Can you have a healthy vegetarian or vegan pregnancy?

NEW YORK: “The short answer is yes, absolutely,” said Dr Shannon M Clark, a spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “You can still get all the nutrients you need, but you can’t be cavalier.”

There have not been any randomised-controlled trials, the gold standard to prove cause and effect, that looked at the effects of a vegetarian or vegan diet on pregnancy. However, a 2015 review of 22 observational studies on vegan and vegetarian pregnancies discovered no increase in major birth defects or other serious problems in offspring or mothers. The 2015 review, published in BJOG, an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, included only healthy women. The authors said more research is needed to determine whether expecting women who have certain health conditions can safely continue a plant-based diet.

In its position paper on vegetarian diets, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the nation’s largest organisation of dietitians, said a plant-based diet is healthy and nutritionally adequate for pregnant women, as long as there’s appropriate planning, since pregnant women who don’t eat meat may be at risk for deficiencies in certain nutrients, especially iron and vitamin B12.

Iron is crucial because women build up blood volume during pregnancy, and deficiencies can lead to anaemia, which “increases the risk of having a low birthweight baby, and increases the risk of preterm labour and delivery,” explained Clark, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Expecting women need double the iron a woman who isn’t pregnant needs, according to ACOG. So during pregnancy, vegetarians and vegans should take special care to eat plenty of iron-rich foods, like dried beans and peas and fortified cereals. Because the iron in plant-based foods is not as easily taken up by the body as the iron from meat, you should “cook them, soak them” or eat them…

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