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Vegan and Vegetarian Pregnancy

VEGETARIAN FOOD

The likelihood is

That as you’re pregnant you’re hopefully already eating a healthy range of fruits and vegetables, and following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle when pregnant won’t pose too much of a challenge. By selecting a varied amount of fruits, vegetables, grains and wholemeal foods you can get all the nutrients that both you and your baby need.

Many people think –

That veganism is a recent ‘fad’ but the truth is that people have been practising veganism for thousands of years. There are varying levels of vegetarians and vegans pescatarian, which are those that eat seafood, flexitarians, those that may opt to live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle Monday to Friday with the occasional meat at the weekend.

Its 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……… WOW!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Meeting protein requirements on a vegan diet

FoodServing sizeAmount of Protein
Seitan100g25g
Soybeans product tofu tempeh soybeans100g10-19g
Lentils1 cup cooked18g
Baked beans1 cup cooked14g
Black beans1 cup cooked15g
Chickpeas1 cup cooked15g
Kidney beans1 cup cooke4.d15g
Quinoa1 cup cooked8g
Soy Milk1 cup7g
Oats1 cup12g
Peanut Butter2tbs8g
Wholemeal Bread1 slice4g
Wild Rice1 cup cooked7g
Spelt or Teff Flour1 cup cooked10g
Spinach100g3g
Potato2 medium potatoes8.5g
Sweet potato1 cup2.1g
Asparagus1 cup3g
Artichoke14.2g
Pistachios1 cup25g
Broccoli150g4.5g

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.

  • IRON
  • PROTEIN
  • OMEGA 3
  • CALCIUM
  • VITAMIN B12
  • VITAMIN B2
  • SELENIUM
  • IODINE

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

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
  • Wholewheat Bread 3 slices

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

Folic Acid

Folic Acid also known as folate or vitamin B9 is a B group vitamin that is particularly important during pregnancy.

It helps to prevent neural tube defects in the baby

It prevents serious brain abnormalities in the baby

It prevents spinal cord problems

It decreases the risk of premature birth.

During pregnancy it is recommended a woman consume between 400 -800mcg of folate or folic acid a day.  This can be done with diet, supplementation and a mixture of both.  I would always recommend taking a folic acid supplement from the minute you decide to conceive and focusing on folate rich foods during pregnancy to improve your chances of a healthy baby and pregnancy. 

Dietary sources of folate are as follows

Spinach 1 cup 260mg

Fortified Cereal ¾ cup 100-700mcg

Kidney Beans 1 cup 130mcg

Lentils 1 cup 360mcg

Beetroot 1 cup 148mcg

Orange 55mcg

Wheatgerm 28g – 78mcg

beetroot asparagus tomatoes avocado grapefruit lentils and beans

Risks during Pregnancy and for young Children

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.

P

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. 

Many experts believe that adults who follow a vegan diet usual 

Sweet Potato with Chilli Filling

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.

So, lets discuss why DHA is so important.  It is important because it takes part in a lot of activities. 

  1. DHA is crucial for the proper development of the human cortex, which is the part of the brain that aids in thinking.  This fatty acid also regulates the neural circuity, which in turn helps in various activities such as attention, problem solving, abstract thinking and decision making. 
  2. DHA plays a crucial role in the synthesis of myelin, a substance responsible for insulation of the brain circuitry. The blood / brain barrier which is the natural protection in the body that keeps the nervous system safe from pathogens, infections and other harmful substances, all of which need DHA to function properly.
  3. DHA is an essential compound for the brain development occurring in the nervous system of the child during the first two years of life.  In its absence, irreversible brain damage can or may occur.
  4. Inside the human body, DHA converts into alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega 3 acid which is crucial for several activities in the body.

The body is unable to produce DHA on its own and therefore it must be taken from external sources such as fish and fish oils.  Microalgae is the only plant-based substance that naturally contains DHA and is present in the market in the form of supplements. Considering the points above, you may conclude that a vegan diet might not be the best option for the health of babies and children.  In cases where they absolutely need to follow it, it must be ensured that they get adequate compensation for it, under close medical supervision. In case of following an alternative or using a supplement, please always seek medical advice to prevent any serious damage that is impossible or difficult to reverse

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During pregnancy the body needs a great deal of additional iron with 27mg a day recommended for pregnant women.  The body needs additional iron as it is used to create extra haemoglobin.  This helps move the oxygen from the mother’s lungs both through the body of the mother and the body of the baby.  Just as with non-pregnant people, it too little iron is consumed, iron deficiency anaemia can occur. 

This can cause the baby to grow at a slower rate than normal causing them to be too small and it can lead to premature birth.

Some women choose to take iron supplements throughout pregnancy which is typically dosed at 30mg to cover the iron needs daily.

However, some pregnancy women choose to meet their iron needs through diet.  High iron foods should be consumed each day and women should be careful to calculate their iron intake every day to ensure they are getting enough.  Alternatively, a high iron meal plan be created to ensure high iron intake throughout pregnancy.  It is possible to meet iron needs through the diet if the diet is organised around high iron foods.

Iron

Iron is a fundamental mineral needed for the normal growth and development of your baby and women can often suffer from iron deficiency during pregnancy. 

If you are concerned about your Iron levels during pregnancy, please consult your doctor or midwife who will be able to carry a blood test to determine if you’re deficient.  Because iron found in plant based foods isn’t absorbed as easily as that found in animal products, women who do not include meat in their diet need to make sure they include a full range of green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, seeds and iron rich fortified cereals.  Dried apricots are also a good source of iron

Vitamin C can also enhance the absorption of iron from plant-based sources. Vitamin C is a fat-soluble vitamin and is not stored naturally in the body so regular consumption of vitamin C rich foods throughout the day will aid in your body’s ability to absorb iron.

The difference between iron absorbed through meat products and plant products is that the iron isn’t absorbed as well, you can try combining Vitamin C with your plant based iron sources which can help your body to absorb it slightly better.

Excellent examples of plant based iron includes pulses, beans, peas and lentils, plenty of green leafy vegetables, dried apricots and figs and wholemeal seeded breads. You’ll also find many breakfast cereals fortified with iron.

Protein

Dairy Free Recipes

Proteins are the building blocks for your body’s cells and that of your baby. Many vegans and vegetarians already get plenty of protein from their diet but the key is to get a varied amount and a good range of the essential amino acids and soya is one product that contains a selection of these amino acids. Other excellent non meat protein sources include:

  • Eggs
  • Dairy products (such as milk, yogurt and cheese)
  • Some dairy-free alternatives (such as soy dairy-free alternative drinks and yogurts)
  • Beans and pulses, chickpeas, kidney beans, soy beans and lentils
  • Nuts and nut butters, peanut butter, almond butter and cashew, look for the ones that contain no palm oil and sugars
  • Tofu

Omega 3

Omega 3 We tend to get plenty of Omega 6 in our diets but sadly often fall short in getting sufficient levels of omega 3. Both are crucial and play an essential role but the ratio shows a huge proportion of our essential fatty acids come from Omega-6.

As our bodies don’t produce these naturally, so we need to get them from our diet or by supplements. ⠀⠀


There are three types of Omega 3 fatty acids – ALA, EPA and DHA
⠀⠀
ALA found in plant foods and DHA & EPA both found in oily fish. ⠀⠀
Omega-3 fats are needed for normal development of your baby’s brain and eyes, with oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and tuna all fantastically rich sources of long-chain omega-3 Fats ( DHA and EPA)
⠀⠀
As a vegetarian I don’t eat fish but that doesn’t mean I can’t source my Omega 3 elsewhere.
⠀⠀
For those of you that don’t or won’t eat fish, you can find short chain omega 3 fats in seeds such as flax and chia, walnuts and walnut oil, good quality vegetable oils such as rapeseed and flax as soybeans.

Although the above are not the long-chain versions like DHA that you find in oily fish but fear not, thankfully you can get your hands on Algae-based omega-3 DHA supplements which are suitable for vegetarians although during pregnancy it’s absolutely crucial to look for a supplement aimed at pregnancy or make sure you check that any supplements you are taking do not contain vitamin A and are suitable for pregnancy.

Choose one that provides a minimum of 300 mg of DHA and make sure it’s Omega 3 fish oil and NOT cod liver oil.

Calcium

granola with a glass of milk

Calcium is crucial in the development and growth of your baby’s bones and to help maintain the health of yours throughout pregnancy. Various dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt are all good examples of calcium rich food sources.

If you’re following a vegan lifestyle you can still find plenty of calcium fortified foods out there such as breakfast cereals and breads. Green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach and dairy alternatives that are fortified with calcium such as yogurts, rice and oat milk.

B Vitamins

Vitamin B12 is important for the normal growth and development of your baby and helps the body to release the energy from the food you eat. Its vital for the metabolism and the formation of red blood cells and the central nervous system -typically the brain and spinal cord.

Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in foods from animal products, so meats, eggs and dairy. If you’re vegetarian its likely you’re already getting enough B12 in your diet, however if you’re a vegan you may not get sufficient amounts. You can source fortified options such as B12 fortified dairy products such as soya and dairy free spreads as well as B12 fortified cereals.

Vitamin B2 (also known as riboflavin) works with other B vitamins to promote healthy growth and tissue repair and helps release energy from carbohydrates and is crucial for the development of your baby. Vitamin B2 is found in animal products but can also be found in some plant based foods such as mushrooms, almonds, fortified cereals and dairy free products such as soya and oat milks.

Selenium

Selenium is needed for the normal function of the immune system and to help protect your body’s cells.  Meat and fish are good sources of selenium, as well as eggs, some nuts and seeds, breakfast cereals and wheatgerm and seeded breads.

Iodine

Iodine is important for your baby’s brain development and foods rich in iodine include fish, eggs, milk and milk products such as yogurts and cheeses and vegetarians and vegans are at risk of iodine deficiency as they do not eat rich iodine sources (fish and/or dairy products). We need Iodine for our body to make the essential hormones for our metabolism and an adequate amount is crucial during pregnancy.

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

Eat the rainbow

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.

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