People turn to Vegan and Vegetarian dietary patterns for their bolstered health benefits or for
their humanitarian or environmental beliefs. However these diet choices have been in the news again with Meghan Markle announcing she is ending her Vegan lifestyle “for the baby”.
Whatever your reason, being vegetarian or vegan is considered a healthy alternative to the standard American or “western” diet. Many women who have been happily vegetarian or vegan for years are now worried if their preferred eating habits are meeting their new needs while pregnant. There is a lot of controversial information about the safety of a vegetarian or vegan diet during pregnancy. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has the position that vegetarian or vegan diets are healthy dietary patterns for all of life’s stages including pregnancy.
Regardless of your dietary preferences, there are nutrients you have to pay more attention to during pregnancy. Knowing what they are and what food sources have them can help you decide if you need to take a supplement to meet your needs. Some of the common nutrients that are of particular importance for vegetarian/vegans are listed below and include sources they can be found other than animal products.
Protein: Most of our diets exceed our daily needs for protein, however during pregnancy your protein needs are slightly higher in your second and third trimester especially. Plants are a rich source of protein, and adequate protein can be obtained by consuming a diet high in beans, legumes, whole grains, and a variety of vegetables. Yes that’s right, plants have protein in them!
DHA/EPA: These unsaturated fatty acids are important for the development of your child’s brain. These are predominantly found in seafood. Your body can also synthesis these fatty acids and its not fully understood how much women can synthesize while pregnant. Therefore it is recommended that you get 650-1000mg of these fats per day. If you are a strict vegan, it may be wise to include a fish oil supplement to your daily regimen, or find foods that are fortified with these fats.
Vitamin B12: B12 is traditionally found in animal products. However B12 is produced by bacterial fermentation, there is debate about the amounts of Vitamin B12 in fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, or kimchi (note: make sure you are following food safety recommendations from your doctor with these foods). Unfortunately these foods don’t tend to list the B12 content on the nutrition label. B12 is also found in nutritional yeast which adds a cheesy flavor to any dish. To cover your bases, ensure that your prenatal vitamins provides adequate B12 (only 2.6mcg per day) will give you a piece of mind.
Calcium: There is a long standing belief in our society that you get calcium from dairy products. Although these foods are high in calcium, calcium is also found in a variety of plant foods including tofu, dark leafy vegetables, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and a variety of other vegetables.
Iron: Like calcium, iron is traditionally consumed by eating animal products, mainly red meats. However once again this isn’t exactly true, iron is found in a lot of plant foods including beans, dark leafy vegetables, and many spices.
By being knowledgeable about your nutritional needs during pregnancy, there is no need to go off your vegetarian or vegan diet during pregnancy. That being said, listen to your body. Sometimes we start craving foods we normally avoid. If you find yourself craving cottage cheese or steak, it might be worth eating these foods during pregnancy. Once your bundle is born you can go right back to your specific food preferences.
Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets - Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Available at: http://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(16)31192-3/pdf. (Accessed: 17th January 2018)
Vegetarian Diets for Pregnancy. The Physicians Committee (2010). Available at: http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/vegetarian-diets-for-pregnancy. (Accessed: 17th January 2018)
Nutrition During Pregnancy for Vegetarians | Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4724-nutrition-during-pregnancy-for-vegetarians. (Accessed: 17th January 2018)