A new study has revealed that the number of Americans following plant-based diets is up nearly 9.4 million over the last 15 years to more than 9.7 million in total.
There are many reasons people are considering more plants and less meat in their diets.
Plant-based diets have been shown to lower your risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Others choose plant-based or vegan diets as a vote with their wallet against animal agriculture and animal cruelty.
At Juna, we want to explore the idea of eating vegan during pregnancy and beyond. Is it healthy? Are there any risks to the baby? What do you need to know if you are considering being vegan or already are vegan and planning to have a baby.
Let’s dive in.
Plant-based vs Vegan
First things first, let’s establish what a plant-based diet is compared to a vegan diet.
A plant-based diet predominantly consists of plants; most people use the term to refer to a 100 percent plant diet, but some people include small amounts of animal products.
A vegan diet totally eliminates all animal products, and most vegans eliminate other products from their lives that include animal products. Things like leather, suede, and any beauty or cosmetic products that are tested on animals.
Can you have a healthy vegan pregnancy?
The short answer, yes – 100%. The longer answer, which also applies to any diet you choose to eat, is yes, but you need to be aware of a few key factors.
Vegan diets, even healthy ones, can be naturally low in nutrients like vitamin B12, omega-3 fats, iron, iodine, calcium, and zinc — all of which are especially important during pregnancy. This doesn’t mean you can’t get them from a vegan diet, it just means you have to make sure you are paying attention to the foods you are consuming.
A vegan diet that includes adequate intake of these key nutrients is on par, and in many cases, superior to the average American diet.
While meat, eggs, and dairy do include B12, omega 3s, iron, iodine, calcium, choline, and zinc — they also come with unwanted side effects like higher oxidative stress, increased inflammation, hormone disruption, and increased risk of disease.
What foods should be a focus during a vegan pregnancy?
In order to ensure you are meeting the nutrition needs of you and your baby during pregnancy, here are some key foods to include.
You’re going to see some overlap, which is good because it makes it easier for you to get multiple nutrients covered in the same meal.
- Calcium: Black eyed peas, soymilk, sesame seeds, kale, turnips, seaweed, white beans, fortified OJ, tofu.
- B12: The most effective way for vegans and non-vegans to get adequate levels of B-12 is through supplementation. Here are some good options: B12 Supplements.
- Omega 3s: Seaweed, Chia, Hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, edamame, kidney beans
- Iodine: whole grains, green beants, kale, spring greens, watercress, strawberries, potatoes with skin
- Zinc: Chickpeas, lentils, tofu, walnuts, cashews, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, quinoa.
- Choline: If you’re not pregnant, you can adequate choline through food. But choline is a key nutrient during pregnancy so supplementation may be in order. Some foods high in choline include tofu, broccoli, peanut butter, beans, mushrooms, and quinoa.
Let’s Talk About Protein
One of the most common question is, “How/where do you get your protein?”
By eating a well rounded whole food diet, you will get plenty of protein.
Let’s look at how you might get to 61g of protein per day on a vegan diet. This example day is from Oh She Glows.
- • Breakfast: Spinach banana smoothie with 1 scoop vanilla protein powder: 17g protein
- • Mid-morning snack: 1/2 cup hummus, veggie sticks, crackers, and cucumbers: 10g protein
- • Lunch: 2 cups red lentil, kale, tomato soup: 20g
- • Mid-Afternoon Snack: Apple with Peanut Butter: 8g
- • Dinner: Chana Masala with Spinach: 17g
From the sample above, you are at 72g and the only supplementation was from the protein powder in the morning.
You could use a half scoop of protein and still meet your needs.
This example was for a non-pregnant person.
Let’s see how things change with protein when you’re pregnant.
During pregnancy adequate dietary protein is crucial to ensure a healthy outcome. Protein deposition in maternal and fetal tissues increases throughout pregnancy, with most occurring during the third trimester.
New research suggests aiming to add an additional 6g of protein per day in early pregnancy and 12-15g in the 3rd trimester. This can be as simple as an extra smoothie or snack, or slightly increasing your portions as your belly grows.
In the Juna App we have tons of recipes aimed at making sure you are getting adequate nutrition no matter which trimester you’re in.
Taking a prenatal vitamin is recommended for all women during pregnancy and there are specific formulas designed for vegan pregnancies.
Ask your OB for the best prenatal for a vegan pregnancy.
Ideally it would include b12, choline, and iron.
As always, check with your OBGYN before making any decisions regarding pregnancy nutrition/fitness. All pregnancies are different and unique.
(1) World Health Organization. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). 2017 May 17.
(2) World Health Organization. Cancer. 2018, Sept 12.
Nothing in this article is recommended to be taken without considering all factors. Juna does not and cannot know every individual situation and it’s up to each person to make choices that work for them. Juna does not assume any responsibility for any actions or choices taken from this article or the Juna App.