Be it for the moral stance, the health benefits, and/or the environmental implications that they encourage, 3.3 percent of American adults choose to eat vegan or vegetarian diets, with pregnant women among them. But are vegan diets healthy for pregnant women? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recently affirmed that plant-based eating habits are "healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases" given that they are "appropriately planned." Vegan mothers everywhere are rejoicing at the affirmation, knowing that they can continue to fuel their bodies as they've chosen to do, even with a baby on the way.
Vegan diets are defined by the study as ones that are "devoid of flesh foods ... [exclude] eggs and dairy products, and may exclude honey." For non-vegans, this prospect might be daunting, even begging the question: What do vegans eat? Protein is often the first concern, followed by a few nutrients in which inadequate vegan diets might be insufficient. The study notes that the diets mentioned "typically meet or exceed recommended protein intakes, when caloric intakes are adequate." As far as nutrients go, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B-12 can be a concern, but if their intake is monitored properly, and supplemented when needed, vegan and vegetarian diets are still perfectly healthy.
What's more, vegan and vegetarian diets during pregnancy are beneficial. Linked to a "lower risk of excessive gestational weight gain," and a "reduce[d]... risk of complications of pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes," vegan mothers can absolutely produce healthy babies. Again, the key is balance, along with supplements, especially when it comes to iron, zinc, and B-12.
Plant-based diets reduce diabetes risk by 62 percent, heart-attack risk by 33 percent, heart disease risk by 29 percent, and cancer risk by 18 percent. The benefits, which apply to people of all age groups, are attributed to the fact that followers of these diets "consume more fruits and vegetables, fewer sweets and salty snacks, and smaller amounts of total and saturated fats" compared to their non-vegan and non-vegetarian counterparts. There are definitely unhealthy versions of vegan diets — ones replete with vegan junk like fried foods and sweets — so "going vegan" without the stressed plant varieties and balance won't automatically do the trick.
By and large, this myth has been debunked. "No one should doubt that vegetarian diets are safe at all life stages, including infancy, childhood and adolescence," notes Susan Levin, an author of the report. It's great news for parents, and for the planet — after all, if the whole world went vegan, greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 70 percent, according to research published in the journal PNAS earlier this year.
In considering a forthcoming child's future and security, a plant-based diet seems like a good option — and even if it's not your thing, you can rest easy knowing that veggie-loving moms everywhere are being supported in their choices too.