Employee Wellness: 5 Tips for a Healthy Plant-Based Pregnancy
Did you know that it’s possible to have a completely safe and healthy, fully plant-based pregnancy? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that “Appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, [and] adolescence."
In fact, a plant-based diet during pregnancy has been shown to lead to many benefits for both the mother and child. For the mother, a plant-based diet can help to reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia. For the child, a plant-based diet in utero has been associated with a reduced risk of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.
If you're thinking about transitioning to a plant-based diet during pregnancy or are already eating a plant-based diet and want to ensure you're getting all the nutrients you need while your little one is in the womb, here are five tips for a successful plant-based pregnancy.
1. Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
Be sure to eat a variety of whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds every day. This will help ensure you're getting all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants your body needs for a healthy pregnancy. Be sure you are consuming enough calories from these foods each day. In the first trimester, you don’t need to increase your calorie intake. But by the second trimester, you should be consuming an extra 340 calories daily, and by trimester three, you should be consuming an additional 452 calories daily. For reference, a snack comprised of 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on a slice of toast, with a banana, and an 8-ounce cup of soymilk would make up an additional 340 calories.
2. Make sure you're getting enough protein.
Plant-based sources of protein include tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, quinoa, nuts, and seeds. It’s important to consume protein with every meal and with snacks between meals to ensure you are reaching your goals. Aim for at least 71 grams of protein per day or 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you are having trouble meeting your daily protein needs, you can supplement with a high-quality, low or no added sugar, plant-based protein bar like those made by the brand No Cow.
3. Be conscious of your iron intake.
Iron is found in animal products as well as dark leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. It's important to get enough iron during pregnancy because it helps prevent anemia and fatigue. Iron deficiency anemia is common in pregnancy, and the rates increase further for those consuming a plant-based diet. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron during pregnancy is 27 milligrams per day. For reference, one cup of cooked spinach and one cup of cooked lentils each contain about 6.5 milligrams of iron.
4. Take a prenatal vitamin that contains vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is found in fortified foods such as nutritional yeast and some plant milks. Vitamin B12 is important for pregnant women because it helps prevent birth defects, so be sure to speak with your healthcare provider about the best B12 supplement to take. It’s also important that your prenatal supplement contains folate to prevent neural tube defects, but this is true regardless of whether you are consuming a plant-based or omnivorous diet.
5. Get those omega-3s in.
Another critical nutrient to consume during pregnancy (and also when you’re not pregnant) is DHA – an omega-3 fatty acid. It’s important for the development of the baby’s nervous system, brain, and eyes. DHA is found mainly in seafood and eggs, so vegan moms may have to give some extra consideration to this nutrient. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 200 milligrams of DHA per day during pregnancy and 300 milligrams during breastfeeding, which is why an algal oil supplement is recommended.
A plant-based diet during pregnancy has many benefits, but it's important to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy by following these five tips!
Written by: Carley Bowering, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
3. Mayo Clinic