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Vegan Pregnancy

Getting Your Vitamins
by Erin Pavlina

You know you need calcium, protein, iron, zinc, folate, B12, and a host of other vitamins. But where do you get them? How much do you need? What are some "power" foods that are packed with tons of vitamins? Following is your guide to getting the vitamins, nutrients, and minerals you need to have a healthy vegan pregnancy.

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Protein
You're probably already used to people asking where you're going to get your protein. But during pregnancy you may get asked that question even more often, and not just by family and friends, your doctor or midwife may ask as well. But don't worry, it's easy to get enough protein.

Requirement: 60 to 66 grams per day.
Foods high in protein: Beans, tempeh, brown rice, barley, whole wheat, tofu, legumes such as peas, lentils, and garbanzo beans, soymilk, nuts and seeds, nut butters, veggie burgers, and veggie deli slices.

Calcium
Everybody always seems to want to hand a pregnant woman a glass of milk. Well we know how bad that would be! But you need to be sure you're getting the recommended daily amounts of calcium during pregnancy otherwise your baby will take calcium from your bones and leave you a little depleted. So let's explore some great sources of calcium in the vegan diet.

Requirement: 1000 milligrams per day.
Foods high in calcium: Calcium fortified orange juice, fortified soymilk, broccoli, bok choy, kale, figs, tofu made with calcium carbonate, almonds, and tahini.

Iron
You need extra iron during pregnancy to help make red blood cells in both you and your baby. Doctors will be especially concerned about iron intake and may prescribe iron supplements. Take them if you are not sure you're getting enough iron through your diet, or if you just want the added peace of mind. Eat foods high in Vitamin C when you eat high-iron foods to increase absorption.

Requirement: 30 milligrams per day, minimum.
Foods high in iron: Dark leafy greens, beans, legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds, dried fruits like raisins and apricots, whole and enriched grains, sorghum molasses.

Zinc
Although zinc isn't usually the first nutrient on the list when discussing your daily requirements, it does make the top 10. A zinc deficiency has been associated with spontaneous abortion and congential malformations. We don't want that, so let's get some zinc.

Requirement: 15 to 30 milligrams per day.
Foods high in zinc: Whole grains, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, nuts and seeds like tahini, legumes, tofu, miso, wheat germ, miso, and nutritional yeast. Fortified cereals also contain good sources of zinc, read the labels.

B12
Don't mess with B12. It's vital you get enough B12 while you're pregnant. Failure to obtain enough B12 could cause your baby to be born with very low stores, which can lead to B12 deficiency (weakness, loss of reflexes, failure to thrive, delayed development, muscle wasting, and irreversible brain damage.) Be certain you're getting enough B12 every day!

Requirement: 3 micrograms per day.
Foods high in B12: Nutritional Yeast (Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula), fortified nondairy beverages, fortified juices, cereals, meat substitutes. Beware seaweed and fermented soyfoods as they are not necessarily reliable sources of B12.

Folic Acid
Even before I was vegan I knew that folic acid was a vitamin of concern to all women of child bearing age. A lack of folic acid in your body can cause spina bifida and neural tube defects in your children. You should strive to enter pregnancy with high stores of folic acid since the first trimester is where a deficiency could really harm your baby. Let's find some foods high in folic acid.

Requirement: 600 micrograms per day.
Foods high in folic acid: Green leafy vegetables (spinach, asparagus, broccoli, romaine lettuce), oranges and orange juice, corn, green beans, beets, peas, peanut butter, whole wheat bread, bran breakfast cereals, dried beans, peas and lentils, nuts, and seeds.

Vitamin D
Without enough vitamin D in your diet, your baby could be born with rickets. There are two ways to get vitamin D... from exposure to sunlight or from food. If you can spend 15 minutes a day getting sun on your hands, arms, and face, your body will probably make enough vitamin D. If you live in colder climates or don't go outside much, then turn to food or supplements to get enough.

Requirement: 5 - 10 micrograms per day.
Foods high in vitamin D: Fortified cereals, and possibly soymilk. Read labels.

Essential Fatty Acids
There are two fatty acids you need to get in your diet -- linoleic (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). Although most vegans probably get enough omega-6, they don't often get enough omega-3. You need both in your diet to make DHA, which is essential for visual acuity and brain development in your infant. Consider taking a DHA supplement. Although many are made in gel caps, you can open them up and squeeze out the liquid.

Requirement: 4 to 5 grams per day.
Foods high in omega-3's: Canola oil, safflower oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, and avocados, and to some extent whole grains, legumes, and nuts.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is very easy to get on a vegan diet. There are plenty of foods you probably eat regularly that are high in vitamin A. This is one vitamin you probably don't need to worry about.

Requirement: 800 micrograms per day.
Foods high in vitamin A: Sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, apricots, mangoes, cantaloupe, collards, and kale.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is also another vitamin that is extremely plentiful in a vegan diet.

Requirement: 85 milligrams per day.
Foods high in vitamin C: Strawberries, oranges, lemons, broccoli, tomatoes, red and green peppers, and juices made with 100% fruit juice.

In Summary
Although it's extremely important to make sure you are getting adequate nutrition, don't make yourself crazy trying to plan daily menus down to the micrograms. When I was pregnant I tried to make sure I had some of the power foods each day: broccoli, tofu, beans, and fortified juices. Become familiar with the foods highest in the vitamins you need. Make sure to eat a variety of foods. If you're at all concerned about getting enough vitamins, there's nothing wrong with taking a supplement.

Resources:
Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet by Michael Klaper, M.D.
Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis, R.D., and Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D.
Vegetarian Starter Kit by the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine

Erin Pavlina is the author of Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World, and a new cookbook, Vegan Family Favorites. She lives in Las Vegas with her vegan husband and children, Emily and Kyle.
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