Should vegans alter their diet when pregnant? Is it possible for a vegan to provide their unborn baby with all the essential nutrients and vitamins without consuming dairy products or meats? The answer to these questions is “Yes”.
Vegans can eat a healthy and balanced diet whilst pregnant but need to make sure to make that extra effort as solely plant based diets might not always provide all the nutrients needed by the human body, especially when pregnant. This is not to say that vegan diets are in anyway unhealthy, this is far from the truth.
However, health experts recommend that vegans be especially vigilant about what they eat, encouraging them to develop an increased awareness of what various foods contain and recommended in take for certain minerals and vitamins.
Most Common Deficiencies Amongst Vegans
Vegans may sometimes lack the following three important minerals. This is because the following minerals, whilst abundant in animal produce such as milk or meats, are sparingly found in vegetables.
Vitamin B12 – this is an important vitamin that helps in the construction of your DNA. It is moreover important for muscles and nerves. Unsurprisingly for vegans, here are the best sources of vitamin B12: Beef liver, clams, eggs, poultry, milk, eggs and fish.
All these are foods which vegans do not consume. Deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to serious problems: your baby could suffer from neural tube defects. Women should aim for Vitamin B12 levels above 300 ng/L even before becoming pregnant. For vegans, it is essential to take foods fortified with vitamin B12 and even take supplements.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics, carried out by Trinity College, Dublin concluded that vegan women are more likely to be vitamin B12 deficient. This vitamin, of which best sources include eggs, fish, liver, meat and cheese, is known to be linked to the development of neural tube defects in women who do not take in adequate levels of this important vitamin. The chances of a fetus developing neural tube defects are 5 times higher in pregnant women deficient in vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is essential to the development of the nervous system. Strict vegans are at a higher risk of being deficient in this type of vitamin as their diet excludes the food sources which are highest in vitamin B12. Moreover, the first 28 days of pregnancy are crucial in the formation of the fetus’s nervous system.
Women with low levels of folic acid are thus at a much higher risk of fetal neural tube defects. Given that most pregnancies are unplanned, it might be too late, especially for vegans. All women who are of child-bearing age are advised to up their intake of vitamin B12.
Folic acid (folate) – any woman thinking of having a baby should up her intake of folic acid before getting pregnancy and ideally keep these levels at around 400 micrograms per day for the first few weeks of gestation. Again, folic acid has been proved to prevent neural tube defects or at least reduce the risk of the fetus suffering from any of them.
Moreover, it is an important mineral for regeneration of cells and considering your shed around 30,000 of these every hour, you can see just why this mineral is so important. Just as your body needs to replace thousands of cells every hour, so does the baby you are carrying.
Luckily for vegans, the best sources of folic acid are veggie – dark green leave, broccoli and asparagus to mention a few. However, this is not enough. Ideally, all vegans and non vegans alike should aim for cereals and grains fortified in folic acid.
Iron – An important mineral needed by your body to maintain a health immune system and produce hemoglobin. Given that the volume of circulating blood will increase dramatically in pregnancy, you will need to increase your iron intake.
Iron deficiency can lead to an early delivery of the baby, a premature birth. It can moreover, also result in low weight at birth. Further studies have shown an increases likelihood of post natal depression in women with anemia and low levels of iron during pregnancy.
Luckily for vegans, a diversity of non-animal based foods provides iron although the best sources of iron most easily absorbed by the body are found in animal products like red meat or poultry. You need to make sure you are getting at least 27 milligrams daily. As a vegan, you should look for iron fortified cereals and legumes as a source.
Your Genetic Health
The new trend for couples trying for a baby is known as preconception genetic testing. Many health care specialists and prenatal care providers actually encourage couples to have a multitude of basic health tests and genetic tests to assess how health they are.
On a genetic level, what they look for is a family history of certain genetic illnesses and chromosomal disorders. Various DNA tests can in fact reveal whether the couples trying for a baby carry any serious autoimmune disease which their baby could inherit.
So as long as vegan supplements their diet well, a vegan diet is just as healthy as any other. Further to this, vegans are the ultimate friends of the earth. For those with a tingling desire to convert: there are many incentives.
Karl M McDonald is a free lance writer specializing in the field of genetics and DNA testing. Articles by the author can be found on many blogs and info sites, including the article knowledge base for homeDNAdirect Ireland. Karl M McDonald currently lives in West Sussex, UK with his wife, kids and 2 dogs.
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