Vegetarian and vegan diets have increased worldwide in the last decades and according to the recent studies, they might prevent coronary heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. According to the theory of “early life programming” environmental factors and lifestyle during pregnancy determine the risk of developing chronic diseases later in life and also influence lifelong health in the offspring. Hence, if you are planning a pregnancy while on a plant-based diet you must have knowledge about pre-gestational nutrition or in simple words, how to nourish your body before you decide to conceive.
|Research suggests that, despite raising awareness regarding the importance of a healthy diet in pregnancy, data have demonstrated that women tend not to change their diet during pregnancy, so optimal preconception dietary pattern is the main determinant for a healthy pregnancy and healthy offspring. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a well-planned plant-based eating pattern could be appropriate for all stages of life, if adequate and healthy recommendations are followed.|
So here are some tips for achieving optimum prenatal nutrition, before you plan for your pregnancy:
1) Increase your daily intake of protein
Various studies recommend an increased intake of dietary protein by 20% for vegetarian adult woman (upto1 g/kg/day). This requirement increases in pregnancy. Proteins are necessary for proper functioning of all body parts. Legumes, lentils, soy, nuts, tofu and whole grains are rich sources of proteins.
2) Increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acid
Daily consumption of foods rich in omega-3 (alpha linoleic acid) (ALA) helps in preventing heart diseases in later life. It is also a powerful antioxidant. One teaspoonful of walnuts, soybeans, and ground flaxseed or one teaspoonful of any vegetable oil (corn, sesame, sunflower, groundnut) will supply the daily requirement of ALA. High temperature damages this oil, so it should not be fried.
3) Understand the role of micronutrients
Vegetarians should guarantee that their diet contains sufficient proteins, pyridoxine, biotin, calcium, copper, magnesium, and zinc. In addition, they should reduce intake of n-6 fatty acids and trans fatty acids that inhibit conversion of ALA to more physiologically active fatty acids like EPA and DHA which are essential for the development of brain and nervous system. This can be achieved by limiting consumption of processed and deep-fried foods, and alcohol.
4) Increase the intake of calcium, Vitamin D and iron
Several studies have demonstrated the insufficient supply of essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and iron in vegan diets. These nutrients are necessary for bone mineralisation, and development of the nervous and circulatory system.
A unique characteristic of vitamin D is that it can be obtained not only from food, but can also be synthesised by the human body itself if the skin is exposed to sunlight.
Vegetables (e.g. broccoli, kale, rocket), nuts (e.g. hazelnuts and Brazil nuts), legumes and soy products are rich in calcium and iron.
5) Do not ignore Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is solely produced by microorganisms. The form that is available to the human body occurs almost exclusively in animal foods. Thus, a vegan diet increases the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, unless a vitamin B12 supplement is used. Deficiency of this vitamin may give rise to neurological disorders and anaemia.
As various studies suggest, pregnancy can be safely carried out even on a plant-based diet. However, consult your nutritionist or a dietitian for proper preparation of your body for a healthy pregnancy.
- Richter M, Boeing H, Grünewald-Funk D, Heseker H, Kroke A, Leschik-Bonnet E, Oberritter H, Strohm D, Watzl B for the German Nutrition Society (DGE) (2016) Vegan diet. Position of the German Nutrition Society (DGE). ErnahrungsUmschau 63(04): 92– 102.
- GiorgiaSebastiani , Ana HerranzBarbero Cristina Borrás-Novell Miguel Alsina Casanova , Victoria Aldecoa-Bilbao , Vicente Andreu-Fernández ,The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diet during Pregnancy on the Health of Mothers and Offspring:Nutrients 2019, 11, 557; doi:10.3390/nu11030557.