Hello everyone, I hope you've had a magnificent November. I seriously can NOT believe we are in the final month of 2018!!
Something I've been asked a lot recently is whether it's safe to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet whilst pregnant. I don't know if this is because I'm nearing the end of my pregnancy and people are curious about how I've got on or they're wondering if they'd need to change their plant-based diet during pregnancy.
I'm glad to be asked regardless because plant based living is something I am really passionate about. I'm writing this post for anyone who may be wondering if you can get everything you need from a plant based diet during pregnancy.
I am not a nutritionist but I did my research into the vitamins and minerals I needed to focus on in order to ensure my diet was varied enough throughout my pregnancy and i'll also share what I ate to cover that.
This was my first plant based pregnancy. 7 years ago when I was pregnant with my son, I was a carnivore.
For clarity when I use the term "plant based" to refer to the way I eat I mean that my diet is primarily comprised of plant based foods, beans, legumes, nuts, fruit & veg. I don't eat meat or fish and minimal dairy.
It's perhaps relevant to note that it was the same nutrients I concentrated on during my first pregnancy, the only difference being that I ate animal products then. I think it's important to assess your diet during pregnancy regardless of whether you're a carnivore, vegan or veggie and if you don't feel confident doing that, please seek advice from a professional.
I have taken a pregnancy supplement throughout, which contains additional vitamins and minerals and you can see the brand I used here. Health professionals recommend ALL women take folic acid in the first 12 weeks and vitamin D throughout their pregnancy. These are both included in the supplement I used and were consumed in my diet. In adddition to the multi-vitamin supplement, I also believe a probiotic/prebiotic (suitable for pregnancy) is important, especially if you have suffered from stomach issues prior to falling pregnant.
The key vitamins and minerals I considered, slightly more than usual for a plant-based diet during pregnancy are as follows.
Protein is one of key macro-nutrients our bodies need to function. It's comprised of amino acids and it's an essential building block of our cells and of baby's cells too. Most vegetarians and vegans get enough protein but it's important to consider a wide variety of types of protein. A pregnant women requires between 40 and 70 grams per day depending on her weight. Vegetarian & vegan sources of protein come from the following foods:
Dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt)
Dairy free alternatives such as soy drinks and yoghurts etc
Beans and pulses (chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils)
Grains such as quinoa
Some nuts and nut butters (peanuts, almonds and cashews)
Tofu, quorn, meat alternatives
My personal preferences throughout pregnancy have been beans & pulses, quinoa, nuts and some soya yoghurt and eggs. I've also added the odd scoop of vegan protein to my smoothies, energy treats and pancakes. I have never been a huge fan of meat alternatives but I enjoy a bit of tofu now and then.
These long chain fatty acids are important for the development of baby's brain and eyes. Omega 3 is typically found in oily fish such as salmon, mackeral and trout but if you don't eat meat, you'll need to turn to plant based sources.
Prior to falling pregnant I took an algae based vegan Omega 3 supplement but it wasn't suitable during pregnancy so I have focused more on food sources.
Hemp seed oil
Make sure you check your supplements are suitable for pregnancy before taking them. I've mostly been focused on the above sources of Omega 3.
This was probably the thing I worried about most at the start of my pregnancy as i've had low iron levels and required supplements from the Doctor on a few occassions in the past. However, my iron levels have been perfect during pregnancy. They check these regularly and so far I'm well within the normal range. Iron is important for the normal growth and development of your baby. A lack of iron is something you may recognise through experiencing low energy, exhaustion although these are common symptoms of early pregnancy too so it can be hard to detect without a blood test.
Iron in plant based foods can be harder for the body to absord as opposed to iron from animal sources such as red meat. Vegetarians and vegans need to include good sources of iron and it's also advisable to avoid drinking tea or coffee at the same time as eating. This is something I wasn't aware of previously but the tannins in tea and caffeine can inhibit iron absorption. Something that increases iron absorption is vitamin C in things like orange juice so that can be beneficial to drink at the same time as iron rich food.
My favourite plant based sources of iron are:
Pulses (beans, peas and lentils)
Green leafy vegetables (I consume these every single day and usually 2-3 portions a day)
Dried fruit (specifically apricots and figs)
Sesame and pumpkin seeds (I use tahini, which is sesame paste a lot)
Calcium is important for the growth of your baby's bones and maintenance of your own. It's also important when breast feeding as requirements increase then too.
The most common source of calcium is from dairy food such as cheese, milk and yoghurt. Pregnant women should only eat pasturised cheese and dairy and avoid soft cheeses. If you are vegan or don't eat much dairy like me, you may want to incorporate some of the below sources of Calcium too:
Calcium set tofu
Calcium fortified plant milk
Soya and linseed bread fortified with calcium
Green such as kale, pak choi, okra, spring greens,
Figs, chai seeds and almonds
Vitamin B12 is important for the normal growth and development of your baby and helps the body release energy from the food you eat. It's typically found in food from animal sources (meat, dairy and eggs). If your plant based diet includes eggs and dairy you will likely consume enough of this vitamin.
I have included more eggs in my diet throughout pregnancy and some natural yoghurt as well as a supplement that includes vitamin B12. If your diet is 100% plant based you will definitely require a supplement containing B12 (not just during pregnancy). Check with your health professional or midwife for more information.
Other considerations you will want to look into are your intake of healthy fats and carbohydrate which I didn't mention above as I think those are pretty straight forward and also iodine, choline and zinc.
As I mentioned at the start, I am NOT a nutritionist and I'm writing this based on my own experience of two pregnancies and the research I've done, plus how I feel.
Places you can look for further information are:
The NHS Vegetarian and Vegan mums-to-be page
The Vegan Society pregnancy and breastfeeding page
I am very grateful to have reached 34 weeks pregnant and to have had a healthy pregnancy.
I can only go by how I feel and my energy levels but I have had minimal morning sickness (I was sick once), next to no weird cravings and I've continued to exercise right through my pregnancy and plan to do so for as long as I can. I managed to run until 28 weeks and since then I've been walking 2-3 miles a couple of times a week and doing a maternity workout at home.
My experience overall has been similar to my first pregnancy although I do feel like i've had more energy, I kept running for longer, i've been able to deal with anxiety better and I'm more confident with the decisions I've made along the way.
I've had what I'd describe as pregnancy anxiety due to the previous losses we experienced whilst trying for this baby but I've managed this through reading, listening, positive thinking and affirmations. More recently I've had mild pelvic pain, which feels like it's on top of my pubic bone, but apart from that I've felt tip top, energetic and healthy.
I'd love to know what your experience of a vegetarian or vegan pregnancy has been and please ask any questions which I may have missed here.
Happy weekend everyone.