My last post discussed eating a vegan diet during pregnancy. Now let’s talk more about specific nutrients you need.
Protein should be a focus in the diet of a vegan pregnant mama. If you eat three meals a day and two snacks, I suggest protein with every meal and at least one snack. However, if you eat four smaller meals a day, include protein at every one.
There are many vegan protein sources to choose from. Although there are good options — that include fiber, iron, folate, and choline, etc. — they’re a bit harder to digest than meat, fish and eggs.
Vegans also have increased iron needs because many vegan iron sources contain phytates — antioxidant compounds that bind to the iron and make it harder to absorb. So I recommend a vegan prenatal multivitamin that also contains iron.
Through a blood test, your healthcare provider can tell you if you need an iron supplement over and above what you get from food and your prenatal multivitamin.
Vegan diets are usually high in Vitamin C, which increases iron absorption. If you take a prenatal multivitamin and eat high iron foods throughout the day, I don’t recommend an iron supplement unless your healthcare provider recommends it.
Remember that both caffeine and calcium can negatively affect iron absorption.
Zinc is another important mineral during pregnancy. Vegan foods high in iron are typically also high in protein, zinc, folate and choline.
In pregnancy calcium needs don’t increase — your body absorbs calcium more efficiently.
Vegan diets often have low amounts of calcium. In addition, some vegan foods have phytates and oxalic acid that also affect calcium absorption. However, this is easy to remedy if sources of calcium are made a focus of the diet. Remember that caffeine can also affect calcium absorption.
Although many people meet their calcium needs with dairy, this is not the only way. Good sources of calcium include almonds, sesame seeds, fortified milk alternatives, blackstrap molasses, tofu (if calcium sulphate is listed in the ingredients), collards, figs, kale, turnip greens and broccoli.
Vegans, whether pregnant or not, most frequently ask if they’re getting enough vitamin B12, which typically comes from animal products. However, vegans can get it in fortified products such as red star nutritional yeast (be sure to check as not all nutritional yeast is fortified with B12), vegan meats and fortified milk alternatives.
I always recommend eating whole foods and avoiding packaged and processed foods as much as possible. So I point out that, although vegans can choose fortified foods to get their B12, these are all packaged foods.
However, using B12 fortified nutritional yeast is great because it is easy to add to foods that you are eating throughout the day.
To meet your needs with fortified foods you need to eat at least three fortified foods with B12 each day. A variety of B12 supplements are available. Depending on the dosage you choose, you may not need to take it every day. But don’t worry too much about getting more B12 than needed — you will just pee out any excess amount you take in.
That said, there’s no sense “peeing your money away” on unnecessary vitamins. So base your decisions about supplements on what you get from foods and what works with your lifestyle.
It’s a good idea for every future mother to boost stores of omega 3 before getting pregnant; and while you are pregnant it’s important to conserve them. This is especially important for vegans, who tend to have lower levels of DHA.
For this reason omega 3 is one of the most common supplements I recommend before, during and after pregnancy. Often it’s taken in the form of DHA, one component of omega 3.
Most omega 3 supplements are from fish sources, although you can find vegan forms made from micro-algae — the same source that gives fish their DHA. Taking the micro-algae form is a good option as it reduces concerns about mercury and other contamination.
There are also vegan food sources available, including flax seeds (if they’re ground or in the oil form), chia and hemp seeds, and walnuts.
Omega 3 has another component, EPA, that is readily found in supplements. Both it and DHA are important to both mom and baby, although DHA tends to get the spotlight, as it helps in baby’s brain development.
Fish sources seem to be better absorbed and utilized by the body and there is also debate as to how much the foods listed above actually have in them. Our bodies actually convert plant sources of omega 3 to DHA and EPA, making them not as efficient sources of these fatty acid components.
Chia and hemp seeds also contain omega 6. North American diets tend to provide more omega 6, so it is important to ensure a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids in the range between 2:1 and 4:1. Many plant-based vegan oils contain omega 3, 6, and 9, making it even more important to think about the ratio of omega 6 and omega 3.
Some things also affect our body’s ability to make DHA. This includes trans fats — another reason to avoid processed and packaged foods. Alcohol and smoking also have negative effects.
In short, it is possible, with a little planning, to eat a healthy vegan diet during pregnancy.
Many moms who have spent the first six months or more of their child's life exclusively breastfeeding can report how exhausted they become, how when they're not feeling well, it actually makes them feel worse when their child drains their breasts--as if the life-force is literally being sucked out of them. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this is somewhat true, and because of it, moms may feel extra fatigued, lose the hair on the head, and even experience dramatically reduced body weight.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, hair is an extension of the supply of blood in the body (Pitchford 388). One of the extraordinary vessels identified in acupuncture theory is the Chong, or Penetrating Vessel. This is the vessel that holds the uterus and passes over the breasts. Its nickname is “the Sea of Blood” and its job is to store and regulate the blood of the whole body (Ni 116). It is obvious how important this vessel is during pregnancy as the mother rounds out and her blood volume increases to support a growing baby. The Sea of Blood is then drained as the mother loses a significant amount of blood during childbirth. After birth, her body also uses the Sea of Blood to produce an endless flow of breast milk to sustain the new life she has just birthed. Both activities lessen not just the amount of blood available postpartum, but also the mother's energy (or qi) which assists in creating the body's blood supply. Worry, stress and depression can also impair the mother's ability to generate healthy qi and nurture her blood (Dharmananda par. 3). During the postpartum period, when a mother is susceptible to depression and worry, has been expending her energy caring for a newborn, not getting the adequate sleep to replenish her own energy, and is endlessly supplying the gift of nourishment to another little being, she begins to feel tired, a little weaker, and her hair's luster dulls and large quantities fall out in the shower.
The TCM view is complementary to the Western medical understanding that due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, hair does not shed as frequently. Then, as the hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels after birth, the hair returns to its regular growth and shedding pattern (Pierard-Franchimont and Pierard par. 11). For some women, a reduction in the blood's iron stores (iron-deficiency anemia) can also complicate the postpartum period and add to the expected hormonal hair loss. Anytime a woman experiences blood loss, there is a slight risk that she can become deficient in iron, which can also lead to fatigue and loss of stamina with daily activities (Beers et al 1033).
Even though the body is making the very wise decision to redirect its stores of blood to the breast milk, rather than the hair, this can still be incredibly upsetting for some mothers. Chinese Medicine has several ways to remedy this situation outside of your doctor's suggestion of taking iron supplements.
Beers, Mark H. et al. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 2006. Print.
Dharmananda, Subhuti. “Treatment of Alopecia with Chinese Herbs” Institute for Traditional Medicine Online. N.p., June 1999. Web. 25 July 2012.
Ni, Yitian, O. M. D. Navigating the Channels of Traditional Chinese Medicine. San Diego, CA: Complementary Medicine Press, 1996. Print.
Pierard-Franchimont, Claudine; Pierard, Gerald. “Alterations in Hair Follicle Dynamics in Women.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. 24 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002. Print.
A vegan diet is safe during both pregnancy and breastfeeding if it’s properly planned.
The key is balance. A well balanced diet – vegetarian, vegan or anything else – ensures you get the nutrients you need.
Often pregnancy prompts women to make healthy shifts in their eating habits. It’s also a great time for partners to start eating better. Adding a baby to the family means parents become their child’s role model, so having nine months to begin making changes can be a big help and create lasting effects.
Different stages of pregnancy require different nutrients, however.
During the first trimester you don’t need extra calories. Good nutrients to focus on are protein and iron. Pregnancy basically doubles your blood volume. All this extra blood means it’s important to get enough iron and protein.
You will need extra calories in the second and third trimester, and when breastfeeding. However, those extra calories don’t add up to a lot of food – only 300 to 400 calories a day. Don’t think of it as eating for two, but rather for the health of two!
During their second and third trimester many women eat four or five smaller meals a day instead of three large ones. This tends to work nicely with consuming those extra calories needed during these stages. But don’t choose convenience foods. Eating less packaged and processed foods and emphasizing whole foods is always the best choice.
Vegans and vegetarians especially need more iron during pregnancy. Some nutrients are also required in increased amounts. These are as follows, including some examples:
Note that you don’t need extra Calcium and Vitamins D and K. However, it is important to be getting good sources of these in your diet.
Although food is the best source of the nutrients you need, it’s not always possible to get enough. So I recommend a prenatal multivitamin. Vegan prenatal multivitamins are available.
It’s a good idea for all pregnant women, not just vegans, to take these prenatal multivitamins. And I stress again that a balanced vegan diet during pregnancy can be a very healthy way to keep both mom and baby as healthy as possible.
I will have more advice on how to ensure you get specific nutrients for a vegan pregnancy in my next post.
Any man is delighted to hear that he is about to become a father. I think it’s also safe to say that every man is equally terrified at the prospect!
Now imagine my reaction in the doctor’s office when I learned that I had double the work on my hands. The news that my wife and I were expecting twins delighted us more than you can imagine, but it also petrified me to think that in a few short months I would be responsible for not one, but two tiny human beings.
All pregnancies are miraculous, but there’s something particularly amazing about the idea of two babies developing inside my wife's belly. While we are making sure my wife receives the best prenatal care, it concerns me that carrying twins can pose more risks for her and the babies than a single child pregnancy might.
I did my own research to stop myself from worrying excessively, watching videos about parents and their experience managing twins. The British-based National Health Service website had very useful and reassuring information on multiple birth pregnancies page. I discovered that while the risks are can be greater, preparing for a multiple birth pregnancy isn’t that much different from a single birth. Eating healthily and getting plenty of rest are the best recommendations for any pregnant woman – especially when she is doing the work for 3 people!
Whether a woman is expecting one, two or three babies, diet is crucially important. To help my wife out as much as I can, I will be taking care of the cooking. Expectant mothers of twins are at greater risk of developing anaemia, so we’re paying particular attention to iron-rich recipes like thyme-buttered cabbage. I’m sure that will go down as a treat when the cravings kick in!
The thought of teaching my children to ride bikes and swim fills me with happy anticipation, and I’ve already been looking at things like sleeping bags and outdoor clothing in preparation for the fantastic camping trips I’ll be taking the twins on! It hasn't been easy to stop thinking about all the things that could go wrong, but I am trying to focus on getting excited for being a father of two energetic children.
I’ve learned to stop treating my wife as if she’s made of glass. There are risks and complications with every pregnancy, and expecting twins doesn't make her more fragile. I’m focusing on taking one day at a time, doing my absolute best to make sure my wife is calm and doesn’t want for anything, and eagerly awaiting the day I get to meet my babies!
Organic honey, the Incredible
Honey is one of the most singular nutritious foods on the planet. (2) Cultures all over the world have enjoyed it for thousands of years. Of course, so do bees…and an occasional Pooh Bear. You might ask yourself why I made my honey discussion to be about organic honey. Well, that’s because there has been a recent honey scandal over the past decade.
There have been honey imitators, taking dyes and corn syrup…or worse, and calling it honey, when it fact, it isn’t. Honey Solutions of Baytown, Texas, and Groeb Farms of Onsted, Mich., have agreed to pay millions of dollars in fines and implement corporate compliance measures following a lengthy Justice Department investigation. (Source: NPR) (7)
Honey is a sacred food, highly delicious and sustaining. If you had no other food for weeks, you could actually live on honey because it has all that the human body needs: vitamins, (generally, all honeys have vitamin C and calcium) minerals, (iron) and sugars for energy. (1) (2)
Honey is easily digestible and can even assist in losing weight, even though it has more calories per teaspoon than simple sugar. This is because organic turbinado sugar has molasses included and is a complex carbohydrate, rather than a simple…and that becomes very important when addressing issues of metabolism. Honey with warm water, lemon, and cinnamon can assist the body in releasing stored fat. (1) This is in normal metabolic circumstances. Those whose system may have been compromised by a combination of drugs or underactive thyroid may have benefits, but may not be the same as those with healthy systems.
If you have found yourself feeling sluggish, or muscles drained after your average workout, there is compelling recent research that shows that honey helps in the maintenance of blood sugar levels (which is key to not ‘hitting the wall’ while exercising). There is also some evidence that it helps the muscles recover after workouts. (1)
Honey is an antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial complex. It has genuine wound healing properties. (1) (2) It speeds up the healing process by stimulating tissues and even helps initiate the healing process in wounds that are dormant. It also promotes autolytic debridement (uses the body's own enzymes and moisture to re-hydrate, soften and finally liquefy hard eschar and slough-this definition is directly from the Wound Care Information Network).
There are many types of honey and various factors affect the quality of honey. Some of these factors include the type of flowers used, the blending process, storage conditions, temperature of heating, etc. Not surprising, blended floral honey can have more healing and beneficial properties than single derived flower honey (monofloral). Darker honey may indicate long term storage (honey darkens the longer you have it) or present its true properties. If your honey is too light, it has probably been filtered. Honey should look like honey, not water. Water makes honey ferment. If pollen is present in the honey and you have allergies, you probably don’t want to eat that honey. (1) (2) (5) You will also notice that I added the word HEATING to the mix.
Heating changes the composition of honey drastically. For the truest benefits of organic honey, you normally don’t heat it…however, even though some minerals are lost, heating honey does do one very important thing if we are taking about giving it to young children: kills botulism.
The botulism spores can only be killed by the high heat, like in a pressure canner. The toxin (that is produced in anaerobic conditions) can only be destroyed by boiling. Honey isn’t safe for infants in cooked or baked foods, either. The temperatures required to kill botulism isn’t high enough to ensure the spores are destroyed.
Honey and Young Children
Honey is NOT recommended for any child under the age of 12 months. Sorry gang. If you would like to make my grandmother’s wonderful cough mixture for a child that young, molasses or organic sugar can be substituted, heated, but some (like the American Association of Pediatrics) don’t like molasses given to children under one, either. Is organic honey given to children under 12 months in other countries outside the US? Perhaps, but it is not recommended. What about breastfeeding moms? Nope, don’t eat it while breastfeeding, and don’t give it to your child under age one. (3) (6) I am just the messenger here. Just for the record: I did breastfeed my daughter, and no, I didn’t give her organic honey until age two. Processed honey can be consumed by pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
Is organic honey better? There is no research saying that organic is ‘better’ than non-organic. What that means is: there is no research BECAUSE no one researched it. One thing organic honey certainly is: safer.
There is a firestorm right now about the pesticides used on hives, (to kill mites, supposedly), in crops (while bees are trucked and introduced for pollination), and what bees are fed (yes, some bees have been fed high fructose corn syrup and there is a TON of research that this is extremely bad for humans to ingest, so I can’t imagine it could be good for bees, either). Antibiotics in food have been controversial for quite some time. Why are we concerned about antibiotic residues in honey? The veterinary antibiotics include chloramphenicol, streptomycin and a number of sulfonamides, which are harmful to humans.
NOTE: Many countries have not banned the usage of these harmful drugs in apiculture. The EU has banned all three while the US has banned chloramphenicol. If you are getting imported honey, be aware. (2) (3) (4) (8) Organic honey avoids all these factors. What is causing colony collapse? It is probably a combination of factors, epidemiological and environmental, from air, soil, and water, to electrical and electromagnetic. (2) (8) (9) (10) One thing is certain: the absence of these contaminants from organic honey makes it safer to consume. No one can sensibly argue that.
(5) AAP Pediatric Nutrition Handbook
(9) Mother Earth News
(10) Grit Magazine
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