Q: I’m a vegan, and I’ve just found out I’m pregnant. Is it ok to continue my vegan diet?
A: Yes, but you need to plan your diet carefully to get enough of all the nutrients that are vital during pregnancy. It is important to replace the nutrients found in dairy, meat and fish with some other sources or supplements.
Vegetarians and vegans should typically get enough energy (calories) and protein in their diet, but may be vulnerable to low intakes on certain vitamins and minerals. Vegans in particular need to make sure they get enough riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12, calcium and iron – all important during pregnancy.
Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in foods of animal origin. Vegans can obtain this mineral from fortified foods including yeast extract, soya products and breakfast cereals.
If you avoid dairy products, then you need to ensure you eat a variety of other foods containing calcium such as pulses, soya beans, green leafy vegetables, tofu, nuts, dried fruits and fortified foods such as bread and soya milk.
Many women have insufficient iron intakes anyway and this can be particularly difficult for vegans, as iron from plant sources is less well absorbed. Vegan sources include pulses, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, seeds and fortified foods like bread and breakfast cereal. If you consume foods containing vitamin C at the same time (such as breakfast cereal with a fruit juice or beans in tomato sauce), this helps to enhance iron absorption.
If you think your diet is inadequate, it may be advisable to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement suitable for pregnancy (high-dose supplements should be avoided, however, particularly those that contain vitamin A).
Note that all pregnant women are advised to take a supplement containing 10 micrograms per day of vitamin D during pregnancy.
Q: Is it safe to eat taramasalata in pregnancy? I am 14 weeks pregnant.
A: There is no official advice on eating taramasalata during pregnancy. Taramasalata is made from cod roe, which has been marinated (with salt and sugar), but not actually cooked. There is no evidence that eating taramasalata is harmful in pregnancy, but if you are concerned then you may wish to avoid it while pregnant.
However, you should consume fish regularly. Oily fish in particular (such as salmon, trout and mackerel) is a rich source of omega-3, important for the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system. It is recommended that pregnant women should try to consume two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily fish (but not more than two portions of oily fish, due to the possibility it contains pollutants). For further information, go to www.eatwell.gov.uk.
Q: I understand that I need more calcium now that I’m pregnant. Can you tell me why this is, and what the best sources are?
A: Calcium is essential for the development of healthy bones and teeth, and therefore it is very important to have a sufficient intake in pregnancy. Babies born at full term contain approximately 25-30g of calcium, most of which is laid down during the last trimester. The body actually adapts during pregnancy to improve absorption of calcium, so in theory you do not require any extra.
However, many women do not get enough calcium anyway, particularly vegans and those that do not eat dairy products. Very young mums (teenagers) in particular need to consume plenty of calcium-rich foods. The best dietary sources of calcium are dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. Try to consume lower-fat versions – semi-skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurt.
Canned sardines and other fish where the bones are eaten are also good sources, along with pulses (beans, lentils), green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and soya products. Vitamin D, obtained mostly from sunlight but found in eggs, meat and oily fish, is required to absorb calcium efficiently. Many women do not obtain enough vitamin D, but women of Asian origin and those that cover up their skin when outdoors are particularly at risk. It is therefore recommended that all pregnant women take a vitamin D supplement (10mg per day) throughout their pregnancy.
Q: I’ve heard that tinned tuna doesn’t count as oily fish, but does tinned salmon? Are there any restrictions on how much you can eat during pregnancy?
A: Tinned tuna does not count as oily fish, as the oil is removed in the canning process. This isn’t the case for other tinned fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines, which all count as oily fish. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends that pregnant women should try to consume at least two portions of fish per week. One of these should be oily fish – the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help develop the baby’s brain and nervous system. However, the FSA also advises pregnant women to consume no more than two portions of oily fish per week. This is to avoid exposure to environmental pollutants, which could be harmful if consumed in large amounts.
It is also advisable to limit tuna intake to no more than two portions of fresh (140g cooked weight) or four medium-sized cans (drained weight of approx 140g per can) per week, as tuna can contain mercury, which at high levels can be harmful to the baby’s developing nervous system.