What the vegan diet should look like in pregnancy to avoid nutrient deficiency
Proper nutrition and, above all, a balanced and nutritious diet is more important than ever before during pregnancy. After all, you not only have to provide your own body with everything you need, but also a second organism that can only develop properly. And although this is known to all expectant mothers, it is difficult for them to meet the increased nutritional requirements. This can be difficult, especially with a vegan diet. We explain what you should pay attention to if you want to continue a vegan diet during pregnancy so that you and your baby can get through this time healthy.
Vegan nutrition during pregnancy – eat healthy in advance
If you are planning to become pregnant, you should start with the right diet beforehand. In this way, you prepare not only physically, but also mentally for the upcoming pregnancy. Because as long as 9 months seem to be, they will finally pass in no time and a kind of preparation phase will set you up for a healthy lifestyle. A changeover for which the 9 months might not be enough. You should consider this for both a normal and a vegan diet during pregnancy:
- Check your BMI (Body Mass Index). According to him, do you have a normal weight?
- Take folic acid daily as a dietary supplement.
- Have a blood test done to see if your iron levels are normal.
- Make sure you get enough vitamin B12. This can be done with the help of food as well as food supplements.
- Do you eat a healthy and balanced diet overall?
- Are you moving enough?
- It's no secret that smoking and alcohol are particularly discouraged during pregnancy. If you are planning to become pregnant, you should avoid these habits in advance.
If your BMI is outside the norm, this can lead to complications during pregnancy. This includes gestational diabetes, a very large or very small baby, and premature birth. So it is important to do something about your overweight or underweight before you become pregnant. Regardless of whether you follow a vegan diet during pregnancy or not – if your BMI points to underweight, try to gain weight or reduce it if the BMI indicates overweight.
Folic acid before pregnancy
Folic acid is particularly important at the beginning of pregnancy. It is necessary for the development of the nervous system and has been shown to reduce the risk of splitting the spine or other neural tube defects in the baby. Not only a vegan diet during pregnancy should go hand in hand with sufficient folic acid, but also a normal one. Therefore, doctors also prescribe nutritional supplements for your patients that contain the necessary amount.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is 400 micrograms a day, which is taken in addition to other food sources that are enriched with folic acid. Such foods include some breakfast cereals, breads, pasta and rice. The recommended amount of folic acid should be taken at least one month before the planned pregnancy.
Iron deficiency is a common problem in women and during pregnancy this can increase the risk of premature birth and other complications. It is best to check your iron levels before pregnancy, because then you still have time to do something about it and get used to the necessary dietary change. Don't forget that the baby will need more iron later, and with the right preparation, it can be better met.
Eat vegan and vitamin B12
Vegans in particular should make sure that they have a sufficient B12 intake and a vegan diet during pregnancy and before that, this vitamin should definitely contain the recommended amount. It is important for the development of the baby's brain and nervous system. The dietitian Virginia Messina recommends the following for an adequate intake of vitamin B12 before pregnancy:
- The daily intake of a dietary supplement with 25 to 100 micrograms of vitamin B12 or
- 1000 micrograms of vitamin B12 twice a week or
- Two servings of fortified food per day, each with 2 to 3.5 micrograms of vitamin B12. Take the servings at least 4 hours apart so that the vitamins can be easily absorbed by the body.
Vegan diet during pregnancy
Many women are afraid of gaining weight during pregnancy. A normal one is not only inevitable, but also healthy. But don't expect only the baby's weight to matter. Many other things change in your body: for example, the blood volume increases and the uterus and placenta also grow steadily. For women with a normal BMI, 11 to 15 kg of weight gain are considered completely normal. Weight loss diets should never be followed. Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend paying particular attention to an adequate intake of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin B12
- Folic acid
- Iron and zinc
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin D
It is important that you put together a meal plan that covers the needs of all of these nutrients well. Fortunately, a vegan diet during pregnancy can also ensure this if it is enriched with dietary supplements and fortified products.
Proteins are not only needed by the mother-to-be's body. The baby also needs it very much because it has to develop bones, muscles and organs. The amount should be increased from the second trimester and is between 75 and 85 grams per day, depending on the starting weight of the pregnant woman. If you have opted for a vegan diet during pregnancy, you will find a perfect source of protein in legumes.
Beans, peanuts and soy products during pregnancy help to meet daily needs. Walnuts are also rich in proteins. Of course, these are not the only suitable legumes, but just a few examples. 5 servings of legumes and products with fewer proteins such as grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables should be able to meet your new daily needs. Here is an example of 5 possible servings:
- 100 g of cooked beans or 85 g tempeh or 125 g tofu during pregnancy
- 240 ml soy milk during pregnancy, instead of milk products
- 25 g peanuts or Soy nuts
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
- 55 to 85 g vegan meat substitutes made from vegetables, except jackfruit
Five servings may sound like a lot at first, but you will have noticed that it is not that much at all. An example of a high protein and vegan pregnancy diet plan would also be the following:
- In the morning a smoothie with 240 ml soy milk
- To the Noon Lentil soup
- As dinner fried tofu
- Two Snacks between the main meals: apple with peanut butter and peanuts
Vegan diet during pregnancy with vitamin B12
As already mentioned, this vitamin plays an important role in the development of the nervous system. While a woman's body can store vitamin B12, there is no evidence that these stored vitamins are available to the unborn child. Therefore, a sufficient increase in vitamin B12 during pregnancy should be observed daily. Dietary supplements and fortified foods are well suited. It should be 2.6 micrograms of vitamin B12 a day during pregnancy.
Regardless of whether it is a vegan diet during pregnancy or a normal one, it is important to know that you take in less of the vitamin if, for example, you consume it in large quantities once than if you consume it in smaller quantities several times throughout the day. Two servings a day are therefore the better option. An example:
- At least 25 micrograms of vitamin B12 in the form of dietary supplements or
- Two servings of fortified foods with at least 2 to 3.5 micrograms of vitamin B12. It is usually noted on the packaging that one serving covers 33% of the daily requirement. There should be at least 4 hours between the two servings so that the body can fully absorb the vitamins.
Get folic acid vegan
Folic acid is also very important for the baby's nervous system and should therefore not be neglected. It is a form of the so-called folate, which is particularly stable, which is why it is used to fortify foods and to produce nutritional supplements. Enriched vegan products include pasta, whole grains and breakfast cereals.
Other types of folates are naturally found in some foods that are suitable for a vegan diet during pregnancy. These include green vegetables, dried beans and oranges. Make sure you have an adequate supply. Non-vegan and vegan foods that are rich in folic acid also contain large amounts of other important nutrients, so you will get multiple benefits from them.
Vegan diet during pregnancy – iron and zinc
As the mother's blood volume increases during pregnancy, iron is very important. But the baby also needs this nutrient. Iron deficiency can also lead to anemia, which in turn can lead to premature birth. For an iron-based vegan diet during pregnancy, consume dried beans and whole grains. Incidentally, the body can best absorb iron with the help of vitamin C, which is why you should enrich your food with lemon or other foods containing vitamin C (e.g. tomatoes and products with tomatoes, citrus juices, broccoli). A dietary supplement may also be needed to meet the increased need.
Zinc is found in whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds and is also important for the correct development of the baby.
Iodine deficiency is widespread all over the world. This is particularly worrying during pregnancy because it can lead to malformations and developmental disorders in the baby. Dietary supplements are the best way to guarantee an adequate supply of Jof and iodized salt is also suitable. It should be at least 150 micrograms a day. And although iodine is found in vegetables, you shouldn't rely on it, as the amounts it contains can vary widely. Seaweed is a source of iodine, but the levels can be so high that it can lead to health problems.
Omega-3 fatty acids
If you value a vegan diet during pregnancy and do not want to risk a deficiency, you should eat one of the following foods daily, because the vegan selection is not very large:
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseed; it is important that they are ground, otherwise you will not absorb the necessary fatty acids
- 1 tsp linseed oil
- 4 walnuts
- 1 tbsp walnut, hemp, soy or rapeseed oil
- 2 tsp chia seeds
In addition, it is also recommended to take dietary supplements with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are also available in a vegan version. Check with your doctor. A dose of 200 to 300 mg per day is recommended.
Calcium is very important for the bones and teeth of the baby. As long as you have already had enough calcium before pregnancy, you do not need to increase the amount during the 9 months and you do not have to worry about a calcium deficiency. It's no secret that milk and milk products contain plenty of calcium. However, other foods are necessary for a vegan diet during pregnancy. You can take 150 mg of calcium daily with the following products and amounts:
- 125 ml of plant milk, orange juice or vegan yogurt, which are enriched with calcium
- 100 g soybeans
- 85 g tempeh
- 125 g tofu, enriched with calcium and nigari
- 70 g cooked bok choy
- 250 g cabbage
- 200 g white beans
- 75 g Indian mustard
- 100 g okra
- 360 g of cooked broccoli
- 35 g almonds
- 2 tbsp almond butter or tahini
- 2 navel oranges
- 10 dried figs
- 1/2 energy bar enriched with calcium
You can cover your needs during pregnancy by consuming 5 of these products a day and other foods with a lower calcium content.
Even though, as with calcium, vitamin D deficiency is relatively unlikely during pregnancy because the need is not increased, you should still ensure normal intake. Among other things, vitamin D is necessary so that the body can better absorb calcium (like vitamin C in iron). Most of the vitamin D requirement is covered by the sun. With only 10 to 20 minutes a day in the sun, the body produces enough vitamin D.
In addition, some foods provide the body with vitamin D. However, a vegan diet during pregnancy carries the risk of a vitamin D deficiency, since vegan food does not contain much of the vitamin. The requirement of 600 IU per day can then best be met with a dietary supplement.
Vegan nutrition in pregnancy – the guidelines at a glance
In conclusion, we have a total of 5 points for you that can serve as a guideline for a healthy diet during pregnancy. They are not only useful for a vegan diet during pregnancy, but also if you consume animal products. If you follow the 5 tips, you should run no risk of suffering from a nutritional deficiency during pregnancy.
- Eat beans, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, vegan meat alternatives, peanuts and peanut butter at least 5 times a day.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially those with vitamin C. These include strawberries, oranges, broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes. Go for green leafy salads and orange fruits and vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, peaches, butter melon, etc.).
- Very often eat whole grains, as well as foods with healthy fats such as nuts, nut butter, avocado, olive oil and seeds.
- Eat products rich in calcium 5 to 6 times a day.
- Cover the daily requirement of vitamin B12 and folic acid, as well as 15 micrograms of iodine with the help of food supplements. Those for vitamin D and iron are also recommended. Women who choose a vegan diet during pregnancy often also choose supplements with DHA.
The recommendations come from Reed Mangels, Dietitian and PhD in philosophy.
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