Plant based diets are a growing trend, particularly in January when Veganuary, the annual month of being vegan, kicks. Not only do many people (including celebrities) believe that it is a healthier way to live but also better for the environment. But what do you need to know if you are pregnant and plant based? This might be a very challenging time for vegans but there are a few things you need to know
- Weight gain – the amount of weight gain of the mother during pregnancy will impact the health and size of the baby at birth. If your energy intake is too low, you will put on weight too slowly and this affects the baby’s health. Some vegan diets are low in calories so add in nutrient dense foods such as nuts, nut butters, dried fruit and beans and grains.
- Protein – pregnancy requires more protein in the second and third trimesters with a recommended minimum of 70g of protein a day. The average vegan woman has an average intake of 65g a day so this would need to be increased, normally by just eating larger portions of protein dense foods such as tofu, beans, grains and lentils.
- Calcium – calcium is required for the baby’s bone and teeth development during pregnancy. Pregnant women often adapt to absorb more calcium and reducing calcium losses. However, it is recommended that pregnant women have an intake of at least 1000mg of calcium a day. Calcium rich foods include sesame seeds, fortified plant drinks and bread, green leafy vegetables, and pulses.
- Vitamin D – between October and March, the angle of the sun doesn’t initiate the chemical process in the skin to make vitamin D. This does mean that it is recommended that all vegans take a dietary supplement of vitamin D of 15 micrograms during this time. Pregancy requires more vitamin D for the babies brain, bone and teeth development.
- Iron – iron deficiency is common in pregnancy whatever the diet eaten by the mother, as the mother requires more blood for herself and the baby to grow. Iron supplements and iron rich foods are recommended for all pregnant vegans but care should be taken not to take these at the same time as the calcium supplements.
- Vitamin B12 – the baby’s development requires vitamin b12, which is often deficient in the vegan diet. There are no vegan foods naturally high in vitamin B12 so either a vitamin B complex supplement or fortified foods should be eaten.
- Folate – folate is required for neural tube development early in pregnancy so if you are planning to get pregnant,
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) - DHA is important for the development of the brain and the retina but as this is usually only found in oily fish, it is important to supplement when pregnant and eating a vegan diet. Small amounts of DHA can be made from linolenic acid which is found in walnuts, soybeans, flaxseed, soybeans but it doesn’t fully replace DHA. Some pregnant vegans may want to supplement with a DHA formula made from microalgae.
- Iodine – Pregnant women should supplement with an 150mg of iodine daily. In the UK, we don’t add iodine to our salt so vegans do need to ensure that they are getting adequate amounts.
- Zinc – Zinc is important in pregnancy where there is rapid cell growth and it helps support your immune system, which is especially important as your immune system is suppressed when pregnant. Diets high in cereals and grains are often high in phytic acid which can inhibit the absorption of zinc. Many sources of zinc are animal based so supplementation is often suggested.
Toral Shah is a nutritional Scientist and chef- find her at www.theurbankitchen.co.uk