Going Vegan While Pregnant. Is it safe?
The eating patterns of women change during pregnancy, and unusual cravings are quite common. They may even change their dietary habits, such as turning non-vegetarian, vegetarian, or even vegan. The debate over the benefits of non-vegetarian diets versus vegetarian diets is long-standing. However, vegan diets have added an interesting twist to these debates, especially during pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a time where a mother has additional nutritional requirements. A balanced diet is essential for the growth and development of the child and mother. A popular view about vegetarian diets is that it puts an individual at risk of nutritional deficiencies. If this statement is true, then are vegan diets safe during pregnancy, a time of increased dietary needs?
What exactly is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is one in which you eliminate all sources of protein, such as meat, milk, cheese, eggs, and other dairy products sourced from animals from the diet. The diet is based purely on plant sources of food like fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, seeds, and nuts.
Can vegan diets harm the baby?
Research has shown that having a balanced diet with a variety of foods is the key to meet nutritional needs adequately during pregnancy. Pregnancy outcomes have been the same in vegetarians and vegans as compared to non-vegetarians if the nutrient intake is maintained. Studies have also indicated that the folate and magnesium levels in vegetarian and vegan women are higher than those of women who follow an omnivorous diet during pregnancy. However, it has also been found that these women are at a higher risk of having iron and vitamin B12 deficiency. Therefore, one must watch the intake of these nutrients. Well-balanced vegetarian and vegan diets are considered safe for the mother as well as the child during pregnancy and lactation. Specific dietary interventions must be made before, during and after pregnancy that improve diet quality and ensure that the daily requirement of essential nutrients is met.
What does a vegan pregnancy meal plan look like?
- Eat a variety of foods to get all the different nutrients that you need
- Include high-fibre foods and complex carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, whole wheat products, and millets.
- Foods that are rich in protein are an essential part of the diet as plant-based sources need to replace animal sources of protein. Therefore, include foods like tofu, beans, nuts, chickpea, lentils, pulses, dals, and nuts.
- When it comes to fats, DHA is vital for the baby's brain and eye development. Since, DHA is mainly obtained from non-vegetarian sources, make sure to include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and canola, flaxseed, groundnut or soybean oils (these are rich in fat called ALA, which is converted to DHA in the body).
- It is recommended that mothers consume at least five portions of fruits and vegetables; preferably fresh, whole fruits than tinned, sweetened, or in the form of juice. Include yellow-orange vegetables like pumpkins, carrots, sweet potato, spinach, beetroot, etc. as they are good sources of vitamin A.
- Be sure to include at least three portions of iron-containing foods every day. Dates and green leafy vegetables are good sources of iron. Whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes also contain a considerable amount of iron. Always remember to pair iron-rich foods along with vitamin C rich foods (like amla, lime, and orange) for better iron absorption!
- Since, a vegan diet calls for skipping milk and milk products, include at least four portions of calcium-rich foods in the diet to help you meet the daily calcium requirement. Sources of calcium for vegan pregnancy meals include fortified non-dairy milks (like almond, soy, and coconut), green leafy vegetables, tofu, etc.
- Get direct sunlight at least three times a week for 10-15 minutes to get adequate amounts of vitamin D
- Vitamin B12 is mainly obtained from animal sources and is rarely available in plant-based diets. Therefore, vegan products fortified with vitamin B12 are essential to meet the requirements of this nutrient. You can always talk to your health care provider for supplements.
- Vegetarians and vegans are encouraged to consume more dietary zinc than non-vegetarians (due to the phytate content of vegetarian foods). Grains, legumes, soy, nuts, and seeds are all loaded with zinc. Remember to use cooking methods like soaking, germination, and fermentation to enhance zinc absorption (by reducing the phytate content).
- It is recommended to avoid alcohol during pregnancy as well as to limit the caffeine intake.
- It is also essential to drink a good amount of water to keep yourself hydrated.
Even though pregnancy may change the nutritional requirements of a woman, it is not necessary to change their dietary style unless recommended by a doctor for medical reasons. A mother can safely follow a vegan pregnancy diet to benefit her child. There has been no significant evidence to show that a vegan diet can adversely affect the baby. The baby’s growth is healthy, as long as one keeps a watch on the nutrient intake. Make sure to follow all the dietary guidelines and make adjustments to the current diet to ensure that all essential nutrients are taken in adequate amounts.