As a herbivore I've been wondering what to do with my plant-based diet if I decide to have kids. You may remember that I used to be against starting a family of my own, but now that I've met the "right" guy, I've changed my mind! But this is another story... I often get weird looks because I avoid animal products and I'm afraid to even think about doing all the explaining when getting pregnant. Not to mention all the research I'd have to do. So overwhelming!
I have a great guest post for you today. It concisely answers the most common questions about pregnancy on a vegan diet and it's a useful guide for a herbie mommie. I'd strongly suggest to read it even if you're not vegan - it will give you a better understanding of this strange veganism if you're concerned about your pregnant friend's diet. The world would be a better place if we wouldn't judge others' dietary decisions because we have a different opinion about nutrition. ;)
Vegan Mom-to-Be: What to Know When You're Expecting
I’m a vegan. My family and friends all think I’m nuts, of course. Most of the people I spend time with are a little more. . . traditional, I guess, than I am. While it’s usually not a problem, they often don’t understand my diet choice. After all, I would have to be crazy to live without meat and cheese, right?
But, for the most part, though they don’t understand it, they’ve always supported me. When I’m invited to family events, someone is always careful to point out the foods I can eat and the ones I should avoid. And when we go to restaurants as a family, everyone is careful to choose spots that have options I can eat. They love me, so they support me.
Image Courtesy of Pixabay
And then I got pregnant. Ohhh my. Almost invariably, whenever I broke the news to some well-meaning relative, one of the first things out of their mouths (after the “oh-my-gosh-that’s-so-wonderful”) was, “oh, well, I guess now you’ll have to give up that vegan-thing”. I think secretly they were relieved.
But, I was prepared for the arguments. I’d done my research. Many, many vegan women have strong, healthy pregnancies and strong, healthy babies. You have to be very careful, of course, to make sure that you’re getting all the right nutrients, but it can be done. And first and foremost, have a conversation—or even several—with your doctor and maybe a dietician, to make sure that you know exactly what you need to watch out for.
Here are the things I’ve learned that I need to keep a close eye on:
Since B-12 is found pretty much exclusively in animal products, you’ll need to get it from a supplement or fortified foods. It’s possible that your prenatal vitamins will have sufficient B-12, but not certain, so ask your doctor if he/she thinks you should take additional supplements, or if it would be sufficient to simply add B12-fortified soy milk or cereals.
General Mills and a host of other brands offer a surprising amount of vegan-friendly cereals that are high in B-12, such as Fiber One, Corn Chex and, my personal favorite, Kix. I have to admit, during the early stages of my pregnancy, soy milk just wasn’t appealing at all, so there were plenty of times when I at my cereal dry, but the nausea wore off after awhile (which I was grateful for).
This is especially important during early pregnancy. Folate can be found in dried beans, some vegetables (especially green, leafy ones) and in orange juice. Since many of these items are common in a vegan diet, you may be getting plenty of this, but you may want to consider adding supplements or consuming more folate-fortified foods.
This is the thing my friends and family seem to be most worried about. Will I have enough protein to keep me and my baby healthy? The reality, however, is that protein is relatively easy to get from vegan sources. Legumes, like lentils, tofu, soy, chickpeas and kidney beans, are all rich in protein. As are whole grains, such as wild or brown rice, whole wheat, barley, Quinoa and couscous.
Calcium is the other nutrient my family is sure my unborn child would be deficient in. So I reassure them, to the best of my abilities, that I can find calcium in some vegetables, such as kale, broccoli or collard greens. Calcium can also be found in soybeans, adzuki beans and navy beans. Blackberries, oranges, black currants and figs also contain calcium.
Iron and vitamin C
Iron is actually an easy one to come by from non-animal sources as well. The trick here, is to also make sure that you’re adding more vitamin C to your diet, in order to make it easier for your body to absorb the iron.
Vitamin C, of course, can be found in oranges, kiwi, red and green bell peppers and tomatoes. Iron is readily available in dried fruits, collard greens, legumes and Jerusalem artichokes. Since iron is one of those nutrients that women are often deficient in, even before pregnancy, you may need to also add an iron supplement to your diet.
I’m a big tea lover myself, but after learning that teas with high levels of tannins (such as black tea) can tip the scales and cause iron deficiency, I had to reduce my intake, or at least add lemon to it to reduce the negative effects.
I enjoy my vegan lifestyle. It makes me feel good and does my body well, and mostly without the need of supplements. These are only some of the nutrients you may need to keep a careful watch on, but with the help of your doctor or dietician and a little extra awareness yourself, it’s entirely possible to have a wonderful, safe pregnancy and still maintain your vegan lifestyle.
Virginia Cunningham is a health writer, fitness enthusiast and mother of three. Her writing, in collaboration with NorthWest, allows her to share her personal experiences and tips about all things health, including personal wellness, holistic medicine, exercise and more.