People are eating more plant-based food and less animal-based food as part of leading a healthy lifestyle. For this, they switch to vegetarian or vegan diets, and there are many health benefits associated with them. For instance, they reduce the risk of developing diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart issues, helps to manage weight, and improves overall wellbeing. So, physicians and other health experts are recommending their patients to follow this diet. The purpose of this article is to investigate how plant-based food provides nourishment during pregnancy.
Omnivore, Vegan, And Vegetarian Diet During Pregnancy
Before switching to a plant-based diet from an omnivore diet, you can compare the former with the latter and add alternative foods to equalize the nutritional levels between the two. This also includes consuming supplements for nutrients that are sparse or not available from plant-based food. It has been found from the experience of midwives that there are no major complications for those following an omnivore diet during their pregnancy. But there are higher incidences of complications during childbearing for those on a plant-based diet. This can be avoided by eating a well-planned balanced plant-based diet.
The concern among pregnant women about eating plant-based food is regarding adequate fat, protein, carbohydrate, minerals, and vitamin intake. To give you a perspective, during pregnancy, the body needs an additional 300 calories per day or a total of 2,200 to 2,600 calories per day; this varies according to the physiology and individual requirements of a person. For a healthy pregnancy, women must eat daily 90 to 150 g of carbohydrates, 80 to 100 g of protein, and 130 g of healthy fats. Besides, complex carbohydrates are more preferred to simple carbohydrates.
Concerns And Nutritional Deficiencies During Pregnancy On A Plant-Based Diet
Some of the common issues during pregnancy due to predominantly eating plant-based food are the following:
- Low birth weight
- Unhealthy placenta
- Decreased fertility
- Undernourished pregnant parent
- Certain minerals and vitamin deficiencies
- Inadequate amounts of dietary protein and fat
- Reduced amount of adipose tissue in the new-born and this can cause long-term issues
Important Nutrients Required For Healthy Pregnancy
Blood iron levels dip during pregnancy, and this happens irrespective of the diet. This is because the blood volume increases faster than the body’s capacity to produce red blood cells. This phenomenon is more severe in pregnant parents who follow plant-based diets and thereby increasing their risk of pregnancy-related health issues. For example, there is a higher chance of miscarriage, preterm labor, infections, pre-eclampsia, bleeding in postpartum, and postpartum depression. According to health experts, during pregnancy women must get 27mg of iron daily. Adding dried fruits, sweet potatoes, nuts, beans, whole grains, legumes, eggs, meat alternatives, and iron-fortified foods in the plant-based meal ensures adequate iron in the diet.
Iron is present in foods in two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal-based food products, and it is easily absorbed by the body, i.e. with 25% efficiency. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based food, and it is not easily absorbed by the body, i.e. with 2 to 13% efficiency. Plant compounds like phylates, polyphenols, calcium, and high fiber also reduce the absorption of iron. Due to these reasons, pregnant women must consume more than the recommended amounts of daily iron intake. Also, consuming vitamin C rich foods like citruses helps with better iron absorption.
Vitamin D deficiency is common in people in the northern regions, and pregnant women are given vitamin D supplements. During pregnancy, it is required for the proper skeletal mineralization of the foetus, and its deficiency causes congenital rickets in babies. Humans naturally produce vitamin D when the skin is exposed to UV rays in the sunlight.
The daily recommended intake of vitamin D for pregnant women is 1000 to 2000 IU, and this can go up to 5000 IU per day depending on the blood levels of the vitamin. Only very few plant-based foods are natural sources of this vitamin. Some of the recommended sources of dietary vitamin D are mushrooms, dairy milk, cheese, fortified soy products, and eggs. Also, vegans can take vitamin D supplements sourced from lichen.
Folate is essential for proper early fetal development and prevention of defects. It is equally important for DNA synthesis in pregnant parents and the health of blood cells. Some health experts recommend taking MTHF folate instead of folic acid. This is because the former is the biologically active form of folate for cellular level DNA synthesis. Also, folate supplementation is rendered ineffective because of the high prevalence of the MTHFR gene variant in 43% of the population. The daily recommended intake of folate for pregnant parents is 600 mcg/day. The deficiency of folate causes several major fetal development issues. Some of the recommended sources of folate are dark green leafy vegetables, brussels sprouts, okra, broccoli, avocado, potato, and fortified soy products.
Some of the other essential nutrients for pregnant parents on plant-based diets are vitamin B12, vitamin A, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, zinc, choline, glycine, and K2. We hope that this article gave you a better understanding of nourishment during pregnancy with plant-based diets.