The benefits of a vegan diet during pregnancy
The key nutrients to consume for a successful and risk-free vegan pregnancy. By Chelsea Plaskitt
Veganism is becoming increasingly popular, due to its significant health benefits and environmental advantages. As a result, more and more people are adopting plant-based diets including pregnant women. Many medical professionals believe that a vegan diet will 'deprive' the mother of important nutrients like folic acid, protein and calcium, which are crucial for a baby's development, however this is not the case. Apart from B12, a vitamin rarely present in vegan foods, a healthy plant-based diet provides all the nutrients required for a baby's development. Let's take a closer look to understand why veganism is a healthy and safe option during pregnancy!
Reasons to be vegan during pregnancy
Many pregnant women decide to adopt a vegan diet because of its high fibre content and the fact that it can alleviate morning sickness. The importance of a fibre-rich diet during pregnancy is crucial. Although fibre is not a digestible nutrient, it does play an important role in moving waste out of the body. This can help reduce bowel issues like constipation, a common experience for pregnant women. During pregnancy, the ovaries release progesterone, a hormone that relaxes the body's muscles including the intestines. This slows down digestion and, without proper fibre intake, can cause constipation. Here are some other benefits of eating fibre during pregnancy:
- It helps pregnant women control weight gain: Fibre-rich foods don't contain many calories and lessen your hunger. As a result, your appetite decreases helping you remain at a healthy weight.
- Fibre regulates blood sugar: Fibre slows digestion and keeps your blood sugar from rising too quickly. High blood sugar levels can lead to many other health issues, including diabetes.
- It regulates cholesterol and promotes a healthy heart: Fibre helps trap bile acid in the digestive tract which contains cholesterol. This lessens its negative impact on a person's arteries and heart.
Morning sickness is actually a misnomer, as nausea and vomiting can impact a woman at any time of day. This is the body's way of protecting the developing baby from any toxins that could harm its development. During pregnancy, a woman's immune system is weakened to stop the embryo from being rejected as her body thinks it is a foreign object due to half of the baby's DNA coming from the father. As a result, the mother's body will want to reject foods that her body doesn't deem healthy, including saturated fats which are present in meat and dairy. Disease-causing germs and saturated fat can produce intense morning sickness for women who consume meat and dairy as opposed to those on a plant-based diet.
Essential nutrients during pregnancy
Make sure to include sources of the following in your diet:
Folic acid helps the body make healthy red blood cells. It is also essential for a baby's growth and development helping the brain, spinal cord and skull mature. This reduces the chances of birth defects like cleft palate and spina bifida. It also lessens the chance of premature birth.
How much should you take? It is considered safe to consume 400 micrograms daily before conception and up until 12 weeks after becoming pregnant.
Vegan sources of folic acid: Leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits and most legumes.
Protein is essential for the development of a baby's skin, hair, muscle and bones and reduces the risk of low birth weight. Additionally, the mother should consume it to increase blood supply, which will provide her baby with enough oxygen.
How much should you take? A person can consume 70-100 grams a day regardless of the trimester, however weight should be considered when deciding how much to have.
Vegan sources of protein: Whole grains, tofu, sprouted bread, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Calcium plays a huge role in the formation of a baby's bones and teeth, and regulates a mother's circulatory, muscular and nervous systems during pregnancy. Calcium helps the mother's body regulate fluids and keeps her skeletal health in check. If a pregnant woman is not consuming enough calcium, the body will take it from her bones in an effort to provide her baby with enough.
How much should you take? A person can consume 1,000 micrograms of calcium daily.
Vegan sources of calcium: Calciu-enriched tofu, vegan milk and yoghurt alternatives, kale, watercress, tahini, dried figs and almonds.
Consuming iron while pregnant is crucial as it provides oxygen to the baby. Its importance suggests a mother should double her intake during pregnancy. Iron is also a key nutrient for a baby's brain development and can lower the risk of premature birth.
How much should you take? A person can consume about 27 milligrams of iron daily instead of the recommended 13 for non-pregnant women.
Vegan sources of iron: Lentils, chickpeas, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, kale, dried apricots, figs and quinoa.
Lack of Vitamin B12 is extremely common in the UK with six per cent of the population being deficient. B12 helps keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy and creates DNA. It is even more important to consume while pregnant as a deficiency in B12 can lead to neural tube defects.
This condition causes the spine, spinal cord and brain to under-develop. B12 deficiency can also lead to preeclampsia and early miscarriage. These conditions are irreversible so it's imperative to consume the right amount of B12, especially in the first month of pregnancy.
Contrary to the opinions of some medical professionals, consuming a whole food, plant-based diet during pregnancy is an excellent idea as it promotes good health in both mother and baby. Plant based foods provide essential nutrients and keep hormones in check which promotes ovulation. So, whether you're looking to become pregnant, or you are already, plant-based foods can give you everything you need to develop a healthy and thriving baby.
Need some tips and info on plant-based eating during pregnancy?
Check out the book suggestions below:
- Your Complete Vegan Pregnancy by Reed Mangels
- Vegan Pregnancy Survival Kit by Seyward Rebhal
- The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book by Reed Mangels
- The Vegan Pregnancy Cookbook: Over 200 Recipes to Keep You and Baby Happy by Lorena Novak Bull
- The Vegan StarterKit: Everything You Need to Know about Plant-Based Eating by Neal Barnard