If you are a vegan mom-to-be, then you might be concerned if abstaining from all animal products and its derivates is such a good idea during pregnancy. Pregnancy is a time when you need to give your body the best care in terms of food. Though you aren’t exactly eating for two, whatever you consume is what your baby gets. So, making sure you and your baby get all the sufficient nutrients and vitamins can be tricky when you are a vegan. And the most important question that pops up in our head is whether going vegan is safe during pregnancy?
Going Vegan During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?
Following a vegan diet has always been controversial when you are pregnant or lactating. However, if you want to go vegan or opt-out during your pregnancy, it is entirely your choice. Vegans can have a perfectly healthy and safe pregnancy if they follow a well-planned diet. Since you won’t be getting all the animal proteins and nutrients through meat and dairy, make sure that you incorporate vegan substitutes in your diet to make up for the lack of it. The key here is to follow a strict vegan diet that meets your energy and nutritional requirements when pregnant. You may also need to take extra supplements and fortified food to get all the necessary nutrients and vitamins (1). So make sure you discuss with your doctor about this at your first prenatal appointment.
Vegan Meal Plan During Pregnancy
Here’s how to follow a vegan meal plan that includes all that you and your baby need during pregnancy.
Your body gets all the essential amino acids it needs from various sources of protein. Soy is a good source of protein for vegans as it contains essentials amino acids. You can also get proteins from other plant sources such as nuts, grains, legumes, and pulses. Here is a list of the different protein sources that you can get for a plant-based diet (2):
- Soy milk
- Hemp seeds
- Beans and pulses
- Nuts and nut butters
It is recommended to increase protein intake by 10% during pregnancy.
Long-chain omega-3 fats such as DHA can be only found in certain fish such as mackerel, trout, and salmon. And since they are important for your baby’s normal development, your doctor may prescribe certain supplements and fortified foods that contain omega-3 DHA. Here are certain plant-based sources that have short-chain omega-3 fats (3):
- Chia seeds and flax seeds
- Walnuts and walnut oil
- Certain vegetable oil such as soyabean oil, flaxseed, and rapeseed
Iron is important as low iron intake can make you feel tired and cause anemia. Consume the following foods to ensure proper iron intake (4):
- Green leafy vegetables
- Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa
- Iron-fortified cereals
- Dried apricots and figs
The recommended calcium intake for a vegan mom-to-be is 1200-1500 mg per day (5). Here is a list of foods which are a good source of calcium:
- Low oxalate foods such as bokchoi and broccoli
- Fortified soymilk
- Sesame seeds, almonds
- Red and white beans
Since there are no reliable sources of vitamin B12 than a few fortified foods and cereals, supplements are required to get an adequate amount in your diet (6). Ceratin fortified cereals, soymilk, tofu, and nutritional yeast contains vitamin B12, but supplements might be necessary.
Vitamin B2 is required for the normal growth and development of your baby. Other than meat, dairy, and egg products, it is found in the following plant sources (7):
- Vitamin B2 fortified cereals
- Fortified varieties of yeast extract
- Almonds and certain nuts and seeds
Selenium helps in the functioning of the immune system as well as protecting the baby’s cells. Selenium is found in the following sources (8):
- Brazil nuts
- Cashew nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheatgerm bread
- Cornflakes and puffed wheat cereal
Iodine is important for the normal development of the baby’s brain. And for expectant vegan moms, the best way to meet your iodine requirement is through iodized salt (9).
Vegan moms should include more zinc in their diet by adopting certain food preparation methods such as germination, fermentation, and soaking. Eating zinc-rich foods along with fruits and veggies containing organic acids will help in better absorption of zinc by the body. Food containing zinc include (10):
- Nuts, seeds, grains
Follow a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and starchy carbohydrates. Make sure you incorporate all the above nutrients in your diet every day. And don’t forget to take your prenatal vitamins along with other supplements that your doctor has prescribed. If you have any concerns about your diet and health, always discuss it with your doctor first before making any changes.