Plant based diets are much more common today than ever before and the research is astounding in support of plant-based diets to help support optimal health and prevention of chronic diseases. There are different types of plant-based diets such as vegan diets which are completely devoid of any animal products such as meat, dairy, seafood, eggs, and honey. There are also vegetarian, flexitarian, and pescatarian diets that include some animal products.
At Liberty Wellness Clinic, we help many families who are plant-based and wish to continue this during their pregnancy and post-partum period. Plant-based diets can also be safely adopted throughout all life stages, from infancy to adulthood.
If there’s any doubt that a vegan diet can be healthy during pregnancy, I want to share my own personal story as both my husband and I were fully plant-based when we conceived our son. I continued to follow a healthy vegan diet during my entire pregnancy. Given I had pre-existing health conditions, I was considered a high risk pregnancy from the start and was under the meticulous and attentive care of the high-risk unit at Sunnybrook Hospital. They did not once question us about our dietary choices as our son was so healthy at every checkup. We truly believe following a vegan diet helped us through this pregnancy and we delivered our son full-term, healthy and he weighed a hefty 8lb at birth. I continued a vegan diet postpartum and we decided to raise our son completely plant-based. He is now 2.5 and he has consistently been above average for both his weight and height. A well thought-out plant-based diet can be very healthy during pregnancy.
The benefits go beyond pregnancy as adopting a plant based lifestyle has been linked with having lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, better blood glucose control and decreased chances of developing cardiovascular disease. There are also lower incidences of obesity, kidney disease, inflammatory conditions, constipation and digestive issues. New research shows a plant-based diet can improve brain health and reduce the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. A plant-based diet is even associated with much lower odds of developing moderate to severe Covid.
If you decide to choose a plant based pregnancy, it is no different than planning for a healthy pregnancy. You always want to ensure you are getting the macronutrients and micronutrients that you and your baby require to help support healthy development and body system maintenance.
Here are the most important nutrients vegan mums-to-be should include in her diet:
Your body uses iron to make extra blood and helps move oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body — and to your baby’s. Roughly 30mg of elemental iron is required every day and good sources include lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, navy beans, black beans, chickpeas, dark green vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals (with added iron), dried fruit, such as apricots, quinoa, brown rice, pumpkin seeds, cashews, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, black strap molasses, prunes.
Vitamin B12 is important for maintaining the health of your nervous system, but it’s also believed that when combined with folic acid during pregnancy, B12 supplements can help to prevent spina bifida and other spinal and central nervous system birth defects in your baby. During pregnancy, 2.2-2.6mcg daily is recommended which can be easily found in prenatal vitamins as well as fortified foods. Food sources include fortified breakfast cereals (choose lower sugar options where possible) , fortified unsweetened soya drinks, yeast extract, such as Marmite.
Because vitamin D is found only in a small number of foods, so all adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D, particularly during the winter months (October until the end of March). Vegans will need to read the label to ensure that the vitamin D used in a product isn’t of animal origin. From late March/early April until the end of September, most people should be able to get enough vitamin D from sunlight.
Folic acid is essential for the neural tube development for babies. Great news is that the best way to get folic acid into your body is by increasing vegetable intake. Orange juice, lentils, leafy greens and whole grains are all wonderful sources of folic acid. 600mcg per day is recommended.
Omega-3s have been found to be essential for both neurological and early visual development of the baby. Expecting mothers who are plant-based require 4-5g of omega-fatty acids every single day. Good sources are: seaweed and algae, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, edamame, kidney beans and algae oil as a supplementation.
When you’re pregnant, your developing baby needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps your baby grow a healthy heart, nerves, and muscles as well as develop a normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting abilities. 1200-1500mg of calcium is recommended daily. Good sources are: dark green leafy vegetables, pulses, fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks, brown and white bread, calcium-set tofu, sesame seeds and tahini, dried fruit.
Iodine is required for intellectual development and thyroid function. Seaweed, fortified breads and iodized salts all contain iodine. People following a plant-based lifestyle should consume about 150mcg per day.
11mg/day of zinc is required for expecting mothers. The growth and development of children starts with a good foundation of zinc from Mom. Whole grains, legumes and nuts are really great sources of zinc.
Choline is a micronutrient that is essential for liver health, memory, muscle control, brain and nervous system function and so much more. Choline helps develop the brain of the baby as well as helping Mom during pregnancy and after with things like breastfeeding. During pregnancy, women should be consuming about 550mg of choline every day. Soybeans, wheat germ and kidney beans are all wonderful plant based sources to add to your diet.
Taurine is an amino acid that is very important for fetal growth. Taurine deficiency can increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes. However, taurine deficiency is rare as our body can make taurine in the liver from other amino acids and it can be easily supplemented if needed.
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