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MX News Update 2024

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Are vegan and vegetarian diets safe during pregnancy?

While they may still be in the minority, people are increasingly turning to vegan or vegetarian diets, whether they don’t want to eat animals or animal products, are concerned about the environment, want to improve their health, or all of the above.

But is this diet choice still safe to maintain during pregnancy?

Here we consult nutritional therapists Dr. Anna Sanniti (formerly a geneticist and currently heavily pregnant herself!) and Alexa Mullane, both nutritional advisors at Wiley’s Finest.

Asian pregnant woman buying vegetables in the refrigerated section of the supermarket and surfing the internet with a smartphoneAsian pregnant woman buying vegetables in the refrigerated section of the supermarket and surfing the internet with a smartphone

If you are vegan or vegetarian, you should pay more attention to your diet during pregnancy. (Getty Images)

Dr. Sanniti says vegetarian and vegan diets can be safe And healthy, if planned and executed correctly.

“However, everyone is different and it’s important to know how you feel during your pregnancy,” she adds.

While Mullane acknowledges that the decision to eat meat during pregnancy is a personal choice and there are many reasons why a woman might choose not to, she adds, “In my opinion, it can be a good idea.” are to eat meat and fish during pregnancy because they are so rich in nutrients. Meat and fish contain complete proteins and many vitamins and minerals that are essential for the health of the growing baby.

“Meat and fish also contain some nutrients that many plant-based foods lack, such as Omega 3, preformed vitamin A, vitamin B12 and heme iron.” That said, as Sanniti points out, if properly planned for, nutritional deficiencies can likely be controlled in vegan and vegetarian diets. But how?

Healthy food.  Plate with vegan or vegetarian food.  Healthy plant-based diet.  Healthy dinner.  Buddha bowl with fresh vegetables.  High quality photoHealthy food.  Plate with vegan or vegetarian food.  Healthy plant-based diet.  Healthy dinner.  Buddha bowl with fresh vegetables.  High quality photo

Plant-based diets, if they are balanced, varied and nutritionally complete, are likely to meet your health needs. (Getty Images)

Sanniti says there are several important vitamins and minerals that are harder to obtain on a vegan diet, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, choline and omega-3.

“Vegetarians may also find it difficult to get enough omega-3 fatty acids,” she continues. “While it is always best to try to consume these nutrients through food, a good quality prenatal multivitamin can help close any gaps in your diet. It is a good idea to supplement with vitamin B12 and vitamin D, along with the recommended amounts of folic acid. I would always recommend a blood test to understand the levels of iron, vitamin D and vitamin B12 before supplementing.”

flax seedflax seed

Try to get all your nutrients from food first. (Getty Images)

Delving a little deeper into omega-3, the geneticist turned nutritional therapist adds: “The plant source of omega-3 is called ALA, and can be obtained from sources such as flaxseed and hemp seed.

“ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA, with DHA being essential for the brain development of fetuses and babies. EPA and DHA are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring. Some people are better at this conversion on based on their genetics, but during pregnancy this is probably not sufficient.

“It is therefore recommended to purchase a good quality omega-3 supplement (which can be derived from algae oil, the same DHA found in oily fish, as the fish eat the algae) to meet this need, and ensuring it is safe during pregnancy.”

Maintain a high production standard and check that the supplements come from trusted, high-quality brands to ensure the oils contain no contaminants, says Dr. Sanniti, adding that the recommended amount of DHA is at least 300 mg per day.

directly above a photo of vegan and vegetarian takeaway food in plates and bowls with human hands holding glasses, and several bowls with plant-based protein sources, miso sauce, seeds, asparagus, edamame, peas.  copy spacedirectly above a photo of vegan and vegetarian takeaway food in plates and bowls with human hands holding glasses, and several bowls with plant-based protein sources, miso sauce, seeds, asparagus, edamame, peas.  copy space

Plant-based meals should contain sufficient protein sources. (Getty Images)

Dr. Sanniti also explains that vegan and vegetarian women should ensure they get enough protein for healthy fetal growth. Firstly, the best way to achieve this is through food.

“It’s easy to get enough protein with a well-planned vegan diet,” she explains. “Each meal should include a plant-based protein source, such as 150 grams of tofu, tempeh, lentils and other legumes, a handful of nuts and seeds, nut butters, and replacing quinoa or brown rice with white rice or pasta.”

However, in some cases, the expert adds: “Pregnant women who have difficulty getting enough protein due to nausea or food aversions may benefit from a clean, good quality protein powder added, for example, to a smoothie or to oatmeal porridge for breakfast .But this is not a substitute for whole food protein sources.” Both powders and supplements should not be used in place of a well-balanced diet.

To help with choline deficiencies, Dr. Sanniti recommends legumes and peanuts, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. For iron deficiencies, which are unique to vegan and vegetarian pregnant women, she recommends leafy greens, lentils and tofu with a source of vitamin C like lemon juice or bell pepper, which can increase iron absorption.

Additionally, she advises that vegans should pay attention to calcium intake to ensure adequate intake of tofu, legumes, sesame seeds and green leafy vegetables. Vegans in particular can also be deficient in iodine, which is mainly found in dairy and eggs. “It is found in seaweed, but in varying amounts is therefore not a reliable source. Vegans and vegetarians should talk to their healthcare provider or nutritional therapist and consider supplementing with iodine,” she adds.

Pregnant woman relaxing at homePregnant woman relaxing at home

When it comes to what you eat, choose what is good for you and your baby. (Getty Images)

About Dr. Sanniti herself, she says that during her time as a strict vegan, she experienced signs of an omega-3 deficiency, which caused brain fog, anxiety, and poor skin health. “Even as a scientist, I was not aware that a vegan diet could cause omega-3 deficiencies because I ate a lot of ALA (plant-based) sources of omega-3, such as flaxseed. My conversion to EPA and DHA may have been low .”

She now takes omega-3 supplements, either algae- or fish-based, and occasionally enjoys a less restrictive plant-based diet to ensure she “sometimes eats good quality, sustainable sources of fish rich in omega-3 ( SMASH fish)”.

However, she still believes others who want to can remain completely vegan as they correct any nutritional issues. In conclusion, vegan and vegetarian diets can be safe, but more care must be taken in planning and assessing the foods consumed. Any gaps in the diet should be supplemented properly, with good quality supplements that do not contain fillers, binders and unnecessary ingredients. .”

Mullane adds: “If you eat meat during pregnancy, it is important to cook all meat, fish and shellfish thoroughly and avoid cured meats. Also avoid eating liver and foods containing liver (such as pâté). ), because too much vitamin A can be harmful to unborn babies.”

Always consult a healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet and deciding what is best for you and your baby during pregnancy, as everyone is different.

Watch: Eight things you need to know about veganism