Is It Safe To Remain Vegan While Pregnant?
Many women choose to be vegetarian or vegan for a number of reasons, including health and ethical views. Being vegan, however, takes extra diligence and care in planning your diet. It’s easy to have gaps in the nutrients you consume. This could be a concern for vegan women who become pregnant.
There are key nutrients that a pregnant woman needs in order to get the nourishment to her growing baby. Protein, Calcium, Iron, Folate, and Vitamin D are some of the main food categories.
Calcium is important for building strong bones and teeth in your baby. Good sources of calcium are dairy products, you can also choose fortified juices and cereals.
Iron is key to preventing anemia. In a time when your blood volume is increasing, so does your need for iron. Iron can be consumed through red meat, poultry, and fish. Again, fortified cereals can be a source of iron as well.
Folate or folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects and other serious abnormalities. Spinach, beans, citrus, and beans are good sources of folate. Synthetic folic acid can be found in fortified cereals.
Vitamin D is found in fatty fish such as salmon or canned tuna. Eggs also contain vitamin D and fortified milk and orange juice can be good sources.
Protein is especially important since it is packed with amino acids that are the building blocks of your body…and your baby’s cells. It is recommended that pregnant women get an average of at least 80 grams of protein a day. I don’t know about you, but if you have ever tracked your protein intake you know it can take work to get that amount of protein in your system. The main recommended sources of protein are lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. Beans, peas, tofu, and peanut butter also have notable amounts of protein. However, if you cut out all the food that comes from animals, you aren’t left with many options. In fact, if you reread the above categories and cut out all animal products you really aren’t left with much.
So, how do vegan women make sure they get enough nutrients during pregnancy? The answer is very carefully. A very restrictive diet can prove difficult to get the nutrients a person needs, and this is even more important while you are pregnant. Some of the nutritional concerns for vegans are typically getting the right amount of protein, vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, and iron. Vitamin B-12 is not found in plant foods and, therefore, a vegan must take a supplement. Vegan moms-to-be need to eat a lot of dark leafy greens and fortified juices and soy products to get the calcium they need. Vegan women who are pregnant must be diligent in getting enough protein. This may prove to be a tall order.
Several celebrity moms have forgone their vegan diets in order to do what is best for baby. Remember, that is the most important thing. You may wish to stay vegan due to your beliefs, but growing a precious baby should trump all, don’t you think?
Natalie Portman is one such mother who chose to suspend her rigid vegan diet while she was pregnant. "I actually went back to being vegetarian when I became pregnant, just because I felt like I wanted that stuff," Portman said. "I was listening to my body to have eggs and dairy."
She really thought twice about being vegan while pregnant when she began to crave sweets. "If you're not eating eggs, then you can't have cookies or cake from regular bakeries, which can become a problem when that's all you want to eat," she said. "I actually wanted eggs at the beginning and then they grossed me out after a while."
Dr. Marjorie Greenfield is the chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the Case Medical Center in Cleveland. She said it’s common for women to switch from vegan to vegetarian during pregnancy.
"A lot of people do, I think, listen to their bodies and switch from being vegan to vegetarian when they're pregnant," Greenfield said. "Some people can just feel they're not getting enough and have the smarts to say, 'My body is telling me something and my baby is more important. In general, listening to your body is important. Not feeling good can be a sign there's something you should do differently."
Being a healthy pregnant vegan is possible, but tricky. Getting enough of the right kind of proteins is the biggest challenge. "In order to make whole proteins there are certain essential amino acids your body can't make. You have to combine your vegetable protein to make them," Greenfield said.
If you are vegan and pregnant, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor about your diet. It may be advised to consult a nutritionist as well. Moms need to gain weight in order for the baby to grow. Not only is the mother’s body making a tiny human, her body must also be capable of increasing in blood volume, making amniotic fluid, placenta, fat stores, and so on!
The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions recommends these daily servings of each food group for pregnant women: 6-11 servings of grains, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruits, 4-6 servings of milk and milk products, and 3-4 servings of meats and proteins.
"If you're not gaining weight, that would certainly be a red flag," Greenfield says. "If you have a poor diet, the baby cannot grow well. If you're not eating a standard diet, the take-home message is educate yourself about where the gaps might be and how you can fill them in a healthy way."
If you are vegan and pregnant, be sure to carefully look at the CDC’s recommended serving of each food group and include adequate substitutes to replace the foods you don’t eat. Keeping a log of what you eat each day with estimated totals of various nutrients, especially protein, could prove to be helpful and keep you on track to keep baby healthy and strong!
Feb 18, 2014 :: Amanda Mershon
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