5 Critical Tips For a Healthy Vegan Pregnancy

01/24/2012

Vegan pregnancy photoI read last week that singer and songwriter Beyonce was maintaining a “mostly vegan” diet during pregnancy so she could keep her killer figure in check. Her husband, Jay Z is reportedly following the diet as well to help out his pregnant wife. While I’m not sure what “mostly vegan” means for Beyonce, I would speculate that she’s referring to giving up most meat and dairy products for the length of her pregnancy. 

A vegan diet is certainly catching on with celebrities trying to maintain a healthy figure even without all the good karma that results from leaving all that animal cruelty behind. But for pregnant women, is a vegan pregnancy safe? 

Alicia Silverstone, Christina Pirello, MFN, CCN, and Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. have said that vegan pregnancies are often more comfortable and result in more natural pregnancies and less cesarian sections. 

“Experts like Dr. Neal Barnard will take it a step further and tell you that a properly nourished vegan woman will be healthier during pregnancy and not struggle as much with digestive issues, bloating, swelling of the feet, insomnia and all the other things that plague women during this special time,” says Pirello on TheKindLife.

Healthy vegans get more than enough nutrients from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, but there are some steps that they need to take to ensure that you’re not cutting any health corners. 

1. B12 Supplementation 

According to Vegetarian Savvy, besides animal products , many fortified vegan foods and supplements contain this crucial vitamin. It's very important for vegan mothers to make sure that their B12 intake is adequate during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The recommended daily allowance for pregnant women is 2.4 mcg. A deficiency in B12 can also cause depression, mood issues, vision problems, low blood pressure, and dementia amongst a host of other issues. Many vegans get B12 from reabsorption. In truth, there is no whole food source of B12 for vegans, so they must take a supplement in order to avoid a deficiency.

2. Iron 

There are two forms of iron: heme and nonheme. Heme sources are more easily absorbed into the body and they are present in animal sources like meat, poultry, and fish, or more accurately, about half the iron is heme iron and the rest is nonheme. Nonheme sources of iron also come from dairy foods, eggs, and plant-based foods. According to Eating Well, iron intake requirements are 1.8 times higher for vegetarians because nonheme iron is not absorbed as well as heme iron.

The daily recommendation is 18 mg of iron a day but you may be surprised to learn that you can get 14 mg from ½ cup of pumpkin seeds, 6.2 mg from ½ cup tofu, and 7.4 mg from 3 oz of steamed oysters. Other good sources of iron include sun dried tomatoes at 9 mg per ½ cup, Jerusalem artichokes at 5.4 mg per cup, pine nuts at 9 mg per ½ cup, and sunflower seeds at 6.7 mg per 1/2 cup. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron into the body.

Vegan pregnancy inline photo

Photo: Thinkstock

3. Iodine

Iodine is necessary for the production of a thyroid hormone. A deficiency in iodine can lead to the enlargement of the thyroid gland as well as mental retardation in unborn babies. Iodine can be found in a number of foods including iodine salt, nori, soy milk, and soy sauce.

While many of the food sources are actually vegan, a new study, Iodine Status and Thyroid Function of Boston-Area Vegetarians and Vegans, shows that vegan women, especially pregnant vegan women, may be deficient in the nutrient. 

According to the study reported in Reuters and seen on MNN, during pregnancy women should consider iodine supplements to make sure that they are getting enough. However, there are additional risks:

Too much iodine can also cause thyroid problems. Sarah Bath, a PhD student studying iodine in women at the University of Surrey, UK, said that people starting supplements should stay away from kelp and seaweed supplements — which may have widely variable iodine levels. She also said they should have a doctor looking out for them while taking iodine.

4. Keep it Whole

A vegan mother is sure to get adequate amounts of macronutrients, especially protein, if the mother is eating whole sources of nutrients including legumes, nuts (barring allergies), soy, and whole grains. But just like for traditional vegetarian and omnivore diets, it’s important to avoid processed foods. 

According to a study reported in the Post and Courier, if you're a mother to a finicky child, it could be your fault especially if you submitted to that craving for junk food throughout your pregnancy.

Vegan pregnancy inline 2photo

Photo: Digital Vision

5. Ample Fats

Make sure that your baby is getting enough fats by cooking with enough oil, nuts, and avocado. Again, Christina Pirello, “Foods like avocado, tofu, oils, oats, pureed cooked nuts and seeds in food (as long as there are no allergies) are good sources of fat for babies.”

Photo: Thinkstock

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More on Pregnancy 
5 Ways to Detox Naturally Before Pregnancy 
New Study: A Local Whole Foods Diet is Like Mother Like Child 
Prenatal Exposure to Stress Promotes Early Aging 


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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