As more Australians opt for meat-free diets, some are cutting out animal products altogether and going vegan. But is this safe for pregnant women and babies? It is possible to meet the specific nutrient requirements of pregnancy, breastfeeding; infancy while following a vegan diet, but there is a catch.
Researchers have developed four criteria to guide vegan food choices during the crucial life stages of pregnancy, lactation, infancy and early childhood. These four criteria will help form the nutritional foundation of a healthy vegan diet; Plant food groups include grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables and fruit; with an emphasis on whole foods and those that are minimally processed.
Take care to ensure your fiber intake is not excessive during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood. Too much fiber means you will fill up before you have eaten enough food to meet all your nutrient needs. Do not limit total fat intake during infancy. Many high-fiber vegan foods are low in kilojoules and need a lot of chewing. By including higher-fat choices you can boost the number of kilojoules in each meal or snack so infants get enough kilojoules to grow properly.
Consume plenty of food
To ensure the omega-3 fats are well metabolized, consume plenty of food that are rich in omega-3 fats; such as ground chia seeds, flaxseed oil, and walnuts; and fat sources high monounsaturated like olive oil. Avoid foods rich in omega-6 fats, such as sunflower and safflower margarine and oil, and tropical fats including coconut and palm oils, as they can compete with the omega-3 fats to be metabolized. You can give omega-3s a competitive advantage by reducing the other fat types.
Consume plant foods rich in calcium, including calcium-fortified soy and nut beverages; some breakfast cereals, tofu, nuts, and seeds. Vitamin D status depends on sun exposure and supplements rather than a diet. You can download the SunSmart app to find out how much sun exposure is OK and when you do and don’t need sun protection; based on where you live. Vitamin B12 is needed to make red blood cells; to make myelin which insulates nerves, for some neurotransmitters that help the brain function, and to make DNA.
Optimizing nutrient intakes
While some studies reported lower birth weights or higher birth weights compared with non-vegetarian mothers; many of the studies had limitations. But the review highlights the importance of optimizing nutrient intakes so birthweights are in the normal range. Regularly measuring the baby’s length and weight and plotting on infant growth; charts is the best way to monitor growth.
Ensure foods are offered in forms that do not pose a choking hazard, for example, nut butter but not nuts. Having different sources of plant proteins including legumes, dried beans, grains, nut; seed butter and oils helps meet needs for specific amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Sources of iron include iron-fortified infant cereals, mashed and peeled cooked (from dried) beans and legumes. Consuming vegetables, fruit or juice rich in vitamin C with meals helps convert plant sources of iron and zinc into the form that can absorb.