How to Have a Healthy Vegan Pregnancy
Veganism has been growing in popularity over the past few years. Unlike vegetarianism, which allows for dairy, eggs, and honey, veganism does not allow for any animal products or byproducts. This is based on the vegan philosophy of excluding any product that may result in cruelty to or exploitation of animals. True vegans extend this beyond food and take into consideration clothing or any other non-food product that may be made from animal products.
Vegan Fertility and Vegan Pregnancy
To begin with some positive news regarding vegan fertility, a vegan diet may improve fertility outcomes. One reason is the amount of folic acid, found in leafy greens, citrus, and beets, provided in a vegan pregnancy diet. Another is thanks to the high amount of polyunsaturated fats found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds. Studies have also shown that a vegan pregnancy can reduce excess weight gain during pregnancy.
Common Concerns with a Vegan Pregnancy
The vegan diet is commonly used by vegetarians and vegans as a healthy way to lose weight. However it can have an effect on Preganancy if not followed correctly. This is because, in Chinese medicine the basis of healthy pregnancy is to ensure a strong qi and blood supply to support both mother and baby. What we eat affects how the blood, energy (Qi) flows through the body. Especially as as certain essential micronutrients are only found in animal products.
Since a vegan diet will not be sufficient in all of the essential nutrients needed to sustain life and achieve a healthy pregnancy, there are a lot of considerations to be made when sticking to a vegan diet during pregnancy. It is absolutely doable, but it is not as easy as just simply cutting out animal products from your diet. It will require a lot of work on the part of expectant mothers. The following are among the most common concerns of a vegan pregnancy diet:
- Deficient in Vitamin B12: Essential nutrients are those that must be ingested as food since the human body does not make enough of the nutrient for its own survival. Vitamin B12 is an essential micronutrient that is only found in animal products. It is needed for the generation of myelin and for the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. Lack of it during pregnancy may result in predisposing your newborn to neurodevelopmental delays.
- Low in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: There are three main types of essential omega-3 fatty acid. They are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Though ALA is found in many plant products such as flaxseed and walnuts, DHA and EPA are only found in foods such as fatty fish. The human body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA, but not in large enough quantities to meet the body’s needs. Lack of these omega-3 fats during pregnancy could predispose a newborn to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
- Low in iodine: Iodine supports proper thyroid function. The essential minerals iodine is found in meat, dairy, and fish. A vegan diet is low in iodine has been shown to lead to obesity and developmental delays in later in life.
- Poor zinc absorption: Zinc supports the immune system and the body’s metabolic function. Even though zinc may be present in a vegan diet, it is poorly absorbed due to the diet’s high content of phytic acid. Lack of zinc can lead to malnutrition.
- Poor absorption of iron: Iron is used by the body to create hemoglobin which transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Though iron is present in many green vegetables, plant-based iron is in non-heme form. Non-heme iron is not absorbed by the body as well as heme iron found in animal products.
- Poor absorption of calcium: Calcium is required to build strong teeth and bones. Present in many plant foods such as kale, cabbage, and turnips, calcium from plants is poorly absorbed due to the high amount of oxalates and phytates in a vegan diet.
Vegan and Pregnant? What to Eat
Though a balanced vegan diet is considered safe during pregnancy and throughout all stages of life, a lot of planning is required to ensure that you are ingesting all of the essential nutrients required for vegan fertility and a healthy vegan pregnancy. The below list details how to get an adequate amount of essential nutrients on a vegan pregnancy diet.
- Vitamin B-12: Since this essential micronutrient is only found in animal sources, supplementation may be required. Foods that are fortified with B-12 such as breakfast cereal and tofu are also recommended.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, and chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acid ALA. Since ALA conversion to DHA is not sufficient, supplementation is recommended. It is also recommended to reduce intake of saturated fats to maintain an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.
- Iodine: In most parts of the world, regular table salt is iodized. Supplements that are derived from algae are also an option.
- Zinc: Grains, soy beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, and nutritional yeast are good sources of zinc. Be sure to eat them with foods that contain vitamin C to increase absorption.
- Iron: Beans, grains, and fermented foods will increase the absorption of the non-heme iron that is found in leafy greens. Soaking the beans and grains prior will reduce the phytate content which has been shown to limit the bioavailability of non-heme iron.
- Calcium: Leafy greens, broccoli, almonds, and sesame seeds are good sources of calcium. It can also be found in tap water and requires adequate amounts of Vitamin D for proper metabolism.
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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We can’t guarantee the treatment result, as the symptoms of conditions are unpredictable and vary greatly from person to person. The treatment length and recovery time also varies for individual. Please visit our consultation page where a specialists will discuss your care and provide a consultation, and the treatment will be designed to meet your individual needs.