A common concern for vegans during pregnancy is wondering if they are getting the right nutrients. Your pregnancy need not get complicated just because you decided to go meatless and dairy-free. When we asked our nutritionist if it’s possible for pregnant vegans to get all their vitamins and minerals, it was a resounding yes!
Even the most committed and well-informed vegans could be crippled by doubt during pregnancy. After all, you are eating for two. We shall guide you on how to make sure you are providing the nutrition for two lives.
Benefits Of Vegan Diet During Pregnancy
Plants taking the centre stage, a vegan diet can be associated with a range of health benefits. The vegan approach includes pulses, grains, dals, seeds and a tonne of vegetables and fruits. The diversity of food groups gives room for the inclusion of antioxidants, micronutrients and even healthy gut healing microbes. Studies have also shown that a vegan diet results in low LDL cholesterol, improved blood glucose level, and maintained blood pressure (1,2,3). Some studies have even shown that vegan mothers have a lesser risk of c- section delivery (4). A high fibre diet becomes important during pregnancy. Vegan diets filled with leafy greens and vegetables offer fibre in abundance. Appropriately planned vegan diets are supported by many nutritionists as long as the shortcomings are met with supplements and fortified foods. Now let’s look at some nutrients that need a little more attention during pregnancy.
Nutrients In Focus
Vitamin B 12
Vitamin B12 is responsible for creating DNA, keeping our nerves and blood cells healthy. It also helps in preventing megaloblastic anaemia. Vitamin B 12 is most commonly found in meat, hence the occurrence of deficiency in vegans. You can consult with your physician to understand what is the best method to supplement it (usually injections or capsule form).
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The baby’s brain needs EPA and DHA for optimal growth and development. It is also an essential nutrient for the efficient development of the baby’s eyes and nervous system. It is, however, possible to gain Omega 3 from a vegan diet, but they lack EPA and DHA, which are mainly found in marine fishes like salmon, herrings, sardines. Vegan Omega 3 supplements are usually extracted from cold-water algae and seawater plants.
Iron aids in carrying oxygen from the lungs to the tissues while also being responsible for neurological development, cellular function, physical growth and hormone synthesis. Our bodies do not absorb iron from plant sources as well as they absorb it from animal sources. Body’s iron needs during pregnancy rise to a significantly higher amount, so vegan or not all pregnant women are at risk of iron deficiency.
Early development of the skeletal system and nervous system is enabled by iodine. Seaweed is the best source of vegan iodine, but how many of us really have access to seaweed on a daily basis. Salt is also a significant source of iodine too. 1/4th tsp of salt contains 71mcg of iodine, so you will have to eat 10g a day to meet the daily requirement.
Calcium is very important for bone health, cardiovascular, muscle and nervous system signalling. Leafy greens, kale, spinach, soybeans, soy products, almonds, sesame seeds, fortified goods (meat and dairy) are rich sources of calcium. Find out more about vegan calcium sources here. The demand for additional calcium during pregnancy can be met with supplementation and fortified foods.
DNA, protein synthesis and several activities inside the cell depend on zinc for optimal functioning. It is also responsible for wound healing and improved immunity. The culprit behind low zinc in vegans is an element called phytic acid that is abundantly found in plant sources. It obstructs the optimal absorption of zinc in the body.
7. Vitamin D
Calcium absorption is increased when it is supplemented along with vitamin -D. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked with autoimmune disorders and lower neuropsychological development (5). Vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized epidemic in Indian pregnant women and even more so in vegan and vegetarian pregnant women.
Healthy preganacy is completely achievable with a well planned vegan diet that contains all the major food groups like whole grains, pulses, cereals, legumes, beans, rice, dal, green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts and a little help from supplements.