by Kate Bastedo
Vegan? Pregnant? Wondering what to eat for your health and that of your growing baby? Read on!
You’ll find that, for the most part, the dietary and health advice for pregnant women is pretty much the same, no matter what your normal diet; eat lots of veggies and fruits, whole grains and minimally processed foods, drink plenty of water, exercise daily, get enough sleep, and try to avoid stress, caffeine, alcohol and fried foods.
A pregnant vegan has the challenge of meeting all her nutritional needs on a plant based diet. Fortunately, with a little thought, that isn’t very difficult!
For those who don’t know, a vegan consumes no animal products at all. Of course not meat, (which includes fish) but also no milk, eggs, cheese, gelatin or honey. Although many vegans consume soy products and meat analogs, many others don’t. It’s really a matter of personal preference, as they aren’t necessary for health.
Many people, vegan or not, are concerned about the dietary needs of vegans, and those concerns are magnified during pregnancy, so let’s address the more common ones; protein, calcium, iron, vitamin D, omega 3s, vitamin B-12, folic acid and chocolate.
Your protein needs only go up about 20% during pregnancy. The average woman needs between 37-50 grams of protein a day; when you are pregnant, the RDA is 47-60 grams each day. HOWEVER, research by Dr Tom Brewer shows that increasing protein intake to 80-100 grams a day is very helpful in preventing toxemia, pre-eclampsia and HELLPS.
These amounts are easily met on a plant based diet; remember that ALL non- fruit foods contain at least a small amount of protein.
Here are some foods that are high in protein:
bagel: 10.0 g
refried beans, 1 cup: 15.8 g
garbanzo beans, 1 cup: 14.5 g
navy beans, 1 cup: 19.7 g
soybeans, 1 cup: 28.6 g
rolled oats, 1 cup: 13.0 g
wheat gluten, 1 cup: 58.0 g
Burrito with beans, rice, veggies: 42.5 g
Cereal with soy milk, 1 bowl: 26.4 g
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich: 19.6 g
Rice, brown with stir fried veggies and soy sauce: 21.2 g
salad with veggies, sunflower seeds, raisins: 19.4 g
vegetable soup, 1 bowl: 10.2 g
Spaghetti with marinara sauce and analog meat balls: 32.1 g
And don’t forget protein bars and shakes…add some protein powder to your breakfast smoothie and drop a protein bar in your purse for a quick snack.
See how easy and delicious it will be to get your daily protein?
Animal milk is not the only, or even the best way, to get calcium. Since the consumption of animal protein is known to deplete calcium, vegans actually may need less calcium for optimal health. A pregnant woman needs approximately 1000 mg of calcium per day.
Some good sources of calcium are:
Nuts and legumes:
Almonds, 23: 70.0 mg
Brazil nuts, 6 to 8: 45.0 mg
Sesame seed, roasted, 1 oz: 37.0 mg
Great Northern Beans, 1 cup: 120.0 mg
Navy Beans, 1 cup: 126.0 mg
Soybeans, 1 cup: 175.0 mg
Grains and cereals:
Amaranth, 1 cup: 276.0 mg
Rice, brown (long grain), 1 cup: 20.0 mg
Wheat germ. toasted, 1 cup: 51.0 mg
General Mills Total Corn Flakes, 1 1/3 cup: 1000.0 mg
General Mills Total Raisin Bran, 1 cup: 1000.0 mg
Beans, Green, 1 cup: 55.0 mg
Beet greens, 1 cup: 164.0 mg
Bok Choy (Chinese Cabbage), 1 cup: 158.0 mg
Broccoli, chopped, 1 cup: 65.0 mg
Broccoli, Chinese, 1 cup: 88.0 mg
Broccoli raab (Rapini), 1 bunch: 516.0 mg
Collards, 1 cup: 266.0 mg
Kale, 1 cup: 172.0 mg
Soy milk, fortified, 1 cup: 200.0 to 368.0 mg
Rice milk, Fortified, 1 cup: 250 to 300 mg
Almond, Fortified, 1 cup: 200 to 300 mg
Hempmilk, 1 cup: 460
Baked Tofu, medium to extra firm, 3 ounces: 100 to 150 mg
Black strap Molasses, 1 tablespoon: 172 mg
Orange Juice, Fortified, 8 ounce glass: 300 mg
Such a wide variety to choose from!
Pregnant women need about 30% more iron during this time. Increasing iron rich foods in your diet is a safe and effective way to meet your body’s needs without the unpleasant side effects that many iron supplements can have.
Try green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes, dried fruits, black strap molasses, nuts and seeds, and sea vegetables.
Cooking food in cast iron skillets can also increase the iron content of foods, and consuming foods rich in vitamin C with your iron rich foods can improve iron absorption.
According to a study done in Denmark, the vast majority of pregnant women do well with 40 grams of iron daily; contrast that with the normal recommendation of 100 mg a day. No wonder iron supplements have a reputation for causing constipation and intestinal discomfort!
Here are some to try:
Cereal, 100% iron fortified, 3/4 cup: 18 mg
Oatmeal, instant, fortified, prepared with water, 1 cup: 10 mg
Soybeans, boiled, 1 cup: 8.8 mg
boiled lentils, 1 cup: 6.6 mg
kidney beans, 1 cup: 5.2 mg
Source: U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements
A study published in the July 1986 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association shows that cooking in cast iron significantly adds iron to foods. For example:
unsweetened applesauce, 3 oz: .35 mg in non-iron skillet; 7.38 mg in iron skillet
Spaghetti sauce, 3 oz: .61 mg in non-iron skillet; 5.77 mg in iron skillet
Spanish rice, 3 oz: .87 mg in non-iron skillet; 2.25 mg in iron skillet
So pull out that heavy pot for your morning oatmeal!
This helpful nutrient is easy to get; 20 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight on the hands and face, three to four times per week will allow your body to make all it needs. The RDA is 400 IU, but a recent study shows that after 12 weeks, women who consume 4,000 IUs a day have much lower risks of gestational diabetes, preterm labor, premature births and infections. Vitamin D is needed to allow our bodies to absorb enough calcium, so if you don’t get enough D, you probably aren’t getting enough calcium, either.
If you live north of a line drawn on a map from the northern border of California to Boston, Massachusetts, you will probably need additional vitamin D from the foods you eat during the winter. If you’re fair skinned, experts say going outside for 10 minutes in the midday sun—in shorts and a tank top with no sunscreen—will give you enough radiation to produce about 10,000 international units of the vitamin. Dark-skinned individuals produce less vitamin D, but your body stores what you make, so a summer of daily exposure will give you a great start for winter. The UV rays needed to trigger Vitamin D production do NOT pass through glass, so sitting near a window won’t help.
Mushrooms are the “plant” that have the most Vit. D, about 160 per 200 calorie serving. Fortified soymilk contains roughly 200-300 IUs per cup; that’s a lot of milk to drink in a day! I suggest a supplement, but don’t rely on your prenatal vitamins; get one specifically for Vitamin D from a health food store.
Omega 3 oils
ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid) is converted to Omega 3 by our bodies.The Institute of Medicine recommends 1.4 g/day during pregnancy. Flax oil (unheated), walnut oil, hempseed oil, flax seeds, wheat germ, walnuts, canola oil, and soy products all contain the ALA your body needs, and it’s so easy to incorporate them into your diet! Try adding wheat germ or flax seeds and walnuts to your salads, cook with walnut or canola oils, eat some tofu or drink some soy milk, or drizzle a little flax oil on toast. It has a mildly sweet, faint cinnamon taste…yum! And try chia seeds; they have 4915 mg per ounce! (plus phosphorus, potassium, calcium and dietary fiber). I order mine online to get better prices.
Folic Acid (folate)
The most frequently encountered vitamin deficiency in the U.S. is folate deficiency. Vegan women consume more folic acid on average than meat-eaters but it’s very necessary for a healthy baby, so don’t assume you get enough.
A pregnant woman needs about 600 ug (micrograms) of folic acid per day.
Many foods commonly consumed in the US are fortified with folate.
fortified breakfast cereals, ¾ cup: 400 ug
Cowpeas (blackeyes), ½ cup: 105 ug
Frozen spinach, ½ cup: 100 ug
Great Northern beans, ½ cup: 90 ug
Asparagus, 4 spears: 85 ug
Fortified white rice, long-grain, ½ cup: 65 ug
canned vegetarian baked beans, 1 cup: 60 ug
In addition, enjoy baked goods made with fortified flour, cauliflower and orange juice.
Pregnant females require 2.6 micrograms of B12 daily…and it’s not easy to get on a plant based diet.
Although it has long been thought that vegans can easily get enough B-12 by consuming fortified foods such as nutritional yeast (delicious sprinkled on popcorn), soymilk, meat analogs (vegetarian meat substitutes), or breakfast cereals, the amounts in those foods can vary widely, depending on how they were grown, processed and stored.
In addition, there is some evidence that suggests that a mother’s stores of B-12 may not be available to the fetus, so it is critical that you include a regular, reliable source of this nutrient in your diet. Sea vegetables and tempeh are not reliable sources. Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast is considered a good source. My recommendation? Hit the health food store and pick up a good supplement to be on the safe side.
Oh yes! I know, you probably thought that little addition to needed nutrients was a joke, but in fact, I’m quite serious.
A four year study conducted by the Yale Center for Perinatal, Pediatric & Environmental Epidemiology, at Yale University, concluded that dark chocolate reduces the risk of preeclampsia by 69%!
Although vegans don’t eat milk chocolate, they can enjoy dark chocolate, and by consuming 1 oz a day, enjoy a healthier pregnancy, too. Get a good quality bar..Green and Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate comes in a 3.5 oz bar, so 2 bars will last you a week. Don’t go overboard and eat one a day; they are also high in fat and have a significant amount of caffeine. If it’s too tempting, look for the smaller 1.5 oz bar.
I hope this information helps you make healthy decisions, to enjoy your vegan pregnancy, and to have a beautiful birth!
brewer diet protein–even has a vegan checklist to print out!
meat consumption depletes calcium
dietary sources of calcium
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
iron study in Denmark
dietary sources of iron
US office of Dietary supplements
folate fact sheet
dark chocolate article