Vegan and vegetarian diets are plant-based diets. They are gaining popularity as people try to make better choices in terms of their health when it comes to food. A vegetarian diet refers to diet that is devoid of animal (meat). It can be a total (vegan) or partial exclusion of animal derived food, allowing dairy products and eggs.
Plants, in general tend to be more nutrient-dense and associated with a number of health benefits, including lower body mass index, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes and cancer prevention. This diet also has a higher content of magnesium, folate, and fiber, compared to the meatier westernized diets.
Studies has demonstrated that partial vegan diet intake fulfilled the UK recommended nutritional intake (RNI) but the vegan had a lower vitamin B12, riboflavin, calcium and iodine. These vegans were also had a lower iron, zinc and vitamin D due to exclusion of meat from their diet (Draper 1993, Philips 2005).
Effect of vegetarian diet in pregnancy
Draper (1993) finds that in non-pregnant vegetarians, the mean intakes of micronutrients met the UK recommended nutrient intake (RNI) among partial vegetarian but strict vegans have intakes of riboflavin, vitamin B12, calcium and iodine that were below the RNI.
Pregnancy is associated with an increased requirement for energy, protein and some micronutrients, including thiamin, riboflavin, folate and vitamins A, C and D. Although a vegetarian diet can meet the increased demand for energy and protein during pregnancy, but there may be difficult to achieve the recommended intake of some vitamins and minerals, especially for vegans, due to dietary restrictions. This group has difficulty meeting their requirements for riboflavin, vitamin B12, calcium, iron and zinc. The intake of these important nutrients during pregnancy need to be supplemented (Philips 2005).
Effect on pregnancy outcome
Studies comparing birth outcomes (e.g. birthweight, length of gestation) in vegetarian mothers and omnivores, have so far not produced consistent results. One study found no difference in length of gestation, birthweight, birth length or head circumference between the babies of vegetarians, fish-eaters and meat-eaters (Drake 1998). Others found that white, vegan mothers had lower birthweight babies compared with women from the rest of the population (Sanders 1995, Reddy 1994).
The current evidence on vegan–vegetarian diets in pregnancy is mixed and limited. The type of dietary advice that is applicable to vegetarians and vegans during pregnancy depends, to a certain extent, on the type of vegetarian diet followed. The vegetarian diet is associated with risk for low intakes of certain nutrients during pregnancy.
The vegetarian diets may be considered safe in pregnancy as most should be able to meet their nutrient requirements with careful dietary planning. However, those on very restricted diets may also need to consume fortified foods or supplements.
- Drake R et al., Vegetarian Nutrition: An International Journal 1995
- Draper A et al., British Journal of Nutrition 1993.
- Philips F. Nutrition Bulletin 2005
- Reddy S et al., European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1994.
- Sanders TAB. Pediatric Nutrition 1995