Planned and executed correctly, a vegan diet can provide enough of the building blocks, vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy pregnancy. The majority of nutrients that are in higher demand during pregnancy, are the same nutrients that a vegan diet can tend to be lacking in. These are vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, iodine, omega 3 and zinc.
You may have been warned about all the foods you need to avoid during pregnancy, but this article will share with you the top 10 superfoods you can eat safely, in order to make sure your meeting your nutritional needs.
Rich in essential fats, folate, potassium, antioxidants and fibre, avocadoes are an amazing food to consume, not just during pregnancy, but for most of the population!
One study in 2016 claimed that “avocados are a unique, nutrient-rich, plant-based food that contain many of the critical nutrients needed for foetal and infant health and development.” (2)
You can enjoy smashed avocado with cracked black pepper on toast for breakfast.
Quinoa is one of only a few plant foods that are considered a complete protein -containing all nine essential amino acids. These are amino acids that our bodies cannot produce and therefore, need to consume. Other pregnancy supporting nutrients found in quinoa are zinc, iron, B1, B2, B3, B6, folate, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
You can use quinoa as an alternative to oats. Try out quinoa porridge, made with coconut milk and cinnamon!
Berries are among some of the healthiest foods on the planet! This is in part due to their impressive antioxidant profile, which are important molecules that help to combat free radical damage in the body.
They are also rich in vitamin C, which is necessary for the production of collagen, a structural protein that's a component of cartilage, tendons, bones and the skin of you and your baby.
As vitamin C supplements aren’t usually recommended during pregnancy, you can reach your daily needs through consuming a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, especially berries. (5)
Add frozen berries to your smoothies!
4. Chia seeds
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential and can only be obtained from the diet. As the highest source of omega 3 fats are from fish and seafood, vegan mothers need to consume plant sources such as chia seeds, walnuts, flax and hemp seed. Pregnant women have an increased need, as omega 3’s (especially DHA) are necessary for foetal brain and central nervous system development and may also be important for the timing of gestation and birth weight. (4)
Why not try making a chia seed pudding for breakfast or a snack.
5. Sea vegetables
Seaweeds such as dulse, kombu and nori are very rich sources of minerals, especially iodine, which is important for child development and thyroid function. Low thyroid function can affect an infant’s development and in mothers, can contribute to feelings of fatigue and low mood post-partum.(7)
I recommend you consume sea vegetables 2-3 times per week, in order to ensure your getting enough iodine in your diet. Try using seaweed flakes to add a savoury, ‘umami’ twist to your meals.
6. Dried apricots
Dried apricots are a great food for pregnant and new mothers, that I often recommend to clients. They provide natural sugars can help give our energy levels a boost and are also a good source of non-heme iron. Iron deficiency is a global nutritional problem affecting up to 52% of pregnant women, with many of these women being asymptomatic.
They are also rich in soluble fibre will can help to prevent and alleviate constipation. Addressing constipation and ensuring our digestive system is working efficiently can help to lower blood pressure, potentially reducing the risk for pre-eclampsia.(1)
Always go for un-sulphured dried apricots (they should be brown, not bright orange!) Add chopped apricots to a homemade trail mix, which includes dark chocolate chips, coconut flakes and mixed nuts.
Despite its numerous sources, women have difficulty maintaining iron balance through diet alone. When you are pregnant, you need more iron to support the increased maternal red blood cell mass.(6) The high concentration of protein and iron also makes it ideal during pregnancy, and at times where nutrient demands are high. Its nutrient content is impressive and is unlike that of any other single grain, herb or plant!
Contrary to many claims, spirulina is not a good source of vitamin B12. While it does contain a form of B12, it is ‘pseudo-vitamin’ or ‘analogue’ form which is not absorbable or effective in humans.(3)
It doesn’t taste great, so masking the flavour in a smoothie is the best option!
Raw nuts (unroasted and unsalted) are very mineral rich and contain certain unsaturated fats, which can help to support our cardiovascular system, inflammation levels and hormone balance. Almonds and sesame seeds in particular are great non-dairy sources of calcium. Calcium is a major component of bone; therefore large quantities are required in pregnancy for the building of foetal tissues, especially in the third trimester.
Cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, which is needed for cell division, tissue growth and supporting normal development of your baby. Pregnant and lactating women have increased requirements for zinc and thus, are at increased risk of zinc depletion.
Enjoy nut and seed butters on fruit or vegetable sticks.
9. Dark green leafy vegetables
Vegetables such as kale, spinach, rocket, cabbage, pak choi and swiss chard are high in anti-oxidants and vitamin B9, also known as folate. Folate helps prevent neural tube defects in utero and also plays an important role in the production of red blood cells.
Consuming these plants alongside some vitamin C rich foods, such as red peppers or a squeeze of lemon, can also boost the absorption of the non heme iron present in dark, leafy greens.(5)
These plant proteins are rich in fibre, folate and iron and should regularly consumed on a vegan diet. The protein and fibre found in beans and legumes can help to curb cravings, keep you satiated, prevent constipation and stabilise blood sugar. (8) Imbalanced blood sugar levels can contribute to symptoms such as nausea, morning sickness, fatigue and moodiness during pregnancy. (1)
Try batch cooking recipes such as bean chilli or lentil dahl for quick and tasty meals when your short on time.
Some other things to be aware of regarding a vegan pregnancy...
The idea of “eating for two” is not really true- some researchers believe that excessive weight gain during pregnancy can actually contribute to a more difficult birth and other health complications. You only need around 100-300 extra calories per day!
Vitamin D is very difficult to obtain from a vegan diet, therefore pregnant women should spend time outdoors in sun light (without burning) or take a vegan D3 supplement if necessary.
1. Anderson, J.W. ‘Health benefits of dietary fibre’ (2009) Available at: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8d0680bq
2. Comerford, K.B. et al (2016) ‘The Role of Avocados in Maternal Diets during the Periconceptional Period, Pregnancy, and Lactation’. Available at: http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/5/313/htm
3. Deng R, Chow T-J. Hypolipidemic, Antioxidant and Antiinflammatory Activities of Microalgae Spirulina. Cardiovascular therapeutics. 2010;28(4):e33-e45. doi:10.1111/j.1755-5922.2010.00200.x. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907180/
4. Greenberg, J.A. Bell, S.J, Ausdal, W.V. ‘Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy’. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2008;1(4):162-169. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2621042/
5. Linus Pauling Institute (2014) ‘Vitamin C’. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C .
6. Abu-Ouf, N.M, Jan. M,M. The impact of maternal iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia on child’s health. Saudi Medical Journal. 2015;36(2):146-149. doi:10.15537/smj.2015.2.10289. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375689/
7. Chung HR. Iodine and thyroid function. Annals of Pediatric Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2014;19(1):8-12. doi:10.6065/apem.2014.19.1.8. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049553/
8. Sajjadi F, Gharipour M, Mohammadifard N, Nouri F, Maghroun M, Alikhasi H. Relationship between legumes consumption and metabolic syndrome: Findings of the Isfahan Healthy Heart Program. ARYA Atherosclerosis. 2014;10(1):18-24. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4063515/
9.Langley, Stephen. (2015) ‘The Naturopathy Workbook’. 4th Edition.
10. Osiecki, Henry. (2014) ‘The Nutrient Bible’. 9th edition.