A vegan diet is proven to offer a good number of health benefits. Since it is a plant-based diet, it is linked to show a decreased risk of heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. Those transitioning into a vegan diet no longer have the apprehension that they might be missing in life for not being able to eat what most people do for there is a rise in plant alternatives for fast and junk food, meat, and dairy. But what about vegan pregnancy?
Being pregnant means that there is life inside you that is heavily dependent on what you eat and drink to survive. And traditionally, strict vegan diets are criticized for lacking nutrients that a pregnant woman needs. However, a carefully and well-planned vegan diet can provide everything a pregnant individual needs.
Pregnancy requires a woman to eat lots of fruits and vegetables that’ll help prevent pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, as as well reduce childhood diseases like asthma, eczema, and diabetes.
Is vegan pregnancy safe?
Yes, a vegan pregnancy is safe and doable. But the common question lies in what are its benefits? Are there any complications and concerns that a pregnant woman with a vegan diet should know? And how do you get the essential nutrients with vegetables and fruits alone?
Read on to find out more about vegan pregnancy.
Benefits of Vegan Diet in Pregnant Women
As long as it is properly and carefully planned, a vegan diet will offer substantial health benefits for both the mother and the baby. Since it is a diet that is rich in fiber and low in sugar and fat, it is a safe defense against numerous health issues such as gestational diabetes as well as excess weight gain.
Reduced risk of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy complication linked with high blood pressure and organ damage. It is also associated with rapid weight gain, as well as eating food high in saturated fat. In medical records of 775 vegan mothers, it revealed that only one developed preeclampsia. With the food required to eat in a vegan diet, it is solid protection against developing the said complication.
Reduced risk of gestational diabetes. Generally, vegan diets are composed of food rich in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and void of food high in saturated fat. This will help reduce excessive weight gain and cut down the risk of gestational diabetes. It’ll also decrease the chances of C-section as well as the need for insulin.
Reduced risk of some neural tube defects and brain tumors. Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. These defects are linked to high nitrate intake which is commonly found in cured meat and smoked fish. Vegan diets which block the intake of this kind of food reduce this risk.
Common concerns of vegan pregnancy
A vegan pregnancy needs to be appropriately planned and must include healthy and diverse ingredients and meals. If not, it will lack the necessary ingredients that the body needs. This is particularly important during vegan pregnancy because if the mother lack nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12 and D, calcium, DHA, and iron, this is will increase the risk of low birth weight or birth defects.
Since the vegan diet eliminates all animal products, it is a diet that is low in certain nutrients. If you are not able to compensate for the lacking essentials, you are putting harm to you and your baby’s health.
Here are noteworthy nutrients that you must look after if you are on vegan pregnancy.
Vitamin B12. Vegan diets naturally lack vitamin B12 and a deficiency in this increases risks of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preterm birth, and malformations. This is why pregnant women need to compensate for the lack of this by taking prenatal supplements or taking food fortified in vitamin B12, like plant-based meats and fortified cereals.
Vitamin D. Vitamin B has a vital role in protecting our health and is one of the crucial factors that help our body absorb calcium. Regardless of diet, vitamin D levels are typically low during pregnancy, more so if you are on a vegan diet where the food you eat might lack in the mentioned vitamin. Insufficient levels increase the risk of preeclampsia, low birth weight, and miscarriage.
Iron. Compared to the body’s reaction to iron in animal products, it doesn’t absorb non-heme iron from plant food well. With a vegan diet, you are at risk of iron deficiency which is also related to preterm birth and low birth weight. To compensate for this, always include plant-based food rich in iron in your meals, such as beans, dark green vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds, as well as prenatal supplements.
Iodine. Insufficient intake of iodine during pregnancy increases the risk for developmental delays in infants and vegan diets usually don’t have food that is high in iodine, like iodized salt or seaweed. Some iodine supplements also contain too little of this vital nutrient. The best way to get sufficient iodine during pregnancy is to take prenatal vitamins, specifically including 150 mcg of iodine. If it doesn’t contain such, take it separately and upon the advice of your doctor.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Those on vegan diets have low blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) since these are usually found in fish and other seafood, ingredients that are barred in a vegan diet. But these two omega-3s are vital for the baby’s eyes, brain, and nervous system. To get enough fatty acids while on a vegan pregnancy, it is recommended to include food like ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and chia seeds in your meals.
What to eat while on a vegan pregnancy
A well-planned vegan diet is a combination of fortified food rich in nutrients and supplements. Since the pregnancy period is a critical life stage, it is best to always eat a sufficient amount of food that contains the essential vitamins and nutrients that the body needs.
Tofu, seitan, and tempeh. Soy products are protein-rich food and are meat-alternative for many recipes. If soy products are not available, mock meats are another options however intake of these should be limited since they tend to be rich in fat and salt.
Legumes. Legumes like beans, peas, and lentils are excellent sources of fiber and plant-based protein. Sprouting, fermenting, and thorough cooking is recommended to make it easier for the body to absorb.
Nuts and seeds. Most nuts and seeds are sources of iron and zinc. A Brazil nut or two a day is enough to meet the selenium requirement, which protects our body from damage caused by oxidative stress. Walnuts, hemp, chia, or flax seeds are food to get omega-3.
Calcium-fortified yogurts and plant milk. These food are rich in calcium. It is best to choose unsweetened versions if possible.
Whole grains, cereals, and pseudocereals. These food are rich in fiber, vitamin B, iron, and zinc. There are certain grains that are sources for proteins, including teff, amaranth, spelt, and quinoa.
Fruits and vegetables. The key to the perfect vegan diet is to eat fruits and vegetables that make up the colors of the rainbow. Purple, red, and orange-colored fruits and vegetables, as well as leafy greens, are the richest in nutrients.