Veganism is a lifestyle choice which involves avoiding animal products, especially from diet. With growing numbers favouring a vegan lifestyle and the pros of a vegan diet being reinforced daily online, it raises questions about the impact of a vegan diet during pregnancy and the effects following such a lifestyle will have on mum and baby.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is one which eliminates the consumption of all animal products; vegans would avoid eating meat, dairy products and eggs. A vegan diet can consist of: a variety of fruits and vegetables; carbohydrates such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes; plant based mills and yoghurts such as those made from soya, oat, coconut or almond; beans and pulses. With more and more food companies supporting vegan diets the variety of readymade vegan meals and snacks available is increasing regularly.
Is it safe to be vegan while pregnant?
So while the number of people turning to a vegan lifestyle for health, environmental and social reasons it still remains to be viewed as a controversial and limited diet by some. When it comes to pregnancy you want to make sure that you’re doing the right thing by your body and baby to ensure a healthy pregnancy and well developed baby. There are not a great deal of studies into the impact of a vegan diet during pregnancy, however from those studies that have been carried out, it can be concluded that a vegan diet is safe during pregnancy as long as attention is given to vitamin and nutrient requirements. So in short, yes a vegan diet is safe during pregnancy so long as you are ensuring you get a variety of nutrients which we will explore throughout.
Is it healthy to be vegan while pregnant?
No matter what your diet is before pregnancy, it is important to review your food intake when pregnant or trying to conceive to ensure your body is getting all of the nutrients it will need to grow your baby and keep both of you healthy. As long as you are eating a varied vegan diet and ensuring you are getting the vitamins and nutrients required throughout pregnancy then a vegan diet can be a very healthy diet to follow throughout your pregnancy. A varied and balanced vegan diet will ensure you are getting plenty of fruits and vegetables each day which will be key for providing those essential vitamins and nutrients naturally. Beans, pulses and nuts will all provide healthy sources of protein to support your body through pregnancy. Ensure you’re getting enough calcium through alternative milk and yoghurt products and iron through green leafy vegetables and dried fruit.
What are the benefits of being vegan while pregnant?
- Naturally avoid ‘dangerous’ foods. By following a vegan diet you will automatically eliminate many of the items that are considered high risk such as: soft cheeses, raw meat, raw or partly cooked eggs, fish and shellfish and unpasteurised milk products.
- Less likely to gain excessive weight. Weight gain in pregnancy is natural and healthy, however excessive weight gain can be potentially dangerous for you and baby. A study carried out in 2010 found that following a meat-free diet has been linked with a lower risk of excessive weight gain in pregnancy.
- Reduce risk of gestational diabetes. That same study also found that pregnant women whose diets were high in plant-based foods had lower risks of complications such as gestational diabetes.
- Reduced swelling in pregnancy. Following a vegan diet throughout pregnancy will make a woman less likely to suffer swelling in the later stages. This is because vegan sources of protein reduce the burden on the kidneys which means that swelling and excessive water retention is less likely.
RELATED: Dieting while trying to conceive
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Do vegans find it hard getting pregnant?
There are many factors that impact a person’s fertility- and diet certainly plays its part: vitamin deficiencies and a calorie intake which is too high or too low can cause infertility problems for many couples. When trying to conceive, it is important for both men and women to eat a highly nutritious diet containing protein, complex carbohydrates, omega 3 and 6 fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Eating a vegan diet consisting of all of the above will mean that your body will receive all of the nutrients ideal for boosting fertility whilst avoiding potentially harmful substances found in animal products such as: saturated animal fats, dioxins, mercury and cholesterol.
How do pregnant vegans get their nutrients?
- Calcium Calcium is essential for strong and healthy bones and teeth which is essential throughout pregnancy. Most commonly, we associate dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese being key sources of calcium. However there are many vegan options available to maintain high levels of calcium: fortified and unsweetened alternatives to milk such as soya, rice and oat drinks; tofu; sesame seeds; pulses; bread and dried fruit.
- Vitamin D Vitamin D is needed to regulate the amounts of calcium and phosphate in the body; calcium and vitamin D are both needed to maintain strong and healthy teeth and bones. The best source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. Alternatively vitamin D supplements can be taken as part of a vegan diet during pregnancy.
- Iron Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells; throughout pregnancy your body uses iron to make extra blood for you and baby so it is essential that your diet contains enough iron to avoid a deficiency (known as anemia). Great vegan sources of iron include: pulses; wholemeal bread; green leafy vegetables; nuts and dried fruits.
- Vitamin B12 Vitamin B12 is used by the body to create red blood cell, releasing energy from cells and using folic acid. This vitamin is most commonly found in meat and animal products but vegan sources of vitamin B12 include fortified cereals, fortified unsweetened soya milk and yeast extract such as marmite.
- Protein Perhaps the aspect of diet that concerns people the most when it comes to a vegan pregnancy is ensuring that enough protein is consumed to allow a baby to grow healthily. There are many sources of vegan protein: tofu, lentils, green peas, seitan, chickpeas, beans, quinoa, soy, oats, chia seeds and nuts.
Best vegan foods to eat when pregnant.
Throughout, we have mentioned a variety of vegan foods that will provide the best nutrition for a healthy pregnancy. The main thing is to ensure you are eating a wide variety of plant-based foods, as part of a balanced vegan diet, to ensure your body receives the right amount of protein, calcium, iron and vitamin D to maintain yours and your baby’s health throughout.
An ideal vegan diet may look something like this:
Breakfast- make a delicious smoothie bowl by blending frozen bananas, berries and coconut yoghurt then top it with chia seeds and some granola.
Lunch- try lentil and vegetable soup with wholemeal bread or a superfood salad consisting of all of your favourite vegetables on a bed of mixed green leaves.
Dinner- create a tofu stir fry with extra broccoli and green peas.
Snacks- snack on nuts and dried fruit throughout the day to maintain iron levels.
Recommended vegan supplements while pregnant
Following a varied and balanced vegan diet throughout pregnancy will ensure that you receive enough nutrients to keep yourself healthy and support the growth and development of your baby. During their pregnancy, vegan women must ensure they are getting enough iron and vitamin B12 as these are mainly found in meat and fish. It may be beneficial to take a vitamin B12 supplement or iron tablets to ensure you are receiving enough of these nutrients, this is something you should discuss with your doctor following your blood tests.
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To keep yourself healthy throughout your pregnancy and support the growth and development of baby, it is important that your diet is balanced and contains high levels of vitamins and nutrients. By following a vegan diet throughout your pregnancy you will be eliminating many high risk foods but you must ensure you are eating a variety of foods to maintain high levels of iron, protein, calcium vitamins D and B12.