Vegan women can easily meet their nutritional needs when pregnant. If you’re eating healthily for one, you’ll be eating healthily for two so long as there is an increased calorie intake in the second and third trimester. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine suggests women pay particular attention to the following nutrients:
Calcium: ‘Just as it was before pregnancy, getting enough calcium … is easy’ for vegans. It suggests vegan women choose tofu, soya beans, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, bok choy, broccoli, beans, figs, sunflower seeds, tahini, almond butter and fortified non-dairy milks.
Essential Fatty Acids: ‘It is certainly possible to meet omega-3 fatty acid needs … by consuming enough sources of ALA, balanced by not having too many omega-6 fatty acids.’ So, in a nutshell, it’s best to eat plenty of flaxseed, flaxseed oil, rapeseed (canola) oil, walnuts and soya beans for omega-3. And, while you do need some omega-6 fatty acids, of course, it’s best to limit intake of their concentrated sources (corn, safflower, cottonseed, sesame and sunflower oils).
Folate: This is especially important in the first weeks of pregnancy, and so all women should aim to eat plenty of it from leafy greens, beans, peas and other legumes, oranges, wheat bran, whole grain foods and yeast extract. Breakfast cereals are also often fortified with it.
Iron: Iron requirements increase during pregnancy, and so iron-rich foods should be included daily: whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, kale, sprouts, spinach, dried apricots and other dried fruits, and blackstrap molasses. Eating foods high in Vitamin C will help to absorb iron.
Protein: Protein requirements also increase during pregnancy, and vegans should be aiming for around 71g per day during the second and third trimester. Your diet should include whole grains, beans and legumes, soya products, vegetables, nuts and seeds. If enough calories are consumed and these foods are included, protein needs are almost certain to be met.
Vitamin B12: Requirements increase only slightly during pregnancy and so all the usual fortified foods – cereals, dairy-free milks, yeast extract – should be consumed. It is wise to take a B12 supplement nonetheless.
Vitamin D: Requirements don’t alter during pregnancy and 15 minutes a day in the sunshine during spring, summer and autumn should be sufficient (assuming face, hands and arms at least are exposed). Women who don’t spend time outside, or who live in northern latitudes or have darker skin, should ensure their foods are fortified. Look out for dairy-free margarines, breakfast cereals and breads that contain it.
Zinc: Zinc requirements increase during pregnancy and good sources of it are nuts, legumes, whole grains and cereals. Absorption can be increased by including sprouted grains, beans, or seeds and yeast-raised breads in the diet, soaking and cooking legumes, and combining zinc sources with acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or tomato sauce.
There are many bloggers and Facebook groups dedicated to advising on vegan pregnancy so you may want to connect with them, but the great news is that a vegan diet can be safe and healthy during pregnancy.