The varying types of plant based diets

Many people believe that a plant based lifestyle is a recent ‘fad’ but the truth is that people have been practising plant based eating for thousands of years. There are various different types of vegetarian diets and so the dietary requirements and factors that need consideration in meal planning varies and is dependant on the foods that are omitted from your diet.

There are two types of vegetarian diet, both exclude meat, poultry, game, fish and shellfish and by products such as animal fats, lard and suet as well as gelatin. Lacto-ovo vegetarians will tend to eat dairy products and eggs in their diet while lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products and exclude eggs. Vegetarians can obtain sufficient protein from plant foods such as cereals, nuts, and pulses and also from the milk and eggs that they eat. Iron supply can sometimes be a problem as the body not as easily absorb plant sources of iron but we’ll get to that bit a little later.

A vegan diet excludes all animal products from their diet including milk, dairy, eggs, animal fats and gelatins. Vegans may find it more difficult to to get an adequate supply of iron and calcium and its crucial during pregnancy that a diet is carefully planned to avoid any nutritional deficiencies. For instance Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products and therefore a supplement must be taken to avoid deficiency or the risk of pernicious anaemia.

Demi vegetarians or “flexitarian” include little or no meat but tend to include fish and it should be relatively easy to achieve a balanced diet with little risk to nutritional deficiencies. pescatarian diets exclude all meat products but will include fish in their diet.

It’s a personal and individual choice for everyone.

A few years back Veganuary began and many people were opting to exclude meat and dairy from their diets for the first month of the year.

Since the cause started back in 2014 the number of people following a vegan lifestyle in January has more than doubled. We have become more aware of the impact of agricultural farming as well as the damage and harm that eating certain meats and dairy products can have on our body.

It goes without saying that vegans avoid all animal and animal bi-products and whilst many will adhere to avoiding everything that has any form of animal product in it, some are not as strict or some may not be aware that some products that you would expect to be vegan aren’t. For instance did you know that shellac nail varnish is actually made from the secretion of the Lac insect found in India and Thailand.

During Pregnancy

It’s essential to ensure we’re getting the right amount of the following vitamins and minerals as without proper planning – these can be lacking in a vegan or vegetarian diet.

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Despite the health benefits of eating a vegan diet

Sometimes its not automatically healthy.  There are multiple benefits to cutting meat and dairy out of the diet and too many benefits to even mention when including healthier plant-based foods into the equation.  However, it’s not just about cutting out the meat products but ensuring we include a wide range of healthy foods too. 

Some people may be vegan but their diet may well consist of a high level of junk and processed foods such as vegan options of cookies and biscuits, cakes, ice cream, sweets and crisps and whilst many may think that choosing the vegan version of these foods is the healthier option they’re still massively lacking in minerals and vitamins.

The crucial points to consider for a plant based pregnancy

Foods rich in protein

Which, for many non-vegetarians will often assume can only come from meat and dairy sources – however, foods such as tofu, beans, lentils, pulses, nuts and eggs all include adequate amounts of protein in the right quantity.  

Milk and dairy

Such as milk, cheese and yogurt, or for a vegan diet non-dairy alternative which are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Meat, fish and dairy are good sources of a number of essential nutrients, but most of these nutrients can be found in foods that are suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

Vegan Cheese and Meat

Whilst its possible to get vegan versions of cheese and meat, they are not nutritionally beneficial in any way.  To enhance their taste and make them feel like the real thing they’re loaded with additives, salts and flavourings. The healthier choice would be to source protein rich plant-based foods. Dairy free milks, whilst these are beneficial and contain numerous vitamins and minerals, they often contain high levels of sugars so try to opt for the unsweetened versions. Vegan Sweeteners – maple syrup, molasses, date syrup and agave syrup – all are vegan but still need to be consumed in moderation as they’re still likely to increase the risk of obesity heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Common mistakes often made by those new to a plant based lifestyle

Vegan protein bars – one of the biggest concerns for vegans is not getting enough proteins, many vegan protein bars are loaded with refined sugars and corn syrup.  The protein used is often ‘isolated’ which means that it has been extracted from plant and this extraction process can strip the protein of the nutrients that were present in the place meaning there’s really not much benefit to it in terms of the nutrients that it offers.

Another problem with a vegan diet is that when people decide to switch to vegan they just transfer their existing habits into vegan form, so eating a meal of sausages mash and peas they’ll switch this to vegan sausages, real meat sausages contain iron and protein and the vegan version is likely to be lacking in the same nutritional profile so instead of sourcing vegan sausages, try to make healthier choices by looking for a plant based option of a high protein meat substitute such as Seitan.

Some groups of people need to consume more protein, older adults, athletes’ bodybuilders and those recovering from injury and those that are physically active.  Many western diets tend to get their protein from meat and the general thought is that people seem to equate protein with meat without considering the protein value of other foods.

Women have different calorie needs during pregnancy

Whilst they do not need to eat for two which is a pregnancy myth, they do need to increase their calorie intake as the pregnancy progresses.  This is because they need to provide nutrition to both themselves and for their growing baby.

Pregnant Women need to consume the following additional calories throughout their pregnancy, depending on their lifestyle and BMI at the start of the pregnancy – every pregnancy is different, so just remember what may be normal for your friend, may not be suitable for you.

2000 calories each day during the first trimester (or the same as normal, depending on their lifestyle)

2200 calories a day during the second trimester (200 extra a day)

2400 during their third trimester (400 additional calories per day over their normal level)

To illustrate how easy, it is to achieve the additional calories with vegan food here is a list of vegan snacks that contain 200 calories

  • Cashew Nuts 36g
  • Walnuts 15 halves
  • Brazil nuts 6 whole nuts
  • Dark Chocolate 3 squares
  • Coconut Milk 35ml
  • Avocado half a large one
  • Black beans 60g
  • Baked Beans 130g
  • Whole-wheat Bread 3 slices

As you can see its easy for vegans to meet their additional calorie needs through standard vegan food and there are plenty of vegan foods that are calorie dense enough for 200 -400 additional calories per day to be easily achieved.

Although it is possible for women to safely follow a vegan diet during pregnancy and or lactating, it is of the utmost importance that a qualified doctor is consulted to implement it safely. Some countries have banned babies and toddlers from following a vegan diet due to the extreme risk it poses when taken lightly and when adequate medical instruction is not followed.

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In the year 2017

The Belgium courts sentenced a couple to serve time in jail following the death of their baby whose organs had decreased to half their original size.  It turned out that the couple ran a health food store and used to feed the baby milk alternatives which caused the baby to develop severe mineral deficiencies.   

In another case a baby was taken away from an Italian couple following his hospitalisation due to malnutrition.  Another pair from New Zealand were sentenced following the death of their baby due to hypocobalaminemia a type of b12 deficiency proven to be caused by a vegan diet. According to some experts young children can follow a vegan diet, however in such circumstances it is important for the parents of such children to be well aware of the deficiencies this diet can be induce in children ad know the different ways to make compensations. 

Dietician’s argue that nutritional needs can be met through the inclusion of the right foods in the diet. When well planned, vegan diets can be nutritionally complete offering health benefits.  Vegan diets also present one opportunity for families to teach children about nutrition and healthy eating principles from an early age. 

Because adequate nutrition during pregnancy is the most crucial factor for development, the effects of a vegan diet on babies during pregnancy are more serious.  Therefore, in such circumstances, it is advised to plan properly and get medical advice to lessen these health risks.

The crucial points to consider for a plant based pregnancy

Make sure you get plenty of fresh fruits, frozen fruits and vegetables in your diet.

There’s a reason we say eat the rainbow. More often than not we end up eating the same fruit and veg over and over meaning we don’t get a full range of colours.

Phytonutrients are the chemical compounds produced by plants and vegetables that give them their rich colour and they do this to protect themselves and ward off predators Phytonutrients are packed full of powerful antioxidants and the aim is to get a broad range across the colour spectrum. Eating them raw when it’s safe to do so, not over cooking and eating the skin and outside (again where it’s possible and safe to do so ) is the BEST way to ensure we are getting those crucial phytonutrients.


As well as the upside of getting our daily dose of vitamins and minerals by eating a wide range of fruit and veg, we also get the added benefits of phytonutrients with their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They may also enhance our immunity levels whilst also repairing damage to our bodies from exposure to toxins. Beetroot is a great example of this: as they detox the liver and when our liver is functioning well our body is better equipped to balance our hormones, cholesterol and energy levels. Phytonutrient rich foods Across the colour spectrum of red, orange & yellow includes tomatoes , carrots , peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, peaches, mangos, melons, citrus fruits, and berries) Dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale, bok choy, broccoli, Swiss chard, and romaine lettuce) Garlic, onions, chives and leeks.

Enjoy as many gorgeous delicious colours that you can.