Despite what people think, following a vegan diet when you’re expecting can still provide you with all the nutrients you need. We show you how…
People on a vegan diet not only avoid all meat and fish products, they also refuse all products from animals including eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt.
‘Although there is a potential for low intakes of certain nutrients during pregnancy in a vegan diet, it should be possible for pregnant vegan women to meet all their nutritional requirements as long as the nutrients that are usually provided by foods of animal origin are replaced by other food sources or
supplements,’ says Ayela Spiro, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation.
Pregnant vegans, much like pregnant vegetarians, need to make sure they get enough protein in their diet as it’s needed to aid your baby’s growth. You can get this from vegetable sources such as dairy-free nut butters, quinoa, tofu, lentils and beans.
Boost your B12
B vitamins are important during pregnancy to prevent spinal development problems and to ensure your baby grows well. Vegan mums-to-be may struggle to get enough vitamin B12. ‘This is because it’s primarily found in milk and dairy products, meat, fish and eggs,’ says Ayelo. ‘It can be found in fortified breakfast cereals, fortified soya drinks and yeast extract.’
You may want to take vitamin B12 supplement. ‘Talk to your midwife or GP as they should be able to provide advice on this,’ adds Ayelo.
Aid your iron intake
Vegan mums-to-be should make sure they get enough iron as daily requirements increase during pregnancy. This is because your body makes more blood to help deliver nutrients and oxygen to your growing baby.
‘Iron is found in meat and fish, and while red meat is one of the richest sources of absorbable iron, plants can also make a significant contribution,’ says Ayelo.
Good vegan sources of iron include pulses, nuts, dried fruit such as dried apricots, some wholegrains (such as quinoa or bulgar wheat), dark green leafy vegetables such as curly kale and watercress, and breakfast cereals with added iron.’
Boost your iron absorption by eating foods that provide a good source of vitamin C such as green vegetables, peppers and tomatoes. Have a glass of orange juice with your meal as it’s rich in vitamin C.
Build strong bones
Your baby’s skeleton is growing and developing throughout your pregnancy, so it’s important you get enough calcium and vitamin D – the nutrients for a strong, healthy bones.
‘Milk and dairy products are rich sources of calcium in the UK diet, so vegans need to make sure they’re not lacking,’ says Ayelo. ‘Go for vegan sources of calcium such as calcium-fortified drinks including soya, oat and rice drinks, tofu, some nuts and seeds – including almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts and sesame seeds, dried figs, okra, pak-choi and kale.’
For vitamin D, pick foods fortified with vitamin D such as dairy-free spreads, some soya drinks and yogurts and some breakfast cereals.
‘Dietary surveys show that up to a quarter of the population have low levels of vitamin D in their blood, and the few food sources are oily fish, meat and eggs, which obviously aren’t suitable for vegans,’ says Ayelo.
You can also make vitamin D when your skin is exposed to summer sunlight, so short daily periods of sun exposure – about 20 minutes – during the summer months (April to October) are important, but make sure you don’t burn.
‘All pregnant women, whether vegan or not, are advised to take a vitamin D supplement (10 micrograms) throughout their pregnancy to ensure that they have enough vitamin D for their baby,’ says Ayelo.
Should vegan mums-to-be take a supplement?
Taking a supplement can ensure you get the nutrients you need, but check the ingredients to make sure the supplement doesn’t contain any hidden animal products that might be used to bind or hold the tablets together.
‘If mums-to-be are taking supplements, they should make sure they don’t take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements, or any containing vitamin A, as too much can harm the baby,’ says Ayelo.
What are your favourite vegan dishes and foods you’ve enjoyed during pregnancy? Let us know in the comment box below.