Pregnancy can bring so much joy and happiness to most of the people that go through it – it may not be a smooth road for all, but it’s one that is probably worth the nine month journey. Just because you’re vegan and pregnant, doesn’t mean it has to be any harder for you. The majority of women experiencing pregnancy, whether first, second or third trimester will likely have questions.
Diet is one of the most significant factors impacting health status of both mother and baby. In this critical stage of life, the nutrients a pregnant mother ingests, will influence the health of her baby. It is therefore beneficial to keep in the know about what your body will need during this period, particularly if vegan and pregnant.
Do I need to take Vegan Prenatal Supplements?
Nutrients should be provided predominantly through our diets. However, during pregnancy, the body uses up some nutrients more quickly and in greater amounts so getting them solely from diet can be rather challenging. Taking supplements in addition to a well-balanced diet is the best solution. As a vegan, not all nutrients can be sourced from diet alone, particularly in the most absorbable forms. Though of course there are huge benefits to being vegan, vegetarian or plant-based during pregnancy too.
What are the most important nutrients during pregnancy?
All nutrients are important, especially in pregnancy, but some pose greater risks if there is a deficiency.
- Folic acid – Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tube defects and help to develop a healthy nervous system.
- Calcium – Calcium is a mineral that is needed not only for the development of bones and teeth but it also acts as an important regulator for nerve signalling and hormone production amongst other cellular processes.
- Iron – This essential mineral is needed to make healthy red blood cells which are responsible for the transport of oxygen around the body.
- Iodine – Iodine is a mineral that is essential in the production of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones regulate our metabolism amongst other roles including coordinating heart rate.
- Zinc – Zinc is a mineral that is not only needed to support our immunity, but also assist in various metabolic processes.
- Vitamin D – This fat-soluble vitamin is needed to facilitate the absorption of calcium, as well as other processes involved in metabolism.
- Vitamin B12 – This water-soluble vitamin’s most important role is in making new DNA. It also helps to form new red blood cells.
- Omega 3 – Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) that is necessary for the maintenance of immune, nervous and cardiovascular systems as well as cell structure.
- Choline – This less-publicised nutrient is essential for promoting healthy brain development, metabolism, liver function and various cellular processes.
- Protein – Protein is made up of amino acids which act as the building blocks of every cell, tissue and organ in our body.
Nutritional requirements for pregnant women
The requirements of certain nutrients for women change when they become pregnant. The daily (per day) requirements for micronutrients and macronutrients that are considered as some of the most important during pregnancy are as follows:
- Folic acid 400-600mcg
- Calcium 1200mcg
- Iron 27mg
- Iodine 220mcg
- Zinc 12mcg
- Vitamin D 10mcg or 400IU
- Vitamin B12 2.6mcg
- Omega 3 300-550mcg (225mcg DHA)
- Choline 450mg
- Protein ~71g (1.1-1.2g per kg bodyweight)
What supplements should pregnant women take?
A prenatal vitamin should contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals. However, vitamins and minerals that may not be present in adequate amounts or at all include: calcium, iron, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, iodine and selenium. The prenatal multivitamin should however, contain at least 400-600mcg folic acid (preferably in the absorbable form of folate), the full range of B vitamins (including some B12), adequate amounts of the lipid soluble vitamins (A, E, D and K), vitamin C and chromium.
Calcium for Vegan and Pregnant Women
If your prenatal multivitamin does not contain calcium, it’s worth considering an additional supplement which would provide you with calcium. Some studies have shown, that irrespective of the vitamin D required for calcium absorption, taking a supplement that contains both calcium and vitamin D may not be so beneficial. Taking vitamin D as a separate supplement to the calcium however may be a better option. Calcium citrate would be a good choice as this does not need to be taken with food. It would also be advisable to space out the ingestion of calcium, zinc and iron supplements as they can compete with each other for absorption.
Choline during Pregnancy
Choline is not as famous as folic acid, but it is also extremely important in helping to build a baby’s nervous system. For a woman that is vegan and pregnant, it can be quite tough reaching your body’s choline needs – possible, but not easy. To be on the safe side, supplementing with choline or checking that it’s in your multivitamin is advisable.
Iron when Vegan and Pregnant
Iron deficiency during pregnancy can result in anaemia which can lead to a myriad of problems so it is imperative to meet your body’s iron needs during this vital period. In plant foods, iron is found in non-haem form. In order to be able to absorb this, it is essential to consume vitamin C, either as a food or drink, such as orange juice or tomatoes, or as a supplement. Iron requirements increase during pregnancy which is why supplementing alongside diet can be beneficial. Iron can be usually found in most prenatal multis, and is usually safer when administered as part of your multivitamin. However, if it is not part of your multi, supplementing with iron alone can be considered. WHO recommends 30-60mg elemental (bioavailable) iron supplementation per day. Iron can also be dangerous in large amounts so ensure to speak to your healthcare provider before supplementing.
Omega 3 Vegan Supplement
All vegans, especially vegans who are pregnant, should take omega 3 supplements in the form of DHA and EPA, containing at least 225mcg DHA. Supplements in the form of ALA or LA are not as effective since they must first be converted into EPA and DHA – the conversion rate has been shown to be less than 10% in most cases. You can check out the Vegan Omega 3 post for further details on this nutrient.
Being vegan and pregnant can be scary, but it is also an exciting journey that you will never forget.
** The above information is based on healthy individuals who do not suffer with disease or impairments that could further impact nutritional needs or requirements during pregnancy.
** Please consult a dietitian and/or physician before taking any supplements.
Suggested Recipes for Vegan and Pregnant
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