Is It Healthy to Stick to a Vegan Diet When You’re Pregnant?

Photo: Getty Images/Chris Jackson
Unless you're just now emerging from a no-Internet-allowed retreat, you already know the week's royal news: Meghan Markle is pregnant with her first child. Among the many questions people are asking (like, say, where this kid falls in line for the throne), is whether the Duchess's vegan-leaning diet is healthy for pregnancy.

While it normally irks me that women are subject to intense scrutiny for, like, all of their choices from the second they make their joyful announcement to the day they give birth—and then some—fact remains that so many women aspire to be like Markle. (Her wellness résumé is goals-worthy.) Since other expectant moms are bound to follow Markle's lead, I checked in with certified nutritionist and The Whole Pregnancy author Aimee Aristotelous, CN, to find out just how healthy a vegan diet during pregnancy actually is.

Her verdict: "If someone adheres to the proper vegan diet, then yes, it is possible to be healthy while pregnant," she says. That means, for one, not making bread and pasta the hero of your diet. "Those foods are high-glycemic, which means [the carbs are] going to convert to a lot of sugar. Gestational diabetes affects up to 10 percent of all pregnant women in the United States and leads to excessive weight gain," she says. She also doles out the advice vegans have likely heard before: Get your nutrients through unprocessed, whole foods.

The pros of a vegan diet during pregnancy

There are  some benefits to eating vegan during a pregnancy: You probably won't have to amp up your folate as much as the average mom-to-be. "Vegans typically get a great amount of folate since it's in so many vegan staples like leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and lentils,"Aristotelous says.

Another nutrient vegans tend to already get their fill of is iron, which Aristotelous says you need 27 milligrams of per day when you're pregnant. "Beans, lentils, quinoa, oatmeal, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens are all great sources of iron and already a huge part of the vegan diet," she says.

vegan while pregnant
Photo: Getty Images/Nils Hendrik Mueller

The potential problem areas

But there are a few nutrients she says it's important to pay close attention to, particularly in the healthy-fats department. While ALA fats are found in foods like chia seeds, avocado, and olive oil, Aristotelous says DHA and EPA fats are almost exclusively found in meat—and she says it's super important that pregnant women get enough as those are key nutrients for developing eyesight and brain growth. Fortunately, there is a meat-free option full of it: seaweed. "It's the best vegan source for those particular fats," she says, adding that it's also a good source of vitamin B12, another nutrient pregnant women need to keep tabs on.

General doctor's orders regarding calcium for pregnant women is to double the intake. But Aristotelous says this doesn't mean you have to change your lifestyle and start guzzling cow's milk, if that's not your thing. In fact, she says cooked kale, broccoli, watercress, bok choy, okra, almonds, beans, black eyed peas, and butternut squash are all superior sources because the casein in cow's milk can actually prohibit iron absorption.

A note about protein

Vegans often rely on tofu, something Aristotelousis warns pregnant women against because soy is a big GMO crop. "It's doused with roundup, and we know from the news lately that glyphosate has unfavorable outcomes whether you're pregnant or not," she says. Instead, she says to go for organic tofu (to ensure it's non-GMO), or better yet, tempeh, which is full of vitamins and probiotics. Still, it's best to eat soy in general in moderation because it could affect your hormones. "It's still a gray area, and the science is mixed, but it's something to think about," she says.

So—at least according to one prenatal nutritionist—if Markle does choose to eat vegan throughout her pregnancy, she's not putting herself or the royal bundle of joy in any danger. Now that that's out of the way, we can move on to more important debates—like placing bets on baby names.

Speaking of Markle, have you heard about her first royal project? Plus, 10 things no one ever tells you about being pregnant.

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