Are you pregnant or currently trying to get pregnant? Are you a vegan or following a plant-based diet? You might be asking yourself if it’s safe to keep up with your diet while being pregnant. Is a vegan diet the proper diet for you during pregnancy? Will a vegan diet have any impact on your baby? So, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, how do you ensure that you’re getting the proper nutrients for your baby?
First Off, What Is A Vegan Diet?
Vegans do not consume any kind of foods derived from animals, including eggs and dairy products. A vegan diet is plant-based and only consumes plant products such as vegetable, nuts, fruits and grains or foods made entirely of plants. Veganism is becoming more popular and there are an estimated 600,000 people who are vegans and this comprises 1.16% of the population.
Is Veganism Safe During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy, it is essential to have a balanced and varied diet if you follow a vegan diet or not. A balanced diet will not only improve your health but it will also have a positive impact on your developing baby.
Consuming a vegan diet during pregnancy is safe; however, you have to eat a balanced and very diet which includes all the essential building blocks like protein carbohydrates and healthy fats from plant-based sources. Vegans and vegetarians have to keep in mind that some nutrients are only available in limited non-plant-based sources, so they have to make sure that their nutritional intake provides all the necessary nutrients that the body needs during pregnancy.
The Impact Of Folic Acid During Pregnancy
When trying to get pregnant or during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy minimally, the suggested daily intake of folic acid for women is 400μg. This suggestion comes from the UK Department of Health. Folic acid minimises Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) risk in babies like Spina Bifida.
The maternal folic status improves when the pregnant woman takes folic acid. Women with low maternal folate status during pregnancy are at risk of having their fetus develop neural tube defects. The advantages of folic acid extend beyond 12 weeks and have a positive impact on maternal tissue growth throughout pregnancy.
Research shows that the EU RDA for vitamin B12 of 2.5 MCG along with the 400μg of folic acid further minimises the risk of NTB. It should be noted that vitamin B12 is mainly derived from dairy and animal products, but it is vital for women who are on a vegetarian or vegan diet during pregnancy.
Essential Vitamins For Vegan And Vegetarian Women During Pregnancy
It is essential to consume a varied healthy and balanced diet during pregnancy for vegan and vegetarian mothers, getting enough vitamin B12 and iron is also essential. Iron and B12 are mostly found in meat and fish. Other important nutrients include calcium and vitamin D. A home test kit for anaemia can quickly determine if you are low in iron.
How To Get The Proper Amount Of Iron In A Vegan Pregnancy
As per a 2019 Health of the Nation Survey by the HFMA, nearly half (49%) are unaware that insufficient iron could result in anemia. Having the proper levels of iron during a vegan pregnancy is essential and the following foods are a great source of iron for pregnant vegans:
- Dark green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli
- Dried fruit, like apricots.
- Fortified breakfast cereals that have added iron
- Pulses and legumes
- Wholemeal bread
The Importance of Vitamin B12 For Pregnant Vegans
There are only a few natural sources of vitamin B12 and this is why a B12 supplement is important. Vitamin B12 is found naturally in the following foods:
- Fortified low sugar breakfast cereals
- Fortified unsweetened soya drinks
- Yeast extract products like Marmite
The Importance of Vitamin D For Pregnant Vegans
Vitamin D is important if you are pregnant. Public Health England suggests that all adults should intake 10 micrograms of vitamin D year-round, including women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, but you can also get it from food such as fat spreads and cereals. Vitamin D is only found in a small selection of foods, which is why taking a supplement for pregnant vegans is vital. A vitamin d deficiency test kit can very quickly determine if you need to top up on this vitamin.
How Pregnant Vegans Can Get Enough Calcium
Getting enough calcium for pregnant vegans is very important. Non-vegans can easily get their calcium from dairy products such as butter, milk and cheese.
Foods that contain vegan calcium include:
- Brown and white bread
- Calcium-set tofu
- Dark green leafy vegetables including spinach and kale
- Dried fruit
- Fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks
- Sesame seeds and tahini
Should I Notify My Doctor Or Midwife of My Vegan Diet?
Your diet should be brought up in your first meeting with your doctor or midwife. If it’s not mentioned in the first meeting, you should bring it up so that they can work out a plan to fit the dietary requirements that will be beneficial to you and your baby throughout your pregnancy.