According to the American Dietetic Association, a vegan diet (one that does not include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products or other foods derived from animals) can meet the nutritional needs of pregnant women. So is it safe during pregnancy? Yes. But keep these considerations in mind if you are pregnant (or plan to become pregnant) and vegan:
- Focus on folate early in pregnancy. All women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, whether vegan or not, should make sure they are getting enough folate. Vegan sources include enriched bread, pasta and cold cereal; dried beans; green leafy vegetables and orange juice. Vegan diets tend to be high in folate; however, to be on the safe side, women capable of becoming pregnant should take a supplement or use fortified foods that provide 400 micrograms of folate daily.
- Get enough calories to support weight gain. Some vegans begin pregnancy on the slim side and may have trouble gaining weight. Your health care provider can help you determine what an appropriate rate of weight gain looks like for you. If you are trying to gain weight, you may need to eat more often and eat more concentrated sources of calories like nuts and nut butters, dried fruit, soy products and unsaturated oils.
- Be sure to have a reliable source of vitamin D and vitamin B12 every day. Vitamin D sources include fortified soy milk and orange juice. Vitamin B12 can be found in many brands of fortified soy milk, some fortified breakfast cereals, fake meats and Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast. Many brands of prenatal vitamins include vitamin D and vitamin B12 as well.
- Be aware of good sources of protein, calcium, iron and iodine. Good sources of protein for vegans include soy products, dried beans, nuts, nut butters and whole grains. Calcium can be obtained from green vegetables like kale, mustard greens, broccoli and okra; calcium-fortified soy milk and orange juice; calcium-fortified breakfast cereals and calcium-set tofu. Calcium supplements are another option. Iron supplements are frequently recommended during pregnancy because iron needs are so high. In addition to iron supplements, vegans should include iron-rich foods in their daily diet, such as whole or enriched grains, dried beans, tofu and other soy products. Using iodized saltabout 3/4 teaspoon in cooking and at the tablewill meet iodine needs in pregnancy. As an alternative, many prenatal vitamins contain iodinejust check the label.
- Vegan diets do not contain DHA, a long-chain fatty acid mainly found in fatty fish. DHA is believed to play a role in brain and vision development. Our bodies are able to make some DHA from another fatty acid found in flaxseed, flax oil, canola oil, walnuts and soy products, but production is limited. Some pregnant vegan women choose to use a DHA supplement derived from micro-algae.
So is it safe during pregnancy? If you make sure to eat right, yes!