Pregnancy has been harder than I thought what with the weight gain, nausea and numerous other weird physical side effects (!) but I tell you something, it’s that much harder being pregnant AND vegan! Like really hard. Not in a diet and ‘oh geez, what can I eat?’ way but in a socially acceptable way. I truly wasn’t prepared for the amount of questioning I’d receive with regards to my diet, my baby and the absence of meat and dairy in my diet. It’s been a little like this:
‘So, now that you’re pregnant are you eating meat?’
‘What about milk, you need calcium for the baby?’
Are you still a vegan now you’re expecting?’
No, I know and Yes.
I admit, I’ve struggled the past few months with these questions and although I know people only mean well, I can’t help but feel annoyed and at times a little like public property! Of course I answer politely and tell them I get plenty of calcium from alternative sources etc but the look of uncertainty is all the proof I need that they just don’t get it.
The thing is, I know about food, about nutrition, I’m kinda sensible and I’m a bit of a research nerd so naturally I did my homework on a plant based pregnancy. I know what I’m doing, it’s everyone else that’s doubtful, and there lies the problem. The other day was a particularly busy one for questioning, like 3 people asked me straight out whether I was still a ‘veggie’ at a team meeting in between congratulations. I’m pretty steadfast, I have the necessary knowledge but there’s only so much you can take before you start to doubt yourself and go home to calculate your calcium intake for that day, your protein for the week and the iron content of your lunch. I’ll send a text to Russ relaying all of this, to be greeted by his response of reassurance followed by my own realisation that I really do know the facts and that I’m doing the best for my baby.
My recent scan showed everything is progressing nicely with baby being the perfect size for her weeks. I am not deficient in anything, have bundles of energy and my weight gain is bang on target!
I refuse to measure nutrient levels and weigh absolutely anything (well except when baking, lol!), believe it’s completely unnecessary and why should I anyway? My body isn’t lacking a single nutrient, I look and feel full of energy and my baby is happy and healthy. I believe this is because I eat REAL food. Nobody seems to comment or judge the mum to be who drinks diet coke, eats KFC and a large bag of haribo but rather they are reassured they are eating for two and to enjoy it whilst they can!
Diets, especially during pregnancy are pretty personal and very individual and the following is what works for me but everybody is different, thank goodness 😉 Above everything, knowledge sure is power.
Here’s what I’ve been doing since being pregnant:
1. I have gone ORGANIC. Or partly organic. I try to at least buy the dirty dozen all organic alongside staples such as bread, nuts and oats. This change will stick with me, less chemicals is never a bad thing.
2. I have increased my intake of healthy FATS at each meal particularly oiive oil, nut butters, avocados, nuts, seeds, tahini, vegan cheeses. I find this alone has helped me feel more satiated and given me a level energy throughout the day.
3. I make sure I eat CALCIUM rich foods daily and it’s really quite a breeze on a plant based diet. I personally maintain healthy levels by eating the following: green leafy veg such as broccoli, kale, spinach and cabbage (did you know there’s more calcium in a cup of collard greens than in 1 cup of milk), fortified nut milks such as almond or coconut that contain 30% RDA in 200 ml, tahini which provides 10% RDA in just 1 tablespoon, molasses to sweeten, fortified oatmeal (Ready Brek) provides an excellent source too with a large bowl containing a whopping 60% RDA, an orange a day because I just love them, a handful almonds whenever I’m peckish, chickpeas / any pulse really (20% RDA in 1 cup) in a stew/curry or hummus and fortified wholemeal breads.
4. I have upped my IRON intake a little too by making sure I eat a wide selection of iron rich foods throughout the day including sweet potatoes, raisins, dates, figs, prunes, molasses, peas, artichokes, dark leafy greens, spirulina in smoothies, pumpkin, all whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans, beans and more beans. At least once a day I’ll try to have a food rich in vitamin C alongside iron rich foods such as baked beans and sweet potato to improve the iron absorption. Oh and chocolate too – a 3 oz. portion of cooked ground beef (70% lean meat, 30% fat) contains 2.11 mg of iron, while 3 oz. of dark chocolate boasts 10.12 mg.
5. I drink way more WATER. This has made a HUGE difference to my digestion and energy levels and I just know that 3 litres a day makes a big difference to my wellbeing and my baby’s too.
6. Dear old PROTEIN and where d’ya get it from! Well I aim for a little more than before, about 70 grams per day. It’s easy as hell to get enough protein as a vegan if you cook real foods so I just keep a mindful eye on making sure I get some quality protein in at each meal from my favourite sources, including greens (most people don’t think of greens as punching much of a protein punch but they really do), nuts, seeds especially hemp, lentils, beans (15 grams in 1 cup!), nut milks, sprouted grain breads, oats, quinoa, cocoa (yeah really!) and occasionally Quorn. I don’t sweat this protein lark as other people do, that’s enough for me!
7. I have VICES. Beer and coffee. No more beer but I still drink coffee, just two cups in the morning and refrain from caffeine for the remainder of the day.
8. I take a general pregnancy SUPPLEMENT as advised by my midwife such as Pregnacare and also a B12 supplement.
So I pretty much eat the same foods I ate before, but at the start of my pregnancy I made sure to take a closer look to ensure I was covering all bases. I believe my body (and midwife!) will tell me if something’s up and I plan to continue eating a whole foods plant based diet for the reminder of my pregnancy and after that too.
Some light reading: