Vegan Nutrition & Pregnancy: What Foods to Eat and Their Benefits
Vegetarian and vegan diets are often considered a nutritional challenge during pregnancy. Are they really a hazard to mothers and their babies? Or do they, on the contrary, lead to healthier and happier pregnancies and children? Zinzino has partnered with Candace Borg—HypnoBirthing Educator, Doula, Naturopath, Natural Fertility Educator and a Biomedical Scientist—to help you make the best choices for yourself and for your bundle of joy.
As we all know, a happy, healthy mom makes for a happy, healthy baby. So let’s work out the best vegan nutrition during your pregnancy.
Nutrition and Pregnancy
A vegan diet during pregnancy needs to be well-planned and composed of diverse and healthy food. If not, it could lack nutrients that are essential to your baby’s development.
So, what are healthy foods you can eat during your pregnancy? Do you need to take any specific vegan supplements when pregnant? We interviewed Candace Borg in order to get you all the information you need to adapt your vegan diet to suit your body’s evolving needs.
Candace Borg – Vegan Naturopath, Natural Fertility Educator, HypnoBirthing Practitioner
Maintaining a Vegan Diet During Pregnancy
While there is evidence that vegetarian and vegan diets may increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies (e.g. a lack of proteins, iron, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, omega-3 and vitamin B12), recent research suggests that a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can be safe during both pregnancy and lactation. These diets are safe so long as mothers have a strong awareness for a balanced and complete intake of crucial nutrients.
Our expert, Candace Borg, tells us that she often finds fewer deficiencies in vegans. This is linked to their greater cautiousness and to the fact that they are already ensuring their diets are nutritionally sound. People on omnivorous diets tend to assume they are getting enough protein, when this is sometimes not the case. Mothers on a vegan diet during pregnancy are more aware of their food intake, and they are more likely to be eating a diverse and balanced diet. They are accustomed to ensuring there are lots of legumes, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables in their daily meals.
Foods to Eat: Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy
Candace recommends eating a wide variety of legumes, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.
A great tip is eating frequent, small meals that are easy to digest (salads, soups, stews, stir fry, smoothies). Some swaps could include lentils for mince, tofu for steak.
Here are some great healthy foods that will keep you and your baby bursting with energy throughout your whole pregnancy, for each commonly found deficiency.
For your nutritional needs during pregnancy, good sources of iron for vegan diets include pulses, dark green vegetables, whole meal bread and flour, nuts, fortified breakfast cereals (with added iron), and dried fruit.
Another beneficial vitamin is vitamin B12, a vital molecule that can be challenging to add to plant-based diets. A good natural source of this vitamin for vegan diets is yeast extracts, otherwise you need supplements or fortified food items with added B12 such as breakfast cereals, unsweetened soya drinks, and nutritional yeast flakes.
From early spring to autumn, most pregnant mothers (depending on where they live) should be able to receive sufficient vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D is found only in a limited number of foods, and therefore it is ambitious to hope to ingest enough from foods naturally rich in vitamin D alone. Vegan food sources of vitamin D include foods fortified with vitamin D, including some breakfast cereals and spreads, as well as vegan dietary supplements. Using supplements to avoid vitamin D deficiency is highly recommended during pregnancy and throughout your whole life, with the highest importance being regions with less sunlight during the winter. There are several vegan vitamin D supplements on the market.
For your nutritional needs during pregnancy, the following foods should be built into your vegan meal plans: dark green leafy vegetables, pulses, brown and white bread, fortified unsweetened soya, pea and oat drinks, calcium-set tofu, sesame seeds, tahini and dried fruit.
Iodine can be found in plant foods, such as cereals and grains, but at varying amounts depending on soil iodine richness in the plant’s growing environment.
Vegans may want to consider taking an iodine supplement or eating foods fortified with iodine, such as iodized salt or some plant-based drinks.
Omega-3 fatty acids are present in large quantities in a wide variety of plant foods. Vegan omega-3 sources include walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, edamame, seaweed, and algae. Some other green leafy vegetables and beans also contain minimal amounts and should be incorporated into your diet.
Benefits of DHA, Omega 3 in Pregnancy
Omega-3 support is essential during all stages of growing a baby: from conceiving to pregnancy and beyond. It is a vital element not only for egg and sperm quality, but also for the uterine environment. Omegas are involved in energy production, vitamin absorption, and hormone production (including neurotransmitter production). Omegas influence the integrity of each of our cells in our body and assist with our immune system and eye health. During embryo growth, omegas are very important to support neural tissue development.
Omega-3 fatty acids have interesting benefits on the pregnancy itself. Higher levels of EPA and DHA are known to reduce chances of preterm labor and delivery, lower the risk of preeclampsia, and may contribute to increased birth weight, so finding good sources of omega-3 is critical.
Naturally-Occurring Vegan DHA, EPA and Omega-3 Sources
The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Different food sources are necessary for each type of Omega-3. Plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils are rich in ALA.
Marine foods are paramount for plant-based diets, because they provide one of the only non-fish based, vegan sources of EPA and DHA Omega-3’s. algae, spirulina, nori and chlorella are all forms of seaweed that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Although EPA and DHA are found in the same foods and work side by side in the body, studies show that they each provide unique positive effects.
Zinzino: Vegan Supplements for Pregnancy
Research suggests that Western diets have a 10:1 (some papers stating a 25:1) ratio of Omega-6:3 ratio. Need help figuring out if you need to start taking supplements? How do vegans absorb sufficient levels of Omega-3 without eating fish?
Taking a dried blood spot test to check your Omega-6:3 ratio is the first step. If you need vegan Omega-3 supplements for pregnancy, Zinzino’s BalanceOil+ Vegan is keto-friendly, non-GMO, and made from naturally sourced ingredients. It’s a marine microalgae oil (with algae health benefits) high in Omega-3s (EPA, DHA, and DPA). It features echium seed oil that is rich in Omega-3s (SDA and ALA), and the Omega-6 GLA. BalanceOil+ Vegan provides 2,800 mg of Omega-3s per 12ml. It wonderfully complements plant-based sources of Omega-3.
Zinzino also offers a natural food supplement to top up your vitamin D levels throughout the year. ZinoShine+ combines vegan vitamin D3 in its most bioactive form from wild-harvested lichen, and broad-spectrum magnesium. The supplement offers easy-to-customize dosing based on the season and your current personal needs as determined in their Vitamin D Test.
If you have any doubts, talk to your midwife or doctor about how you can get all the nutrients you need for you and your baby.
- Stay hydrated (aim for 30 ml of water per kilo of body weight that you are)
- Eat organically (or if you are unable to, shop at local farmer’s markets).
- Stress less (you are doing a fabulous job—remember that. Take a moment to appreciate yourself, your wonderful body and the world around you).
To learn more from Candace Borg and vegan nutrition click here.