Tips for a healthy plant-based pregnancy
A whole foods plant-based diet during pregnancy is very safe and beneficial for both mum and baby. Well planned plant-based diets in pregnancy have been approved by The American College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, and The American Dietetic Association. Did you know that nutrition during pregnancy and the amount of weight the mother gains in pregnancy will impact on the health of the baby for the rest of his/her life? It is also interesting to note that babies will start developing taste preferences in the womb- the fetus will taste different flavours from the amniotic fluid from about 15 weeks gestation, depending on what mum is eating. Giving a baby tastes for plant foods at such a young age is a fantastic start.
In addition, mum will experience some benefits during her pregnancy like:
- Healthier weight gain
- Reduced acid reflux
- Less constipation and better digestion
- Less muscle cramps
- Less morning sickness
Some of the added benefits to a plant-based pregnancy is that you avoid a great deal of environmental toxins, pathogens, hormones and potential food contamination that you may get from animal-based foods. Choosing to eat mostly organic produce during your pregnancy is an excellent choice if this is possible.
During pregnancy, a woman will require about 340 extra calories per day in the second trimester, and 450 calories per day in the third trimester. This equates to eating a cup of beans or 2 slices of whole-grain bread, the whole eating for 2 thing is a bit of a myth (remember the second human is really tiny!).
B12 is essential, especially during pregnancy and lactation. It is a bacteria that blankets the earth and is found in untreated water and soils but due to our very sanitized world we live in today its not available to us. Animals obtain B12 through the soil when they graze (but many are now supplemented too due to depleted soils) so those consuming animal flesh are ingesting recycled B12! Vitamin B12 plays a role in preventing neural tube defects & neurological defects in newborns so pregnant should be supplementing with B12 (at least 2.6 mcg per day). B12 supplementation is non-negotiable when you are fully plant-based.
Iron requirements increase in pregnancy from 18mg to 27mg per day. This is due to the increased blood volume and fetal development. It is possible to get all your required iron through foods on a plant-based diet, by eating foods like beets, black beans, lentils, chickpeas, kale, figs, raisins, fortified breakfast cereals, black strap molasses, pumpkin seeds and dried apricots. Tea, coffee and oxalates in some plant foods can inhibit absorption so have these away from iron sources and include vitamin C rich foods with iron foods to enhance absorption. Those who are carrying multiples, are already anaemic prior to pregnancy, or are obese should consider supplementation.
Pregnant women require about 600 mcg of folic acid every day to prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus. Folate is abundant in plant foods such as leafy greens, beets, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and legumes. Its really very easy to obtain folate on a plant-based diet. However for women suffering with morning sickness or extreme nausea preventing them from eating these foods, a folic acid supplement containing 400-800 mcg per day is recommended.
Protein requirements increase in pregnancy by about 20g per day (from 0.8g/kg to 1.1g/kg/day). Consuming foods such as beans, greens, lentils, tofu, nut butters, oats, nuts and seeds will mean you will easily meet your target for protein intake.
Iodine is particularly important for fetal brain development and though its found in plant foods, the quantity can vary depending on where the food was grown and what the quality of the soil was. Iodized salt is an option but adding salt to food is not recommended as it comes with a cardiovascular risk. Seaweed is another well known option, but levels are also subject to natural variability. Therefore, all women who are pregnant, lactating or even thinking of becoming pregnant should supplement with a dietary supplement containing 150 mcg of potassium iodide per day. Remember some prenatals contain this and others do not so make sure to check the label!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Even though we can obtain healthy fats from walnuts, flax meal and hemp seeds, during pregnancy more may be required as it plays a role in the proper development of the infant brain and retina. There is no current recommendation for pregnant vegan women to supplement, but a low dose marine algae supplement seems to be safe. Women following a plant-based diet should have an additional 200 mg of DHA daily from an uncontaminated source such as algae.
Vitamin D can be obtained naturally from sunlight, but if you live in an area that does not get much sun or you don’t get out into the sun on a daily basis, you may need to supplement. Your vitamin D requirements do not increase in pregnancy but vitamin D can be lower in vegans. You can include vitamin D fortified foods into your diet like cereal, orange juice, plant-milks and sun exposed mushrooms. Vitamin D and calcium work together so make sure your calcium requirements are being met by consuming green leafy vegetables, beans, almonds, broccoli, tahini, calcium set tofu and calcium fortified plant milks and orange juice.