A vegan diet that recognizes all essential nutrients can do the mother and baby a world of good.
Today we are jumping right into how to have a healthy and happy vegan pregnancy. If you are new to the Vegan diet, having a vegan pregnancy may seem a bit overwhelming, but to be quite frank with you, it is just as easy as any other pregnancy! We just have to make sure that we are reaching our nutritional goals while also listening to our bodies.
Pregnancy is such a miracle.
As women, we have the amazing opportunity to grow a little human (or humans!) inside of our womb and care for them through proper nutrition, lots of rest, stress-relieving activities such as meditation or reading, heart-healthy activities such as walking and pregnancy safe workouts, and belly rubs while gently singing your favorite songs (got to start them young on good music, am I right?!).
This miracle requires a lot from our bodies. Pregnancy is a time where our bodies hit their highest metabolic and nutritional demands. We need to be aware of what we are eating and how to reach our nutritional demands without going bonkers. Vegan and non-vegans alike go through this stressful period of “Am I doing enough!?” and I have to tell you….if you care enough to read and research, I am positive that you are doing enough.
This guide is not a complete guide for every woman.
We are all different and we all require a bit more of this and a bit more of that. It is crucial to get your bloodwork done as soon as possible to see where you need to pick up the pace or where you are good to go. Some key nutritional values that are crucial in pregnancy are Folic Acid, Iron, Calcium, Vitamin D, DHA, and Iodine.
To begin our guide, we will chat more about these and how you can reach your goal without any animal products!
We will then move onto Vegan Specific needs, helpful tips and resources, and a few of my favorite books.
Nutrition Guide and Resources for a Healthy Vegan Pregnancy
A Quick Daily Checklist for Pregnancy
Looking for an easy-to-follow checklist to help meet your daily nutritional requirements? Follow these 5 steps!
Eat at least 5 servings a day of nuts, beans, tempeh, legumes, fortified milk, veggie meats or nut/seed butter.
Eat a wide and colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. Green leafy vegetables, those with high vitamin C, and dark vegetables/fruits are great for pregnancy!
If possible, opt for whole grains. Select healthy fat sources like avocados, nuts, nut/seed butter, seeds, coconut butter, and the like.
Eat calcium-rich foods every single day: aim for 5-6 servings.
Use a trusted vegan supplement (we list our recommendations at the end) to meet your daily nutritional needs.
Key Nutritional Values in Pregnancy
Folic Acid: 600 mg/daily
This vitamin is VERY easy for most vegans and vegetarians to come by without the need for supplementation (although this is in all pre-natal vitamins!). Folic acid is found in an array of vegetables, so as long as you are consuming your daily required intake, you should be fine! A deficiency in folic acid is linked to neural tube defects. Some of the best sources of folic acid are orange juice, leafy greens, beans/lentils, whole grains, and wheat flour.
Pregnant women, vegan and non-vegan alike, have the highest need for Iron due to the increased blood volume, development of the fetus, and possible blood loss in delivery. A great thing to note: Our bodies are iron machines during pregnancy and if you have an iron deficiency from any of the above reasons, maternal iron stores will usually meet the baby’s needs so that they are not born with iron-deficiency unless the mother is severely anemic.
One of my favorite ways to reach my iron levels is to use blackstrap molasses in my daily intake. I use 1 tsp in tea, add it to cookies, smoothies, and I also blend it into my dressings! This has been a wonderful and delicious way to boost my iron levels. The best food sources of iron are spinach, leafy greens, potatoes, dried fruits, beans, tofu, peas, seeds, nuts, soy milk, and fortified foods. It is highly recommended to consume a source of Vitamin C with the iron-rich foods for best absorption
Bloodwork is crucial to find out where your iron levels are and how you should go about to boost or regulate them.
This blogger has some of my favourite iron rich meals that are delicious for any point in life: The Viet Vegan
Calcium is quite easy to come by if you eat the right foods. Some great vegan calcium-rich foods are fortified milks, fresh fruit, juice, cereals, fortified tofu, beans, sesame seeds, nuts, and figs. One of the key things to note with calcium is to NOT overdo it. It is extremely easy for us to get too much calcium. The limit for daily intake should be no more than 2,500 mg per day. If taking a supplement, opt for one that has below 400 mg because you will reach your daily intake with just one bowl of cereal.
Vitamin D: 10-40 micrograms/daily
The interesting thing about Vitamin D is that the recommended dose is just 5 micrograms per day but many researchers argue that it is set too low. So for this, we will set it at 10-40 (50 is the upper limit which is safe) per day. Vitamin D is a vitamin that is not so easy to find for both vegans and non-vegans – it is not found in most foods!
Vitamin D can be made from exposure to the sun, and that may be easy for some of us but may pregnant women are stuck at work or spend most of their time indoors. The use of sunscreen also inhibits Vitamin D (p.s. if you ARE using sunscreen, please use something safe like badger balm).
One of the most popular ways that vegans and non-vegans reach their vitamin D goals is to take a supplement of 5-10 micrograms daily. You can also reach for Vitamin D fortified foods such as soy milk, cereals, orange juice, and bars.
Note: Vitamin D3 is derived from animal sources. Vegans have the D2 form. D2 is not as well absorbed as the D3 form, so vegans should strive for the higher end of the recommended range (10-40 micrograms)
Nutrition Guide and Resources for a Healthy Vegan Pregnancy
DHA & Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While Omega-3’s can be found in super easy to find vegan foods, DHA will have to come from a supplement that is derived from algae. 200-300 milligrams/daily of DHA is recommended to reduce the risk of premature birth and healthy brain development.
As for Omega-3’s, we can easily reach our daily intake needs by incorporating flax meal, walnuts, and chia seeds into our diet. You can also opt for flaxseed, walnut, canola, or hempseed oils. Just 1 tbsp of seeds or a small handful of walnuts will get you to your daily recommended intake.
Many women around the world do not get enough of their daily recommended iodine intake. It is crucial to reach your daily intake for the health of your baby. The best way to do this is to use a supplement, such as a prenatal vitamin. Be sure that your supplement has at least 150mcg of iodine.
You can also opt to use a specific supplement. Iodized salt can be an easy addition to the daily diet to boost your iodine count. Sea vegetables are a rich source of iodine but their levels are a bit extreme; it’s best to stay within the recommended daily amount.
This is another nutrient that many women, vegan and non-vegan alike, are deficient in. The daily required amount jumps from 8 to 11 milligrams per day in pregnancy.
Great sources of zinc include legumes, whole grains, and nuts. Check that your prenatal vitamin provides 15 milligrams of zinc.
Vitamin B12: 2.6 micrograms/daily
If you have been vegan for more than a day, I am sure that you have heard about vitamin B12 haha. Do not worry, we can easily reach our daily requirement on a vegan diet. Vitamin b12 plays a crucial role in the development of your baby’s nervous system. Our body stores vitamin b12 for our own use but this stored b12 has not been shown to be readily available to the fetus. We must eat b12 rich foods and/or take a b12 supplement to reach our baby’s needs.
Pregnany women should have a goal of 2.6 micrograms per day. We can easily find B12 in fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, non-dairy milk, bars, meat substitutes, and Nutritional yeast. Many use fortified foods and a B12 supplement together.
Note: Tempeh, sprouted beans, sea vegetables, and algae contain b12 analogs with block the absorption of b12. Do not confuse these foods with B12 rich foods.
Protein: 60-85 grams/daily
Vegans have NO problems reaching their daily protein intake if they have a healthy, well-balanced diet. There are just so many options, it’s quite silly to even make this suggestion! When it comes to pregnancy however, our protein needs increase because we must not only maintain our own body, but also the developing muscles, bones, and organs of our children.
The protein recommendation for pregnant women is between 60-85 grams/daily. The amount does vary based on your weight. For an exact number, seek out a plant-based nutritionist to run the numbers.
Some easy ways to incorporate protein into your vegan diet is to add beans, tofu, tempeh, fortified milk, nuts, seeds, nut butter, veggie meats and even vegan protein powder to your diet. I absolutely love to add nut butter to my daily smoothies to get a nice boost in the morning.
Some easy to make protein-packed meals: Buddha bowls, lentil soup, smoothies, apples and nut butter, trail mix, and tofu/chickpea curry.
Additional Tips for Pregnancy
Current BMI: Women whose BMI is underweight or overweight during conception are at a higher risk for pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, having a very large/small infant, and having a premature baby. You can get an idea of your BMI via this calculator. I would like to note one thing; if you are very muscular, your BMI will be way off. For a more accurate answer, please use these ways to test.
Weight Gain: The average weight gain over the course of 9 months is around 25-35 pounds. For underweight women, the average is 28-40 pounds. For overweight women, 15-25 pounds. For multiple births, it can range between 35-55 pounds (lucky me haha!). These numbers are just basic guidelines and your continuous doctor checkups will keep you on track. If you follow a healthy diet and eat for your body (and your baby’s) needs, you will be fine. The first trimester will usually see a weight gain of maybe 5 pounds or even weight loss if severe nausea is happening.
What to Avoid: No alcohol. No drugs. No raw sprouts. No unpasteurized juices.
Water Intake: Drink your water! Drink up, drink up. Try infused waters, non-decaffeinated teas, fresh juices, or even whole fruit with high H20 content. If you are pregnant in hotter months, please drink more than usual. Dehydration can lead to early labor because the hormones that stimulate contractions will be in high concentrations in a body that is not hydrated.
Cravings: Although there are times that cravings can trigger a deficiency, usually they are just telling you to go to sleep, get more comfortable, or relieve some stress. Cravings are not harmful unless they are really wreaking havoc on your diet. If you ever crave non-food like dirt or clay, check on your iron and zinc levels.
Having Multiples? Congratulations and welcome to the club! As a mom carrying more than one baby, you will need to eat more, gain more weight, drink more water and intake more vitamins and minerals. It is recommended to find an expert in nutrition to help you figure out your meal plan for this pregnancy: get ready to devour a lot!
Recommended Prenatal Vitamins
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Helpful Resources + Cookbooks
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Helpful Online Resources:
- Physicians Committee: Vegan Pregnancy
- Dieticians guide to a healthy vegan pregnancy
- Pregnancy and the Vegan Diet
- Vegan Pregnancy and Breast Feeding
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