Breastfeeding · Nutrition · Pregnancy

Top 5 tips for following a Vegan diet during pregnancy & breastfeeding

Assortment of healthy vegan protein source and body building foodFollowing a vegan diet has become more popular among pregnant & breastfeeding individuals. Have a look at what Cristina Benea, Master of Public Health student, has summarized for this blog.

What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet is a type of vegetarian diet that only includes vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. A vegan diet avoids all animal products such as: meat, eggs, honey, and dairy products.

Is it safe to follow a vegan diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Current research shows that vegan diets are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Individuals following a vegan diet might need to eat (or choose) fortified foods or supplement during pregnancy. Vegan diets need more preparation and planning as some nutrients are not as well absorbed from non-animal food sources and are missing vitamin B12.

Five important tips to consider when following a vegan diet

Tip #1: Eat high protein foods

Try to replace animal foods with plant foods that are high in protein such as:

  • Soy products: tofu, fortified soy beverage, fortified soy yogurt, soy cheese
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds
  • Grain products: quinoa, buckwheat, bulgur, pasta, rice

Tip #2: Eat healthy fats

Omega-3 fats are important for heart, eye, brain, and nerve development of the baby.

Plant-based sources of omega-3 fats include:

  • Soy products: tofu, soya beans, omega-3 (DHA) enriched soy beverages and yogurts
  • Nuts and seeds: walnuts, ground flaxseed, hemp seeds, chia seeds
  • Oils: canola and soybean
  • Other: omega-3 enriched margarine, non-hydrogenated

Tip #3: Eat foods high in vitamin B12 and D

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for brain and nervous system development of the baby.

Plant based sources include:

  • Fortified soy beverages
  • Fortified soy yogurts

Vitamin D

Plant-based food sources include:

  • Soy products: soy beverages and soy yogurts fortified with vitamin D
  • Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
  • Rice, oat, and almond beverages fortified with vitamin D
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Soft margarine fortified with vitamin D, non-hydrogenated

Tip #4: Eat foods high in iron, calcium and zinc

Plant based foods high in iron include:

  • Soy products: tofu
  • Legumes: kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds
  • Grain products: oatmeal, enriched pasta, whole grain cereal, barley
  • Dried fruit (without added sugar): resins, dates, prunes

It is important for vegans to consume calcium fortified foods such as fortified beverages.

Plant based sources of calcium include:

  • Soy products: tofu, soya beans, calcium fortified soy beverage, calcium fortified soy yogurt
  • Legumes: navy beans, white beans
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, almond butter, sesame seeds, tahini
  • Vegetables (dark green leafy): okra, bok choy, broccoli, kale, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, turnip greens

Did you know that vegans need as much as 50 percent more zinc intake than meat eaters due to the poor absorption of zinc from plant based sources? Zinc helps maintain a strong immune system, which is important for preventing infections.

Plant based sources of zinc include:

  • Soy products: tofu, tempeh/fermented soy product, soya beans, soy burger
  • Legumes: lentils, beans, peas
  • Nuts and seeds: pine, peanuts, cashews, almonds, pumpkin, squash, sunflower, cashew butter, tahini/sesame butter
  • Grain products: wheat germ, bran cereal, wild rice

Tip #5: Eat enough calories

Vegan diets are lower in calories than diets that include animal foods.

Consider this:

  • Aim for Canada’s Food Guide recommended food servings is one way to help you get enough calories.
  • Pay attention to your hunger cues, this is your body telling you that you need more food to reach your calorie needs.

Have questions about healthy eating during pregnancy? You can call 416-338-7600 or eChat to speak with a Public Health Nurse.

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