Vegan diets and conception
There is a growing trend in the western world towards eating a vegan diet. A vegan diet is a diet that excludes all animal foods and foods produced by animals. These foods include meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, gelatine and honey.
A vegan diet is also called a plant based diet. It relies solely on plant foods. Plant foods are super healthy for us. Most people do not consume sufficient plant based foods in their diets. According to the World Health Organisation; we should consume approximately 850 grams of fruit and vegetables per day. This figure translates into approximately 8-10 servings of primary vegetables and fruit. The average Irish person consumes 2-3 pieces of fruit and vegetables per day so we have a long way to go to reach this target.
When embarking on a vegan diet it is important to include a diverse array of proteins from various different sources to ensure that you are obtaining all of the necessary amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of the body. We consume them when we eat protein. Plants contain many valuable proteins. A vast number of proteins are required for the production of hormones, cell growth tissue growth and repair. The foetus is growing rapidly and developing tissue and bones. To optimise your nutritional status at this important time, aim to consume proteins from an array of plant sources. Plant proteins are found in; nuts, seeds, peas, beans, legumes, fruit and vegetables. Aim to increase vegetable protein at this stage and choose a rainbow of colours when using vegetable proteins. Vegetable proteins are particularly nutritious as they are packed full of healthy plant chemicals and antioxidants which support cell health and cell division.
Proteins from animal produce contain all of the essential amino acids. Animal proteins are often referred to as 'complete proteins'. No vegetable protein source contains all the essential amino acids. Therefore it is necessary to combine them. By combining grains with nuts and seeds or legumes makes up a complete protein. It is wise to ensure that every day combined proteins are consumed.
Iron from animal produce is termed haem- iron which is easily absorbed by the body. Vegetable sources of iron are not as strong. Aim to eat iron rich foods such as prunes, lentils, black beans, apricots, spinach, swiss chard, tempeh and chickpeas.
Vitamin B12 is a crucial vitamin which the body requires at all times especially during pregnancy. There is no vegetable source so if you want to eat a vegan diet it is essential to supplement your diet with B12 and have your blood levels regularly checked.
Taking a good quality multivitamin/multimineral should provide all of the essential vitamins and minerals during this vital time.
Gaye Godkin, MPH Nutrition (Hons) DipNT cNLP