Do pregnant women need meat? Two nutritionists give their (very different) opinion

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At Women’s Health, we value the importance of maintaining a balanced lifestyle. This belief extends to our expert advice, which is why we consulted two nutritionists with contrasting perspectives on sustaining a vegan lifestyle during pregnancy. Both nutritionists share their thoughts on the matter below.

Emily Barker, from Roots & Shoots – Fertility and Women’s Health, does not typically recommend vegan diets for women who are trying to conceive or are pregnant. While it is a personal choice, she emphasizes the difficulties of meeting the nutrient needs of both the mother and growing baby on a plant-based diet. Pregnancy requires a significant amount of macro and micronutrients for the mother and the baby’s development. The body’s priority is to prioritize the nutritional needs of the growing fetus, sometimes at the expense of the mother. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to various complications such as depression, thyroid disorders, and anemia.

Iron is a crucial nutrient that pregnant women require in higher amounts. Even women who consume meat struggle to meet these requirements, and it is estimated that only 20% of women in Europe have adequate iron stores for pregnancy. Plant-based sources of iron are less easily absorbed compared to iron found in meat, making it challenging to obtain enough iron without consuming meat. In addition to iron and vitamin B12, other essential nutrients that are challenging to obtain from a plant-based diet include choline, omega-3 DHA, iodine, and zinc. Genetic factors can also make it difficult for the body to convert plant-based forms of certain nutrients into the active forms it needs. Consequently, Barker suggests that a professional’s guidance is crucial in tailoring a plant-based diet and ensuring adequate nutrient intake during pregnancy.

On the other hand, Rachel FitzD, a baby and parenting expert, author, and speaker for The Baby Show, believes that a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can provide all the necessary nutrients for a pregnant woman and her baby. She highlights that vegetarianism and veganism have been practiced for thousands of years for various reasons, such as religion, health, morality, and finances. FitzD mentions that a well-balanced vegan diet can provide all the essential nutrients for optimal health, including calcium and folic acid, through foods such as complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fortified plant milk, and healthy fats. She suggests incorporating iodine-rich foods like dried seaweed or iodized salt to support brain development. While plant-based sources of iron are readily available, it may be less easily absorbed, and vitamin C can help improve iron uptake. Vitamin B12, which is only found in animal products, can be obtained from fortified plant milks, spreads, nutritional yeast flakes, and some breakfast cereals.

In conclusion, maintaining a healthy pregnancy while following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is possible. However, it is essential for pregnant women to carefully consider their nutrient intake and seek professional guidance to ensure they are meeting their own and their baby’s nutritional needs. A well-balanced and nutritious plant-based diet can contribute to both the mother’s well-being and the future of the planet.

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