In 2011 more and more people are choosing a vegan diet, whether to save the pennies in the current economic climate, for its benefit to the environment, because they are against the factory farming and the slaughter of animals, or for their health. Just ask celebrities like Lea Michelle, Alicia Silverstone and Natalie Portman! But if you’re vegan and pregnant you may worry whether your diet is still suitable for your pregnancy. A vegan pregnancy does have its pitfalls, but they’re probably not what you’d think. The downsides aren’t a lack essential nutrients and feeling really tired as some people seem to assume, but one thing you will get tired of is hearing “but where do you get your protein? And your iron?”, and “of course, you’ll have to give the baby meat and milk to help it grow, you’re not going to raise it a fussy eater like you are you?” (I used to get asked all of these, daily!)
So what should vegan yummy mummies-to-be actually eat for a well-planned pregnancy diet?
For growing a healthy, bouncing baby, pregnancy increases your body’s need for folic acid, protein, calcium, iron, B12 and vitamin D.
Vegan diets tend to be higher than omnivorous diets in folate, the naturally occurring form of folic acid, found in foods such as pulses, leafy greens and oranges. However, it's still a good idea to follow the Department of Health recommendation to all pregnant women and take a folic acid supplement during the first trimester, to protect against neural tube defects.
As you will no doubt tire of telling people, vegans really do eat protein (honestly!), in the form of beans, ‘pretend’ meat, tofu, pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Providing you are meeting your recommended calorie intake, and including some protein with every meal, you should easily be providing your bump with adequate protein.
Calcium is abundant in an animal-free diet, and calcium-fortified soya milk is always comparable to (and often contains more calcium than) cow’s milk! As well as fortified soya, rice or oat milk, look for fortified orange juice and lots of those leafy greens!
As for iron, there are two types: haem iron, from animals, and non-haem iron, from plants. Contrary to the popular myth, haem iron, found in meat, is not more easily absorbed or ‘better’ than non-haem iron, and most of the iron absorbed in all our diets, including meat-eaters, is from plant sources. Legumes (such as kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas), tofu, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, fortified breakfast cereals and dried fruits are all excellent sources of iron. Drinking a glass of orange juice with meals helps the iron to be absorbed.
Your body’s requirements of vitamin B12 increase only slightly during pregnancy. Vitamin B12 is found in fortified foods, such as cereals, meat substitutes and non-dairy milk, so try eating more of these.
Vitamin D is also very important for developing babies, but is poorly supplied in all our diets, whether vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous, unless we eat fortified foods, such as fortified cereal and fortified soya milk. Vitamin D can be synthesised in our bodies by sunlight on the skin, but in our less-than-sunny climate eat fortified foods, or consider taking a specially formulated supplement of vitamin D. Make sure it is D2 though, as D3 is derived from fish oil or lanolin!
Some pregnant women like to take a prenatal vitamin, like DEVA Vegan Prenatal Multivitamin and Mineral or an iron and B12 supplement such as Salus’s Floravital. This is especially useful if morning sickness means you are finding it hard to eat anything other than gingernuts, like some women, or Cheezly, mushroom & tomato pancakes, Fry’s Chicken Burgers and tinned gooseberries, like me!
Another benefit of being vegan and pregnant is that your diet will probably naturally include more fibre than that of an omnivore, reducing the risk of suffering from that pregnancy bugbear constipation or haemorrhoids!
In an issue of their Journal, the American Dietetic Association (one of the world’s leading health bodies) set out their position that:
“appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
Therefore you can rest assured that as well as doing your bit for your bank balance, the environment and animals, you’re also eating a healthy diet to get you through pregnancy and providing a great start in life for your little one. So be proud of your vegan bump!
The 5 Vegan Products You Need Whilst Pregnant
1) SpaRitual Vegan Nail Lacquer. Free from DBP, Formaldehyde and Toluene, and available in an endless array of colours, this vegan nail polish is an easy way to pamper yourself without exposing your body and baby to any harsh chemicals. Just ask your boyfriend / husband / sister / mum / BFF to paint your toenails when you can’t reach!
2) To fake that pregnancy 'glow’ on days when you’re feeling more grey with morning sickness, Liz Earle Superskin Concentrate is a lifesaver. Its softening base of argan and organic rosehip oil even works wonders on sensitive, oily and problem skin! Apply it after cleansing and toning but before your moisturiser and make up.
3) Lush Dreamtime Bath Melt. Full of lavender, sandalwood and cocoa butter this amazing bath product melts away any pregnancy stress and worry, helps you sleep and is super-moisturising to tender, stretching skin. Lush also have a very stringent animal testing policy and are environmentally conscious, reducing packaging and only manufacturing vegetarian and vegan products. You just chuck it under the hot tap when you're running the bath.
4) DEVA Vegan Prenatal Multivitamin and Mineral One Daily. Peace of mind that you’re getting all the vital nutrients you and baby need, and certified by the Vegan Society.
5) Weleda Pregnancy Body Oil. A soothing, gentle oil with a comforting fragrance that works hard on preventing the dreaded stretch marks! I got a few stretch marks on my arse and boobs a week before my due date (harsh, Mother Nature! It's because I was being smug about not getting any!) but I got none on my bump.