If you're considering a vegan diet during pregnancy or already eating a plant-based diet, you're making an excellent decision. I've heard of people assuming that vegans will automatically give up their diet when they get pregnant, but that really makes no sense.
In fact, I'll even take it a step further and say that avoiding meat and dairy products is a very wise move for both your expanding body and your baby's overall health.
Long gone are the days when being pregnant gave you a license to go wild with eating. I'm not going to say that people don't still eat gallons of ice cream and boxes of cookies and chock it up to the hormones. But, it's not "en vogue" to treat your body horribly during pregnancy.
Nowadays people understand the concept of what we put in our mouths is essentially going into the mouths of our children. And honestly, would you give your weeks-old baby diet soda? I highly doubt it... so why would you want to drink it when the baby is still inside your body?
Even the scientists are catching on and tossing support our way...
The latest edition of Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care (one of the highest selling books of all time) now advocates a plant-based diet. Several studies show that vegan moms have much lower levels of pesticides and herbicides in their breast milk than meat eaters. Medical associations from The American Academy of Pediatrics to The Medical Association of Pediatrics have all favored a vegan diet for pregnancy. Even the American Dietetic Association has stated that a well-planned vegan diet is appropriate for people at all age levels.
With so much medical opinion behind the validity of a vegan diet during pregnancy, it can be confusing and frustrating when people hear about your diet during pregnancy and say, "How will your baby get protein?" and "Are you getting enough calcium?"
You might just want to yell at them, "Are you getting too much protein?" and "Does any of the calcium you eat get absorbed into your body?" But, don't do that. Be the bigger woman and just gracefully say that yes, you are getting plenty of protein and calcium and your baby is incredibly healthy.
And, a healthy vegan diet during pregnancy can help you avoid some of the nasty side effects of pregnancy, such as constipation during pregnancy, hemorrhoids, morning sickness, and more.
While I did feel sick throughout my first trimester, I never actually vomited, and I didn't deal with one day of constipation the entire time, which I have to think was because of the amount of fiber I ingest.
So, the question becomes, if it's a good idea to avoid meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, and caffeine and to cut down dramatically on sugar, what in the world will you eat? The short answer is that a focus on whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds is a perfect diet during pregnancy.
Try to fill your plate with as much color as you can, and make sure to eat a good variety of every grain, bean, vegetable, fruit, and nut that you can get your hands on. Nature has provided a plethora of foods chock full of every vitamin and mineral you could ever need, so sample as much as you can. A vegan diet during pregnancy can be incredibly healthy, as long as you aren't just eating a ton of meat and cheese replacements.
If you're dealing with an all-day nausea event, there are some easy, natural, I found some vegan morning sickness remedies that will help alleviate your symptoms right away. And, if you can't even stomach those, remember that in most cases, nausea is alleviated by the end of the first trimester, so for now just eat what you can stomach.
Ignore any lingering thoughts you've stored in the back of your head about carbohydrates. They just aren't true. Your body (and your baby) needs complex carbohydrates to make energy. Carbs are not going to make you fat, but not eating them will make you miserable and lead you to other foods that might make you fat.
The perfect diet during pregnancy includes real whole grains. I swing toward the macrobiotic, whole food idea here with trying to eat as many actual grains as possible. It's just as easy to throw in a handful of quinoa, amaranth, millet, or barley as it is to boil pasta. It only takes a few minutes longer and when it's done steaming, you have an incredibly vitamin and mineral packed whole grain that you can put with whatever foods you were going to serve with the pasta.
Beyond actual whole grains, focus on whole grain bread products. It's way harder than it seems to find legitimate whole grain bread. Right now, most bread bags advertise that their product is whole grain, but don't believe it until you've read the ingredients. You want to select bread that has the word "whole" in front of every grain listed.
Stay away from "enriched" wheat flour. It has been stripped of all its natural health benefits and then has vitamins and minerals added back in to give it a semblance of food. It’s not real food.
Beans and Legumes
When you're pregnant and tired, so many times it can be a real chore to put together a complete meal. On nights like that, I recommend scooping some beans onto a plate next to a steamed whole grain, and loading on some vegetables. While it may not be a culinary gourmet dish, it's perfect for your diet during pregnancy.
Try to get as much of a variety of beans as you can throughout the week. Each bean and legume has its own particular health benefits, so you do yourself a huge favor by selecting a few different kinds to eat. On a daily basis, if you eat two different types of beans, you are doing well.
Dark leafy greens are nature's gift to pregnant women. Folic acid is one of the most important nutrients for developing your baby’s skeletal and nervous system, and leafy greens are loaded with folic acid.
In addition to the greens, get as many yellow, orange, red, blue, purple, and white vegetables as you can stuff into yourself. Fruits and vegetables get their coloring from the different nutrients in their skin and are literally colored with that particular nutrient. Each helps your body in different ways, so load up and spread out the colors.
A vegetable super food that you can add into your diet during pregnancy is sea vegetables. Kelp and other seaweeds are extraordinarily healthy and packed with vitamins and minerals.
If you can, try to give some time in between when you eat fruit and other foods, so there is plenty of time for your body to derive all the nutritional benefits it can from the fruit. For this reason, they make perfect snacks.
Nuts/seeds as snacks
A handful of nuts can go a long way towards satisfying your hunger. Each nut and seed has different beneficial properties; so again, get as many different kinds as you can. I aim for raw, unsalted nuts as often as I can find them. You can always add a bit of salt or tamari later, and this way you have control over your sodium intake. Also, so many nut cheeses and cream sauces call for unsalted, so you never have to bother with cleaning them off.
As far as raw, most of the time "dry-roasted" nuts are actually deep-fried. Yuck! If you want to bring out the aromatic oils in your raw nuts, just put them on a cookie sheet and toast them in the oven for a few minutes.
10 glasses of water per day
When you're not pregnant, you need those eight glasses of water each day to help digest all the fiber you should be eating. If you don't drink enough, you might block yourself up (if you know what I mean). In fact, one of the joys you might be experiencing right now, constipation during pregnancy, can be helped along substantially with a big glass of water. You can also help cut down on nausea by sipping water.
Now that you're eating for 1.2, increase your intake to ten glasses of water each day. It's not nearly as hard as it seems at first glance; just keep a glass of it with you at all times.
When you've moved onto breastfeeding, you're still going to be going for 10 glasses a day, and maybe even more. Many women get really thirsty when their little one is drinking, so they'll drink as they go.
Treats and Extras
I'm not going to try to say that during pregnancy we should never indulge our cravings. What I will say is that we need to keep it under control.
What that means is that if you're having a craving, first try to drink some water and see if you're actually thirsty. Then try having a piece of fruit to see if that fixes the craving. These two steps might actually work because your body often disguises thirst and carbohydrate cravings as sugar cravings.
If neither of those suffices, find a nice piece of vegan cake or bake a nice batch of vegan cupcakes and enjoy yourself. There's no need for guilt when you're eating a plant-based diet during pregnancy.
Check out the view of the food at my Mardi Gras baby shower. It was all delicious, but I felt so terrible when I ate junk during pregnancy that this type of food was rare for me.
Skinny Bitch, Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin.
Your Vegetarian Pregnancy, Dr. Holly Roberts, D.O., FACOG
Pregnancy in and of itself can be a confusing and lonely world-- there are so many different opinions and decisions, and everything rests squarely on your shoulders. Add in the dimension of wanting to be vegan through the whole thing, and you increase the confusion. You can ask any questions you want here, and we'll research and ask others and do everything we can to help you.
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