Pregnancy is an exciting time in your life as you await the arrival of a new family member. However, it is also a time of anxiety since you want to ensure the proper development of your baby, especially if you have made a plant-based diet lifestyle choice.
Despite beliefs that the consumption of animal products is essential during pregnancy, recent research shows that well-planned plant-based diets are appropriate and protective for people at all stages of life, including a pregnant woman and her baby.
Therefore, a well-planned and executed plant-based diet during pregnancy and lactation can provide you with all the correct nutrients for you and your baby.
Foods to Eat on a Plant-Based Pregnancy Diet
Eating meat-based foods makes it easier to obtain some essential nutrients during pregnancy. Still, with a solid plan and a varied diet, you can get all the calories and nutrients required, even when you are a vegan or vegetarian.
In any case, when pregnant, even if you aren’t on a plant-based diet, you need to incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables, and nuts into your meals to keep them varied and balanced. In addition, all diets require fiber and complex carbs to ensure you remain healthy during pregnancy.
Throughout the nine months of your pregnancy, you must adjust your meal plans as your body’s needs change and according to the plant-based diet you follow.
During the first trimester, most women eat less because pregnancy symptoms like nausea, fatigue, and constipation often lead to a loss of appetite. Luckily, during this time, your body does not require the extra calories to maintain a healthy fetus. However, eating smaller, lighter meals will help conserve energy and strength. Cold foods like soups, salads, and light pasta dishes will offer the sustenance you need and can help increase your appetite.
You must increase your calorie intake once you enter your second and third trimesters. Respectively, you will need 340 and 450 calories extra during these trimesters to support the nutritional requirements of your unborn child.
It’s essential to incorporate foods with higher nutrient densities at this time if you follow a plant-based eating plan. These include avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Aim to gain no more than 4 pounds during each trimester of your pregnancy.
Essential Nutrient Needs for Plant-Based Eaters During Pregnancy
Calorie needs during pregnancy are not high, but increasing nutrient intake is essential. The most important ones include calcium, protein, and folic acid. To ensure you get the correct amounts, increase your intake of foods rich in these and avoid eating foods with empty calories.
Let’s look at all the essential nutrients and their sources you will need during your pregnancy:
During pregnancy, protein is a vital nutrient because it supports the changes in your body and helps with healthy fetal growth and development. Aim to eat between 75 and 100 grams daily of plant-based protein. You can get protein from:
- Soy and soy milk
- Other plant-based milk
- Tofu and tempeh
- Legumes such as beans, chickpeas, and dried peas
- Nuts, seeds, and nut butter
Fetal development relies on calcium, especially in the final trimester. Calcium helps build the bones, heart, muscles, and nerves. Dairy products have a high calcium content, but if you are vegan, there are other calcium-rich foods to include.
When preparing meals, include tofu, beans, dark leafy veggies, almond butter, tahini, sunflower seeds, calcium-fortified cereals, and milk.
During pregnancy, your body increases its blood volume to support the supply of nutrients to the fetus via the placenta. Iron is an essential nutrient for blood formation since it helps prevent anemia, and you need to up your intake from 18 mg daily to 27 mg during pregnancy. Anemics have a higher risk of going into preterm labor. Iron deficiency is also associated with low birth weights.
Plant-based food with plenty of iron includes blackstrap molasses, dried fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and dark green vegetables. Also, include fortified bread and grains in your meals. Remember that the iron content from plant-based foods is not as easily absorbed as from meat sources. To encourage iron absorption, consume fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C. These include citrus fruits, tomatoes, etc.
All women should also take an iron supplement from the second trimester, regardless of their diet. Your healthcare provider will determine the strength according to your blood-iron levels.
4. B Vitamins
A diet rich in B vitamins, including vitamin B12 and folic acid, is essential for a healthy pregnancy on a plant-based diet. In addition, these vitamins protect your fetus from neural tube defects that can affect the brain and spine.
Unfortunately, vegans tend to have a higher prevalence of vitamin B and folate deficiencies. However, you can safeguard against shortages by eating foods high in vitamin B12, including soy milk, tofu, nutritional yeast, and some cereals. Folate-rich foods include leafy greens and legumes.
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D benefits the body by regulating calcium and phosphate, making it vital for your and your unborn child’s bones, teeth, and muscles. Besides eating cereals and plant milk fortified with vitamin D, you can also get it from natural sunlight.
6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids boost your immunity and help prevent respiratory problems during pregnancy. Besides eating walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and canola oil during pregnancy, you can boost omega-3 fatty acids by consuming fortified foods. Additionally, a supplement can help you reach the 700 to 1,000 mg daily requirement.
Pregnant women with a diet deficient in other nutrients, especially vitamin B12, can suffer from choline deficiencies. A choline deficiency can result in muscle or liver damage. Soybeans, seeds, grains, and nuts are more effective choline sources than meat, dairy, chicken, and tuna. Other plant-based sources of choline include beans and potatoes.
Tips for a healthy vegan diet during pregnancy:
-Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your meals.
-Consume enough iron-rich foods like dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
-Take an iron supplement if needed.
-Eat fortified breads and cereals for the right B vitamins and vitamin D.
-Increase your omega-3 fatty acid intake with walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, canola oil, fortified foods, and supplements if necessary.
-Ensure you meet the daily requirements for choline by eating soybeans, beans, potatoes, grains, and nuts.
Remember to consult your healthcare provider about any concerns about nutrient deficiencies on a vegan diet. With the right planning and guidance, you can have a healthy pregnancy while following a plant-based diet.
As an expectant mother, your nutritional needs evolve. If you follow a plant-based diet, you must ensure no dietary deficiencies. Working with your healthcare provider to ensure you meet the daily recommendations is essential.
Remember that after your baby is born, you must maintain a correct calorie and nutritional intake to breastfeed your baby.
Is it safe to follow a vegan diet during pregnancy?
With careful planning and monitoring of your nutrient intake, you can safely follow a vegan diet during pregnancy. It is essential to ensure that your foods are healthy and provide all the necessary vitamins and minerals for optimal fetal development.
Are there any risks associated with a vegan diet while pregnant?
If not planned correctly, following a vegan diet during pregnancy may lead to certain deficiencies in essential nutrients such as iron, calcium, B vitamins, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and choline. These deficiencies can pose health risks for both you and your baby. Therefore, it is essential to consult your healthcare provider and maintain a healthy and balanced vegan diet.
What foods should pregnant vegans include in their diets?
Pregnant vegans should consume various nutrient-dense plant-based foods such as legumes, fortified grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. They should also consider taking vitamin supplements to ensure adequate nutritional intake.