive oil and avocados. It is recommended you get at least 2 servings of fat per day- which again could be equated with ½ an avocado (about the size of your hand, right?) and a handful of walnuts, plus some olive or coconut oil.
Now what about those micro nutrients that vegans needs to me mindful of to assure adequate intake? These are vitamins and minerals that are typically found at high levels in animal products, so without care, can be depleted in a vegan diet. The first and most important one of these is Vitamin B12. Although there are trace amounts in plant foods like nutritional yeast and bee pollen, as well as some in fortified foods like mock meats, cereals and plant milks, they are typically not at high enough levels for vegans in general, so definitely not for a pregnant vegan! Vitamin B12 is the most important thing to supplement in a vegan pregnancy so be sure to work with your care provider to assure an adequate dose.
Another common concern is iron intake in the vegan diet. Anemia caused by iron deficiency is common in all pregnant woman and thus needs special attention to be avoided, especially in vegan pregnancies. Although you can increase your intake in iron rich foods, like leafy greens, lentils and black strap molasses, many physicians will recommend an iron supplement during pregnancy. They may also suggest eating fortified cereals, using high iron tahini sauces, eating more peas, swisschard and seaweed, adding prune juice to your morning routines as well as adding vitamin C containing foods to high iron foods, as this improves its bioavailability. High levels of iron can be toxic, so do not self-dose this vital mineral and work with your care provider to discern what a healthy level of supplementation is based on your diet.
Calcium is the next important mineral people will most likely be asking you about. Little do they know-cow milk is actually one of the least accessible sources for our body to absorb calcium from. All pregnant women need to make sure they are getting enough calcium as it is vital to almost every process in the body, bone formation being the most well-known. Some calcium rich foods to incorporate into your daily diet include dark leafy greens (surprise!), dried figs, and fortified products like tofu, cereals and plant milks. Having enough Vitamin D is important as it controls and triggers calcium absorption. It is more than likely you are deficient in Vitamin D and should supplement. Again, speak with your doctor about the right amount of Vitamin D you should take with your current diet, lifestyle and location. On average 1,000-5,000 IUs a day is recommended.
The RDA for Calcium during pregnancy is 1,000 mg. Some serving sizes of foods that give you about 150mg of Calcium are as follows: ½ cup sautéed collards, 1 ½ cups cooked broccoli, 2 ounces of fortified tofu, 2 Tbsp tahini, 10 dried figs, ½ cup almond milk, 1 ½ cups cooked beans. Could you make a daily meal plan incorporating those items to add up to 1,000 mg? I think so!
Zinc, another mineral important for the developing baby will require you to increase uptake of things like tahini, adzuki beans, chick peas, blacked eye peas, lentils and peanut butter. Most of these foods were important for other micro and macronutrients as previously discussed, which is the beauty of a plant based diet- if you are eating well-rounded meals with variety you are more than likely getting everything you need without having to overthink it!
By no means is this a comprehensive diet and nutrition plan- but I hope it does shed light on the fact that a healthy vegan pregnancy, with care and planning, is absolutely possible. By reading this, one can be prepared for some key points to discuss with their care provider or dietician, and understand a bit more about how important conscious eating is, especially while pregnant.
Not only is a vegan diet supplying all necessary macronutrients to the Mother and her growing baby, it is filling them both up with phytonutrients and an abundance of micronutrients a standard American diet does not compete with. By nourishing your body with plant based foods, you are also protecting your growing child from the negative energy that comes along with animal products-as no animal dies without fear or stress. Vegan pregnancies give both the Mother and Baby an opportunity to live compassionately, sustainably and in union with the greater webs of life.
Things you may need to supplement the diet with in a vegan pregnancy:
- Vitamin B12- This is a hard yes! B12 deficiency is no good for Mother or Baby!
- Iron- work closely with your care provider here, as too much iron can be toxic.
- Vitamin D- if you don’t live outside, in the sun, naked- you will more than likely need at least 1,000 IUs daily.
- Algal DHA and EPA Omega 3’s are important essential fatty acids to supplement with.
- High quality natal vitamins are great as an insurance policy for those days when maybe you don’t eat enough!
I hope you find this helpful! Stay nourished my fellow Goddesses!