Eating Vegan Diet During Pregnancy – What Does Research Say?

Healthy vegan diet can provides enough nutrients for our bodies. But is it safe for pregnant women to consume a diet based entirely on vegetables?

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The evidence on vegan-vegetarian diets in pregnancy isn’t consistent and there isn’t a lot of evidence to form a conclusive opinion. Due to these issues, it is difficult to distinguish the effects of diet from other factors that could possibly influence the outcome of pregnancy. However, research does indicate that consuming vegan-vegetarian food during pregnancy may be safe, provided that focus is on consuming enough nutrients including vitamins, minerals and proteins.

Majority of studies have at least taken us to one conclusion that eating a balanced diet is important for your and your baby’s health, whether that diet consists entirely of vegetables and fruits or animal food. Having a nutritious diet is necessary for healthy well-being, whether you’re pregnant or not. This can be diet containing fish, meat and poultry or it could simply be a diet without animal produce. However, statistical data on vegan pregnancies isn’t sufficient and therefore the conclusions aren’t scientifically backed.

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The major reason for the lack of statistical data is that most research exists only in correlation, which means that mothers can have various influences other than diet. These influences can be social, economical, emotional and physical. A women spending no time to stretch her muscles may have different outcome from a women who spends 30 minutes exercising.

These conclusions are based on an analysis of the 22 studies that met the authors’ criteria for inclusion in the review. For instance, they considered studies reporting on only a minimum of five cases, and where a vegetarian or vegan diet was freely chosen, not the result of privation.

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Nonetheless, the 22 studies were quite diverse in their size and aims. For instance, the largest study involved data from a sample of 7,928 children (3,211 born to vegetarian or vegan mothers), and focused on the role of phytoestrogens in the development of the male reproductive system. A more recent study with a sample of 1,257 women (114 vegetarian or vegan) investigated the relationship between dietary iron intake during pregnancy and the baby’s size at birth.

The variability across studies was, unfortunately, matched by some variability in results. For instance, five studies found that vegan/vegetarian mothers had babies with lower birth weight, but only one of these reported that the difference was statistically significant. And on the flipside, two studies found that vegan/vegetarian mothers had babies with higher birth weight, with one of these reporting statistical significance.

The nine studies that focused on nutritional deficits were somewhat more consistent, suggesting that pregnant women who are vegetarian/vegan may have higher levels of folate and magnesium relative to their omnivorous peers, but may also have an increased risk of vitamin B12 and iron deficiency — two of the nutrients vegetarians and vegans are generally advised to watch our for, whether or not they’re pregnant.

Finally, the review found little evidence that vegetarian-vegan diets either reduce or increase the risk of what they call “severe, adverse pregnancy-related events,” such as pre-eclampsia or major birth defects, provided B12 and iron levels are adequate.

The possible exception came from a single study that found an increased incidence of a condition called hypospadias — a condition in which the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis — in baby boys born to vegetarian/vegan women. The condition was also more prevalent in baby boys born to omnivorous mothers who took iron supplements or to mothers who had the flu during the first trimester of pregnancy. The authors of the review suggest further research is needed before attributing the increased incidence of hypospadias to diet.

Read the full article at NPR.org.

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