Ensuring you are getting adequate vitamins and minerals can be especially tricky if you follow a restricted diet, such as veganism, when pregnant, but it is definitely not impossible. Having a nutritious diet is what matters and that doesn’t necessarily mean one that is meat- and/or dairy-based.
A review of 22 studies found that, in general, veganism or vegetarianism during pregnancy appears to be safe; however, vegans or vegetarians may be at risk of B12 and iron deficiencies. As well as B12 and iron, there are other vitamins and minerals you may need to make sure you are getting if you follow a vegan diet, such vitamin D, iodine and calcium and you should be making sure to include enough protein in your meals and snacks.
Consider including the following foods in your diet if you are vegan:
Mushrooms are the only non-animal-derived food that contains vitamin D, a vitamin that is essential for calcium absorption, and consequently, your baby’s bones and teeth. However, it is still recommended to take a vitamin D supplement (10mg per day) to make sure that your intake is adequate. Mushrooms are also a good source of protein as well as of some B vitamins, in particular niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (B5), and riboflavin (vitamin B2).
Seeds and nuts:
Sesame seeds and tahini, a sesame seed paste, are a very good source of calcium, and are relatively good sources of protein. Seeds and nuts are also good sources of essential fatty acids, such as alpha linolenic acid which is found in flax seeds and flaxseed oil as well as walnuts. Alpha linolenic acid is converted to omega-3 fatty acids in the body. Seeds and nuts are also good sources of omega-6 fatty acids and zinc. Zinc needs increase when you are pregnant and absorption of zinc is lower with a plant-based diet.
Fortified breakfast cereals, breads and milk:
Eating fortified food is a great way to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals that you wouldn’t otherwise generally find in a vegan diet, in particular B12, vitamin D and iron.
As well as being a great source of protein, tofu is also a very good source of calcium. Miso soup is another good source of protein. Soybeans are also a good source of an essential acid called alpha-linolenic acid, an acid which gets converted to omega-3 fatty acids in your body.
However, soy products should be eaten in moderation due to containing high levels of phytoestrogens. In a study of 7928 baby boys, 51 were found to have hypospadias, a condition in which the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis and not at the tip. Mothers who were vegetarian during pregnancy had a greater chance of having a baby with this condition, and this was considered to be due to ingesting a higher amount of phytoestrogens, compared with omnivores.
Foods known to have phytoestrogens include:
- Soybeans and soy products
- Sesame seeds
If you feel like you aren’t ingesting adequate levels of vitamins, minerals or protein from your diet alone, you could consider a supplement to make up for any deficiencies.