Vegan pregnancy and parenting: What to eat when you're expecting

Vegan pregnancy and parenting: What to eat when you’re expecting

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Get the right diet for planned pregnancy and beyond.

best vegan diet for pregnant women

The Vegan Society works with the British Dietetic Association to share the message that vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages, including during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Nutrition is a key part of giving a child a great start in life, and it’s never too early to think about it.

Pregnancy planning

If you’re planning to try for a baby, it’s the ideal time to check that your diet is well-balanced. Here’s a brief overview:

It’s important to ensure your diet is supplemented appropriately. All women are advised to take folic acid when trying for a baby and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Vitamin D supplementation is recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Here are some vegan-specific tips:

  • Vitamin D3 from lichen and vitamin D2 are animal-free options.
  • Obtain vitamin B12 from fortified foods and/or a supplement.
  • Use a non-seaweed iodine supplement to top-up your intake.
  • Boost selenium intake with a couple of Brazil nuts daily or use a supplement.
  • Consider adding long-chain omega-3 fats by using a microalgae supplement. Long-chain omega-3 supplementation isn’t thought essential for vegan health, it’s a consideration during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to the role of these fats in brain development.
  • One example of a supplementation approach is to take The Vegan Society’s VEG 1, folic acid and a microalgae omega-3 fat supplement.
  • Keep active and maintain or work towards a healthy weight – it’s a great ways of preparing for pregnancy.

best vegan diet for pregnant women

Iron

Iron deficiency is a common problem amongst pregnant women. Eat plenty of iron-rich foods daily, such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, cashew nuts, ground linseed (flaxseed), pumpkin seeds, quinoa, kale, raisins and fortified breakfast cereals. Boost absorption by adding good sources of vitamin C to meals like pepper, broccoli, cabbage, citrus fruit, strawberries and pineapple. Avoid tea or coffee with meals – and be careful about caffeine during pregnancy. The recommended limit is 200mg a day – about two cups of tea or instant coffee.

Food group

Intake advice

Fruit and vegetables

At least 5-a-day, including leafy greens and orange varieties like carrot and
butternut squash

Foods rich in starchy carbohydrate

Every meal, ideally higher fibre choices

Protein-rich foods, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya products, cashew nuts and peanut butter

Most meals

Food rich in omega-3 fat, such as walnuts and ground linseed (flaxseed)

Daily

Calcium-rich foods, such as fortified foods and calcium-set tofu

Example: 400ml (2 glasses) of fortified plant milk provides roughly two-thirds of your recommended daily intake

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding requires more calories and nutrients, including protein, zinc and calcium. Fortunately, good sources of plant protein also tend to be rich in zinc; make sure that all of your meals contain these foods.

The 1,250mg calcium target for breastfeeding is nearly 80% more than the standard requirement, so it’s important to eat really calcium-rich foods like fortified foods and calcium-set tofu. Here’s an example to bring this number to life:

3 x 200ml (7fl oz) glasses of fortified plant milk = 3 x 240mg = 720mg

100g (3½oz) portion of calcium-set tofu (uncooked weight) = 350mg

Total intake = 1,070mg plus small amounts from other foods

best vegan diet for pregnant women

Take-away tips

  • Pregnancy planning is an opportunity to review your diet, weight and activity.
  • Eat lots of iron-rich plant foods daily, combined with sources of vitamin C.
  • During breastfeeding, hit the high calcium target.
  • Consider taking a supplement designed for vegans.
  • Before pregnancy and during the first 12 weeks, take a folic acid supplement.
  • During pregnancy and breastfeeding, consider long-chain omega-3 fats using a microalgae supplement.


Nutrition guides for every life stage are at vegansociety.com/nutrition.


Heather Russell

Heather Russell is passionate about eating well and keeping fit. She trained to be a dietitian to combine her love of science with a desire to help people, and she loves food! She worked in the NHS from 2010-16, and is now using her dietetic skills to support the work of The Vegan Society. www.vegansociety.com

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