Diets that are based primarily or solely on plant-based foods are good for our health and environmentally friendly, as is the planetary health diet. They help us to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, obesity or cardiovascular diseases, in addition to promoting satiety and improving constipation problems, typical of pregnancy. And, at the same time, They minimize greenhouse gas emissions, make efficient use of water and improve the quality of agricultural land, among other benefits. However, They can represent a deficit of essential nutrients for pregnant women and their babies, as a recent study recalls. And the situation could get worse, its authors warn. In the following lines we address the conclusions of the research, in addition to the importance of nutrition before, during and after pregnancy, also in the case of following a diet plant based like the vegan.

Nutritional deficiencies of pregnant women

The diet of pregnant women presents nutritional imbalances. In 2018 we already commented in this article that 45% of pregnant women do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, 50% do not reach the recommendations for milk and fish consumption and 70% do not eat the necessary amount of cereals or legumes. Therefore, they do not cover with their diet the recommended amounts of folic acid, iodine, calcium, iron and vitamin D, nutrients that ensure proper development of the baby.

But in 2024 the situation is not better, and could get worse, as a recent study published in PLOS Medicine, which analyzed the health of pregnant women in high-income countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Singapore. To do this, they included 1,729 women between 18 and 38 years of age at the time of conception and followed many of them during subsequent pregnancies.

🔴 Few vitamins

Scientists at the University of Southampton (United Kingdom), working with experts from around the world, discovered that More than 90% of pregnant women lacked essential vitamins necessary for a healthy pregnancy and the well-being of babieskey nutrients found in abundance in meat and dairy products.

Specifically, the results showed that Around the time of conception, women had marginal or low levels of:

  • folic acid (vitamin B9). Its deficiency is linked to delayed growth, megaloblastic anemia (decreased number of red blood cells) and the development of neural tube defects in the baby such as spina bifida. It is found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, nuts, legumes and some meats (liver, kidneys).
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2). It has antioxidant properties and keeps the skin, hair and eyes in good condition, while contributing to the growth and development of the baby’s tissues, as well as its liver and nervous system. It is found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, green vegetables and nuts.
  • vitamin B12 (cobalamin). Low levels of B12 are related to premature birth, neural tube defects and a greater risk of the baby being born with low weight or with “more alterations in the cognitive field,” as one of the studies from the ECLIPSES project points out. It is in meat and fish.
  • vitamin D. Deficiency of this vitamin is associated with failure of embryo implantation in the uterus and increased risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. We find it in fish and dairy products.

Furthermore, they observed that many women developed vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) deficiency in late pregnancy. This vitamin is related to the prevention of preeclampsia and nausea, as well as the reduction of cardiovascular malformations and orofacial fissures. It is found in meat, poultry, fish, vegetables and bananas.

From there the the importance of take folic acid for women’s conception planning and during pregnancy, in addition to vitamin D and B12 in some cases. On the other hand, further vitamin supplements are not necessary, as recognized in this official document on supplements in pregnant women (2010), unless prescribed by a health professional.

Img improve pregnant diet hd
Image: gstockstudio

🔴​ More nutritional deficiencies due to the style of the diet

But the signatories of this research emphasize another point that especially concerns developed countries, where the prevalence of vitamin deficiencies among women trying to get pregnant is a “serious concern.”

Keith Godfrey, lead author and professor of Epidemiology at the British university, assures that “The drive to reduce our dependence on meat and dairy to achieve net zero carbon emissions is likely to further deprive pregnant mothers of vital nutrients, which could have lasting effects on babies. “Our study shows that almost all women trying to conceive had insufficient levels of one or more vitamins, and this figure is only going to get worse as the world moves towards plant-based diets.”

Plant based diets on the rise

And what is a diet plants based? Any diet that is based on consuming products of plant origin (fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, nuts…) and, therefore, on eliminating foods of animal origin as much as possible. Diets fit in it veggies and also the planetary health diet, which includes plant-based foods and, optionally, modest amounts of fish, meat and dairy products.

The question raised by these scientists is not trivial. And being vegan is an increasingly widespread lifestyle in the world. In European countries such as Germany, Austria or the Netherlands, veggies They already form a third of society, as it already is in India.

In Spain, on the other hand, it is not so deep-rooted, as only 11.4% of people confess that they are, according to the study. The Green Revolution prepared by the consulting firm Lantern. And although the movement veggie has lost 600,000 followers in Spain in the last two years, about 4.5 million people in our country follow an eminently plant-based diet. Most consider themselves flexitarians (occasionally eating meat or fish). Another 670,000 are vegetarians, around 276,000 are vegan consumers and another 692,000 are pescetarians (they do not eat meat, but they do eat fish).

🟢​ In women and young people

pregnant vegetables
Image: Matilda Wormwood

But the most striking thing is that by population groups, generation Z (between 18 and 24 years) is the one that adopts this type of diet most strongly, for greater awareness. They represent 16% of the total veggies (4.8% of vegetarian diets and 1.9% of vegan diets). And, by sex, they are women those who lead this movement: the female population represents 59% of the veggies and 74% of the vegetarian and vegan population.

These last two data are very important in light of the main study discussed. Women and our young people are increasingly opting for plant-based diets, which, according to scientists, can harm the intake of nutrients found in meat and dairy products.

Plant-based diets for pregnant women

So, to do? A blood test will help the medical professional determine if deficiency supplementation is necessary and a specialized dietitian-nutritionist will propose the most appropriate diet.

Anyway, If the woman follows a plant-based diet, you should know that a vegetarian or vegan diet is appropriate for pregnancy and breastfeeding, “without worsening obstetric results”, as long as, as explained by experts from the Sant Joan de Déu Hospital (Barcelona), it is carried out with a complete intake of nutrients. essential. As?

➡️ A well-planned diet must contain:

  • Wide variety of plant foods and in large quantities to obtain the necessary proteins, emphasizing the intake of whole foods or minimally processed foods.
  • Boost the consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids in ground flax seeds, flaxseed and olive oil, ground chia seeds and walnuts.
  • Consume adequate amounts of calciumwhich are found in most green leafy vegetables, for example.
  • Increase the absorption of iron coming from vegetables in combination with a source of vitamin C or beta-carotene or with techniques such as soaking beans and grains, fermentation or germination. Supplementation is only necessary if there is anemia.
  • Increase the absorption of zinc of cereals, legumes, soy, nuts and seeds with the same recommendations as above.
  • Ensure the necessary amount of iodine (200 micrograms per day). An increased intake of iodized salt or a supplement derived from algae are options.
  • Check the status of the vitamin D. Increasing sun exposure and eating fortified foods can help, because plant sources are not rich in this vitamin (beans, broccoli and leafy vegetables). Sometimes it is advisable to take supplements 1,000-2,000 IU per day, if considered so by the healthcare professional.
  • Consume adequate amounts of b12 vitamin. There is not enough of this vitamin in plant foods, even if they are fortified, so It is mandatory to take exclusive B12 supplements.