This past weekend, as I enjoyed an outdoor concert in the area, a very pregnant lady handed me a little piece of heaven: the SO Delicious mini ice cream sandwich made with coconut milk. It was part of a promotion to share the merits of a vegan lifestyle and they handed out some literature with the treats.
Replacing what can often be pretty unexciting and stale vanilla ice cream with a creamy coconut milk-based faux ice cream is a thought conceived in heaven. I could easily imagine a similar dessert on one of Tom Collichio’s plates, but of course his dish’s slices of “bread” would be made with chocolate unicorn tears.
My father takes a bite out of his third sandwich
As I skimmed the pamphlets that Prego McPrego handed me, I thought about how many times, in the process of working on this book, vegetarian and vegan women I know have mentioned that they are worrying about their diets during pregnancy. Sure enough, the literature in my hands addressed this.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is cited three times saying “a well-planned vegan diet is safe for all stages of the life-cyle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence…” I want to be on board with this, because, again, I like the idea of women having enough information to make intelligent decisions about how they will handle their pregnancies.
But a vegetarian diet is decidedly different from a vegan diet.
One common nutritional concern during pregnancy is vitamin B-12 (cobalamin), and it is most commonly found in what vegans call “flesh foods”–or meat products. Here is the top 10 list of foods highest in B12. Yeah, vegans can’t have any of it. And why do we care so much about B12 in particular? Well, for adults it’s a pretty great nutrient whose effects range from protecting us against certain types of cancer to potentially reducing depression.
But, for babies in utero, it’s pretty crucial. B12 is associated with a lot of the crucial development they need. Neural tubes, for instance. So one of the main concerns with a vegan diet is that vegan mother might suffer from B12 deficiency. One of the most common symptoms of which, by they way, is fatigue and loss of balance–nothing an already pregnant woman needs more of.
The AND endorsement of a vegan diet refers to the American Dietetics Association’s position paper on vegetarian diets. In this paper, the ADA actually says that vegan mothers will have special needs and draws an important distinction between vegetarian and vegan diets. A “well-planned diet” for a vegan would consist of foods different from vegetarian diets, namely in its use of “fortified soy and rice beverages, some breakfast cereals and meat analogs, or Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast [look for a post on this product in the future!].” Coconut milk beverages, to circle back to this elixir of the gods, can be enriched with B12 and a couple of cups can provide your daily nutritional requirement. Alternatively, a pregnant vegan would have to take a daily B12 supplement, not too different from the majority of pregnant women who take prenatal vitamins of some sort.
The position paper provides a pretty great summary of the research done on vegetarianism or veganism during pregnancy. Basically, vegetarians have it pretty easy–you can plan your diets to get enough B12, iron, folate and vitamin D. Vegans, however, have to be particularly diligent on getting the nutrients their baby needs. My take is that it is completely doable. Just do a little research, like the position paper in question.