Can You Have a Healthy Vegan Pregnancy?
by Aly Findlay
If you’re a dedicated vegan, deciding whether to stick with your diet when expecting is a big decision. There is a lot of misinformation around this topic, and with lots on your mind, we’re here to help shed some light.
In short, the answer is a resounding yes. You can get all the nutrients your body needs from plants during pregnancy, but you may need to eat a little smarter. This is mostly because pregnant women who don’t eat meat may be at risk of deficiencies in certain nutrients, especially iron and vitamin B12. We’ve rounded up some of the key hitters you’ll need to ensure you’re loading up on, and proof of just how easy it can be.
Vegan pregnancy and iron intake
Iron is essential for the natural growth and development of your baby. A deficiency in iron can make you feel extra tired, too. Anaemia due to lack of iron is common during pregnancy, and your doctor or midwife can diagnose this via a blood test.
The iron in plant foods isn’t as readily absorbed in the body than that from animal products. So it’s important that pregnant vegetarians and vegans ensure they include solid sources of iron in their diet including:
- Pulses (such as lentils, beans and peas)
- Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and kale)
- Wholemeal, seeded bread
- Quinoa and couscous
- Vegan breakfast cereals fortified with iron
- Dried fruits such as apricots and figs
- Seeds such as pumpkin and sesame
Vegan pregnancy and calcium intake
Calcium is essential for the healthy development of your baby’s bones, as well as helping yours. It’s also important to increase your calcium intake when breastfeeding.
If you follow a vegan diet, you should aim to consume more calcium-containing foods, including:
- Bread (bread made with flour which doesn’t contain the whole grain has to be fortified with calcium by law)
- Green, leafy vegetables (including rocket and kale)
- Breakfast cereals fortified with calcium
- Dairy alternatives such as soya, oat, rice or nut vegan milk, vegan yoghurts and vegan butter
- Tofu set with calcium
Vegan pregnancy and vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is vital for the development of your baby and helps your body to release the energy from the food you eat. There have been studies which have shown lower intake and blood concentrations of vitamin B12 in vegans and vegetarians.
However, don’t worry, there are plenty of ways you can up your B12 intake whilst following a plant-based diet. The most reliable source of B12 for vegans are fortified foods.
Products other than eggs and dairy foods containing vitamin B12 include:
- Vitamin B12-fortified yeast extract (a firm favourite at allplants is Marmite)
- Vitamin B12-fortified dairy-free milk, yoghurt and butter alternatives
- Vitamin B12-fortified breakfast cereals
If you’re particularly concerned about your B12 intake, you could also take a vegan vitamin B12 supplement. Always read the label, and chat to your doctor or midwife if you’re unsure.
Top health tips for vegetarian and vegan expectant mums
- Where possible, go for wholegrain starchy carbohydrate varieties (such as bread and pasta)
- Start your day with a bowl of cereal fortified with the nutrients your baby’s growing body needs, including calcium and B12
- Eat a range of foods containing essential amino acids, including beans and pulses, soya dairy-free alternatives, nuts and tofu
- When choosing dairy-free alternative drinks and yoghurts, look for ones fortified with calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin B2. This article has a great round-up of some of the best options available
- Keep your iron levels topped up by including foods such as beans, lentils, quinoa or wholemeal bread and green vegetables in your lunch or dinner
- Vegan yeast extract spreads, particularly fortified varieties, are a good source of vitamins B12 and B2
- As for all expectant mums – vegan or not – consider taking folic acid and vitamin D supplements
- As always, make sure you’re hitting your 5 a day, and aim to eat a vibrant rainbow of fruits and veggies to cover lots of nutrient bases
By Aly Findlay
Aly is our go-to nutrition hero as she studied Human Nutrition at uni (makes sense, right?). She’s also always on hand to help our customers, and provide our team with coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.