One of the questions that’s come up often lately is whether or not it is safe to follow vegetarian or vegan diets during pregnancy. I’m so glad that plant-based pregnancy nutrition is something that health conscious pregnant women are eager to examine.
As a vegan mother-to-be, I can assure you there are no limits to what I would do to ensure the health of my growing baby. I recognize the determination that every new mom wants the best for herself and baby!
My Experience with Plant-Based Pregnancy Nutrition
I’m very grateful because I’m having the DREAM pregnancy. I experienced very little nausea in the first trimester and did have some acid reflux in the third trimester. Other than that, I have no complaints! I sleep great, have tons of energy, and I’ve been able to enjoy my go-to hiking trail up until about 33 weeks. Since then I’ve been walking about 5 miles a day on flat ground.
I’ve gained 17 pounds (mostly around my belly), and according to the ultrasounds, my baby is measuring at a healthy 8 pounds.
It’s important for me to explain that this is not genetic. My mother gained over 60 pounds when she was pregnant with me. She was definitely not eating what I would consider to be a healthy diet.
Of course, a healthy lifestyle in general is important. I want to focus on healthy pregnancy nutrition because the most important thing for you and baby is your health.
Tips For A Healthy Vegan Pregnancy
Avoiding meat and dairy, and taking the recommended vitamins and minerals does not mean that you’re. So let’s take a look at it from a nutrition-focused vegan perspective.
Tip # 1 – Avoid Meat & Dairy
To be honest, I’m surprised that the question, “Is it safe to have meat/dairy when pregnant?” isn’t being asked more often!
The World Health Organization points out that 90% of dioxin exposure comes from the meat and dairy supply. This is just one example of how high levels of toxicity can enter the body through these foods.
Dioxin is a toxin that is associated with reproductive, developmental and hormonal damage.
Your body requires roughly 80,000 calories to ‘build’ a new human being. But the most important thing is not the amount calories you take in, but the quality and the nutrition density of those calories.
In any discussion on food and nutrition, quality takes precedence over quantity, and never more so than during pregnancy.
Tip # 3 – Get More Nutrients From Your Foods
Plants are the most abundant source of nutrients, vitamins, and essential minerals. So for nutrient density you really can’t beat a diverse, organic plant based diet.
That’s why I advocate treating yourself to a Glowing Green Smoothie every day, which is loaded with vitamins, enzymes, minerals, and antioxidants and is wonderfully nourishing for you and baby.
Because approximately 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned, the CDC recommends 400 mcg of Folic Acid daily for women of childbearing age, and 600 mcg during the last 5 months of your pregnancy.
Folic Acid is the man-made version of the vitamin Folate. Dark leafy greens (especially in your Glowing Green Smoothie) are a great natural source of Folate.
Tip # 4 – Eat Plant-Based Protein
Protein is the material of life, and forms the basis of essential bodily tissues like skin, muscle, bone matrix and marrow.
Proteins also do most of the heavy lifting in the cells by providing structure, function, and regulation for tissues and organs. It’s important stuff!
While the average healthy woman should be taking in roughly 46 grams of protein per day, pregnant women should be getting closer to 75 grams of protein each per day.
According to the World Health Organization, around 6% of your daily calories during pregnancy should really come from protein sources.
The fact is, meat-eating Americans are generally consuming greater amounts of protein than their bodies need, so what doesn’t accumulate as sludge in the intestinal tract is being eliminated as waste or converted into body fat.
Too much protein, especially when that includes animal and dairy protein, is extremely acidic and has an aging effect on the body. This is truer than ever for expectant moms.
But it is all so unnecessary when high quality, clean-burning, bio-available protein is absolutely available to everyone in abundance through plant based sources.
Tip # 5 – Avoid Toxins
According to the World Health Organization, POPs (Persistant Organic Pollutants) represent a range of about twelve dangerous chemical compounds that are prevalent in our environment.
They actually nicknamed these “the Dirty Dozen,” and for good reason! These are chemically very stable compounds that can last up to 11 years in the body with the potential to do harm to vital organs in the body.
WHO research confirms that over 90% of human exposure to these contaminants exists through the food supply – mainly meat, dairy, fish and shellfish. These toxins typically accumulate in the animal’s fat cells until they find their way to the dinner table, then into your body and unfortunately to your baby (and breast milk).
Healthy fats are very important for your own continuing health, and are vital for the health and development of your growing baby. Not all fats are created equal, of course, so stick to mainly unsaturated fats to help to fuel your little one’s brain growth, especially towards the later stages of your pregnancy.
Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA help develop and sustain the health of your baby’s heart, immune system, brain, eyes and more.
For years, people thought that the only way to get the necessary amount of Omega 3s in your diet was through fish and fish products, and this is simply not the case. I recommend taking a quality algae-based Omega 3 supplement with EPA & DHA while pregnant and when breast feeding.
Healthy fats found in things like avocados, almonds, and olive oil are great for helping keep cholesterol in check, as well as providing a good source of folate (folic acid).
Tip # 7 – Focus on Low Glycemic Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap over the years, but the’re important sources of fuel. They’re broken down into sugars, which are easily-absorbed by the placenta, providing your baby with energy.
The key is to concentrate on unrefined carbs which will break down more slowly, providing a steadier flow of glucose to your bloodstream,.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of dietary fiber in a healthy diet, yet this is an area where the majority of Westerners are sorely deficient.
The average American gets less than 50% of the RDA of the recommended daily dietary fiber.
Fiber is the part of the plant that our bodies do not digest. Instead of being absorbed as a typical nutrient, its job is to sweep toxins out of our digestive tracts. This helps purify our systems and stimulates the healthy movement of our bowels. It also helps us stay full without over eating.
As any expectant mother knows, heartburn, constipation and indigestion are common occurrences during pregnancy. It may be as simple as making sure you are getting enough fiber in your diet.
I experienced heartburn AND have been getting a lot of fiber. So what worked for me? Cutting out garlic and onions, eating dinner earlier, and keeping my upper body elevated at night.
Tip # 9 – Calcium Is Key!
I want to make sure that we don’t leave out mention of this essential nutrient for our expectant moms!
Calcium is essential for your baby’s bones, and helps protect you from osteoporosis later in life. Studies have proven that calcium supplementation during pregnancy (≥1,000 mg/day) was associated with a 35% lower risk of high blood pressure and a 55% lower risk of preeclampsia, and ever a reduced risk of preterm birth.
According to a research article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, preeclampsia is virtually non-existent in vegan moms!
Vegan Calcium Sources:
Fresh or dried beans
One of my favorite daily treats in the evening lately is heating up unsweetened hemp milk, and adding some carob and coconut nectar. Just 2 cups of hemp milk lists on the label as having 60% of the general RDA calcium recommendation.
Remember, if your doctor recommends that you supplement, it’s best if you can take your iron supplements and your calcium supplements at least two hours apart. Calcium has been found to inhibit the effective absorption of iron.
Tip # 10 – Take Whole Food Based Supplements
Eating a plant-based diet during pregnancy can help you gain the optimal amount of weight, feel great and have more energy because it’s rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
Taking whole foods based prenatal vitamins with B12 and Vitamin D will help you have a happy & healthy pregnancy while also, helping you avoid unwelcome complications such as high blood pressure, diabetes and constipation. This should continue when breast feeding as well. Take a closer look at my pregnancy supplement routine.