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Yes, No, Maybe?? Thoughts on Vegetarianism and Pregnancy

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 59 Comments

What are your thoughts on not eating meat while pregnant? (I am a vegetarian.) What other foods/beverages/supplements do you think are or aren’t necessary or beneficial?

~Christin

I’m so glad you asked, Christin! And by the end of this post I hope you still are, too. Let’s jump in, shall we?

One-Thousand, Six-Hundred & Seventy-Seven Days Ago . . .

I peed on a stick. But just a little, because I was holding the rest for the backup tests! A trip to Walgreens and two tests later it was official. A tiny little being – my baby – was going to grow to watermelon proportions and then try to exit an area no wider than a garden hose, and I  needed olive juice. Pronto.

It’s funny looking back, but yeah, food was the first thing that made me feel like a mother. There were BLECH!!! days and MOREMOREMORE!!! days, but I welcomed each craving and aversion as my body’s sacred wisdom about how, when, and what to eat.

But What If I’m Craving Doritos & Ding Dongs?

Hmmm . . . I did make that sound a little too easy, didn’t I? Sadly, the “experts” spread so much dietary misinformation that we – and our bodies – are thoroughly confused about what a healthy pregnancy and breastfeeding relationship looks like. For example, in their effort to encourage every mother to breastfeed some advocates say that baby will get “all they need” from breast milk even when the mother’s diet is poor.

That is simply not the case, as was demonstrated in the very public prosecution of a vegan couple whose breastfed baby died from critical deficiencies in vitamins B12 an A. I hesitate to mention this because it is not my intent to drag these parents through the mud. However, I think this tragedy perfectly illustrates the impact of nutritional misinformation on real life outcomes. Like what, you ask?

Myth #1: Protein is Protein

Say you’re two months pregnant (it’s fun to pretend, right?!?!?). By now baby is about the size of a kidney bean with earlobes and cute – albeit slightly webbed – little fingers. You’re eating protein everyday because you know it is the fundamental building block baby needs to grow some eyebrows so he/she won’t look permanently surprised. But are vegetable proteins as good as animal-based proteins?

In a word, no.

Our bodies synthesize protein by breaking apart amino acids from food and then reassembling them for specific tasks. Of the twenty amino acids needed to form protein our bodies can make twelve “on site” (children can only make 11). The rest we have to get from food. Vegetable proteins are “incomplete,” meaning that they contain only a few of the essential amino acids needed. Because the body cannot warehouse protein like it does fat, we need to stock up every. single. day. And unlike animal-based proteins that have everything we need wrapped up in just the right proportions, incomplete proteins simply don’t cut it.

“Not only do we need all the eight (nine for children) essential amino acids in our diet, we also need them in our body in just the right proportions and at the same time. It does little good taking in a few essential amino acids one day and getting the others later in the week. The body simply cannot make effective use of them unless it has them all together at one time. Missing one of the essential amino acids is like trying to read a novel in which every ninth page is missing, except that our imaginations can fill in the plot line whereas our bodies cannot fill in the missing amino acid,” says research and author Dr. Kummerow in his article for the Wise Traditions Magazine, “Protein: Building Blocks of The Body.” (emphasis mine)

Is it possible to create complete proteins with a vegetarian diet? Yes, but it is vital to avoid soy AND you’ll need to carefully measure and combine foods to provide the full range of amino acids. And because plant-based sources have lower concentrations of amino acids overall you’ll also need to eat much, MUCH more than - say – a piece of chicken that contains all nine in high concentrations. This unfortunately, leaves very little room in the belly for other important nutrients!

Myth #2: Carrots Contain Vitamin A

What, there isn’t there vitamin A in carrots? But they teach that in school!  No . . . and this is exactly my point about nutritional misinformation.

Nutrition labels often say that a food has X amount of Vitamin A, when what they really mean is that it has beta carotene. Contrary to popular belief, beta carotene is NOT the same as Vitamin A. It is a precursor . . .and a poor one at that! True bioavailable Vitamin A is found only in animal products such as fermented cod liver oil, pastured butter, egg yolks, liver, and seafood.

Why do we need Vitamin A?

“In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price described the early work on vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy and the preconception period. In diverse species of laboratory animals, this deficiency produced spontaneous abortion; prolonged labor and death of the mother and her offspring during labor; eye defects including the complete absence of eyes; defects of the snout, dental arches and lips; displacement of internal organs including the kidneys, ovaries and testes; and deafness due to degeneration of the nervous system.”

We now know that vitamin A is necessary for the differentiation and patterning of all of the cells, tissues, and organs within the developing body. It is especially important for the development of the communication systems between the sense organs and the brain. Even mild vitamin A deficiency compromises the number of functional units called nephrons in the kidneys, which could predispose a person to poor kidney function later in life.

Vitamins For Fetal Development: Conception To Birth

Just like with protein, it IS possible to get vitamin A from carrots. But only if you eat them by the pound and have flawless enzymatic function. Even then, I am very doubtful that anyone would be able to obtain optimal quantities.  For example, the Weston A. Price foundation recommends 20,000 IU a day for pregnant women (4). In a head-to-head comparison, 100 grams of carrots yields roughly 1,145IU of Vitamin A, whereas 100 grams of beef liver yields 25,800.³ One-hundred grams of carrots is about 2/3 cup, so you’d have to eat about 15 cups of carrots per day to meet the recommendation! (assuming the conversion from betacarotene can be made)

After baby is born, vegetarian parents need to supplement their children with bioavailable (animal-based) Vitamin A because  their immature digestive systems are unable to make the betacarotene/Vitamin A conversion¹. For more information and dosage recommendations, check out The Vitamin A Saga.

Myth #3: Baby Will “Steal” To Get What They Need From Mama

Okay, that’s actually true, but **only** if mama has it to give.  In a 2001 study of North American women, researchers found that their breast milk did not meet the minimum requirements for vitamin D, which is found in it’s most bioavailable form in animal-based foods like lard, fish, cod liver oil, and caviar.  And “[w]hile protein levels in human milk remain constant at about 11 percent under various conditions, levels of fat and lactose—both essential for the development of the nervous system—vary widely,” says the Weston A. Price Foundation.

In addition to being a critical factor in developing baby’s bone structure, Vitamin D  also has protective effects against Whooping Cough and has been shown to virtually eradicate the risk of type 1 diabetes if given during the first year of life.²  It also promotes proper hormone function. We don’t think of babies needing hormones, but actually they do! Hormones are what cause their rapid development, which is why a deficiency in Vitamin D can stunt growth. Where do we get vitamin D? In the winter months lard, liver and other animal products are the only source.

Without supplementation, pregnant women not consuming meat, fish/shellfish, or eggs by the dozen can also develop  B Vitamin (aka folate, B6 & B12) deficiencies, which has been linked to neural tube defects like spina bifida.

And That Is Why . . .

In my humble – face so close to the floor I can lick the tile – opinion, vegetarianism and pregnancy are not a good match. It’s not that we can’t get some of our needs for met through plant sources, but we cannot get all of them met that way. We’d just have to eat too. much. food.

Animal-based foods, in contrast, are “nutrient dense” – meaning that small portions of these foods contain much higher concentrations of the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients we need. Incorporating raw dairy and eggs can meet some of these needs, but not all.

And while eggs and dairy contribute a lot to a nutrient-dense diet, there are certain nutrients they cannot provide to make up for a lack of meat in the diet. As we already discussed, women need about 20,000IU of Vitamin A per day while pregnant. Beef liver contains 25,800IU of Vitamin A in 100 grams, which means it knocks out an entire days recommendation in one serving. On the flipside, an egg (50 grams) only contains about 280IU, which means you’d have to eat about eighty eggs per day to get the recommended amount!

So there you go, Christin. My thoughts on vegetarianism and pregnancy. Still glad you asked?

What do YOU think???

Questions about baby nutrition? Check out my new e-book, Nourished Baby!

Photo credit: Flequi, Lunarcaustic, Michele CataniaSimona Balint

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59 Responses to Yes, No, Maybe?? Thoughts on Vegetarianism and Pregnancy

  1. Mae says:

    THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!
    I was a vegetarian for 5 years before my husband and I got married, plus the year I was pregnant with Lily, AND her first year while she was breastfeeding. Once I started reading Nina Planck’s/Sally Fallon/Weston A. Price’s materials, I knew I HAD TO re-think my stance on vegetarianism. My conception and pregnancy has been completely different with Norah, as has breastfeeding. I’m thankful for my years of vegetarianism because I know about meat moderation, and the importance of eating humanely raised animal [not only is it better for them, it’s better for you!] but I do often wonder how I survived without feeding myself/Lily nutirient dense bone broths, or letting her suck on marrow, or any of the other seemingly disgusting things I let her and Norah do now. My choice to be a vegetarian was originally bc I was in high school and that’s what ALL the cool kids did ;] But it grew to be a deep religious conviction for years, but after MUCH prayer and research, when Lily turned a year old, and I had a very early miscarriage [due to complete unknown, I in no way link my miscarriage to my vegetarianism] I knew it was time to change my diet. I coincidentally got pregnant right away with Norah, and am so glad for the new found freedom I had to TRULY get myself and my baby the nutrients we needed! It was such a burden to convince myself and my midwife that Lily and I were getting enough protein [jars of peanut butter and an occasional tuna sandwich are NOT enough] especially with how perfectly Norah grew, and I only “spilled protein” TWICE with her! Ah, I could talk about my experience for days, lol. Thank you for this!

  2. Nicole Singh via FB

    says:

    I hate to sound like the devil’s advocate but really asking out of curiosity: how do you explain these deficiencies not being prevalent in veggie societies such as over 500 million Indians? Vegetarianism allows for lard, butter, eggs, raw milk, etc- don’t these fill some of these deficiencies?

    • candace

      says:

      vegetarianism allows for lard- the rendered fat of a dead animal? if one eats that, they are not a vegetarian.

    • Cecilia Long

      says:

      Everybody thinks these vegetarian societies are actually vegetarian when they are NOT. Most of their foods are infested with insects which they dont skim out and throw away like we do as they dont have the food to waste. If their flour gets little weevils they eat it anyway. Many vegetarian societies will eat grubs or insects like scorpions and such. I know that in Asia and India they have huge bazzares just full of dried insects for sale (go watch Andrew Zimmern and his show Bizzare Food sometime.)

      • noella says:

        Speaking as a Southern Indian and as someone from these vegetarian societies, bugs are not eaten out of choice in India. Nothing wrong with eating bugs, each culture to its own, but its not traditionally a delicacy.

        Sure weevils do make their appearances, but since a large section of the population is poor they aren’t going to be wasteful with food, and will make efforts to clean out weevils before eating.In any case you would have to eat mugs full of weevils to get your protein from there so your statement is illogical.

        Depending on your community there are different degrees of vegetarianism. Some dont eat food growing under the ground (all roots and tubers), some dont eat vegetables that are ‘aphrodisiacs’. There are all sorts of rules depending on your traditions.

        That said people have been having healthy babies for a while being vegetarians for centuries. We are mostly lacto vegetarian so yogurt and mik supply a lot of our nutrition. Besides that we eat a large variety of legumes and pulses for both lunch and dinner.

  3. Jenni says:

    At this point in my life I have found the average ‘vegetarian’ really has no idea what they are doing. When I was vegan, it took an incredible amount or forethought and planning to infuse my diet with everything I needed (of course this is true in any diet). I do believe that vegans and vegetarians can have very healthy pregnancies, but they need to have been vegan for sometime (or their bodies will not know how to process and convert all that they need from this new source) before becoming pregnant and they need to be serious about understanding what the body needs and how they are getting it. Love the post! There are so many ‘vegetarian dabblers’ these days. Often times it’s not for health, but for a fad or a political view. Fads and political views won’t nourish mom and baby.

    • Heather says:

      Some vegans say that women can get everything they need for pregnancy via supplements (like B12), I do not think this is accurate or advisable. First, I simply don’t think that our bodies can convert adequate amounts of betacarotene to Vitamin A (I added some figures to the post just now that explain why). And second, my own experience with supplementation is that we often get the ratios wrong, which causes our bodies to use its stores of other vitamins/minerals to process and remove it, which then causes other deficiencies. This of, course, caused me to supplement MORE – you can see where this is going.

      In contrast, whole foods typically come with their own “set” of complementary nutrients that allow for easy absorption.

  4. Rita

    says:

    This was a question about vegetarians, and it was made into a vegan question. It is possible to get what you need without eating meat, especially if dairy and eggs are included.

    • Heather says:

      Eggs and dairy contribute a lot to a nutrient-dense diet, they do have shortcomings. For example, the Weston A. Price foundation recommends 20,000 IU a day for pregnant women (http://www.westonaprice.org/fat-soluble-activators/vitamin-a-saga). Beef liver contains 25,800IU of Vitamin A in 100 grams. An egg (50 grams) contains about 280IU of Vitamin A. This means that to meet the Weston A. Price daily recommendation for Vitamin A a vegetarian would have to eat about eighty eggs per day!

  5. Christin

    says:

    Haha! Of course I’m glad I asked! As always, thanks for the informative, well-researched post. We’ve still got a few more years before a baby would be in the picture, but it’s always good to have info like this in your back pocket for when the time comes. Thanks again!

  6. Rachel Stanton Jimenez via FB

    says:

    How can lard be considered vegetarian? It’s right next to the meat on the animal.

  7. Rachel Stanton Jimenez via FB

    says:

    Perhaps she’s addressing more specifically the SAD (standard american diet) vegetarian. The one who basically eats like a non-vegetarian but replaces real meat with TVP and soy burgers. She does mention that eggs, butter, raw milk provide some of the nutrients and animal proteins that are missing from an otherwise plant-based diet.

  8. Nicole Singh – Yes, eggs and dairy provide some of the nutrients I listed, but meat is needed to provide the full spectrum of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. Dairy and eggs can provide adequate amounts of D, for example, but they do not contain sufficient amounts of Vitamin A (liver is one of the best sources) I am not aware of any vegetarians that consider lard allowable because it comes from the fat of an animals. Regarding the Indians/Chinese that practice a vegetarian diet, I believe the research that presents them as pictures of health is deeply flawed, especially the China study. A great on the subject can be found at http://www.foodrenegade.com/the-china-study-discredited/

  9. Rachel Stanton Jimenez – Though I think the SAD vegetarian has a disadvantage, all vegetarians face significant challenges in meeting the nutritional needs of pregnancy without meat. Although some cultures embrace vegetarianism for moral/religious reasons, for the most part it seems that economics are the main factor. Using biodynamic agriculture I think we can increase the nutrient profile of women across the globe, but I doubt we will do anything about that if we continue to believe that a vegetarian diet is adequate.

  10. Thank you, Melissa Holloway :)

  11. michelle

    says:

    I must be one of the ones who snuck by or slipped through the cracks? I have been a vegetarian for 13 years. I, since then, have had two perfectly healthy pregnancies and perfect deliveries that resulted in perfectly healthy children. I breastfed both of them with no problems. I do not eat any meat whatsoever (including fish). My 8 year old and husband are also vegetarians as well. I don’t know if we are just lucky? Or if we are “just getting by” but its working for our family. I don’t believe one diet is better than the other. In my opinion, each persons way of living is sort of like religion, no one should be judged and no one should be told they are right or wrong, it all just depends on what you believe and what works for your family. I appreciate all your research and posts!!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Michelle! I hope you didn’t feel “judged” by this post. As a former vegetarian who did a brief stint as a vegan I can appreciate the conscientiousness that goes into the lifestyle. Honestly, though, I had no idea back then that these types of deficiencies were possible, so I am sharing what I can in hopes that others can benefit from what I’ve learned.

  12. Nicole Singh via FB

    says:

    @ Rachel- yes lard isn’t I forgot being a renegade vegetarian that is trying to get back on meat ( was considering lard but haven’t done it) :)

  13. Rachel Stanton Jimenez via FB

    says:

    @Nicole, pastured lard is great and if you render it yourself the cracklins are awesome. Of course as a former vegetarian you might not treasure them like I do :) I have a vegan friend who is vegan for religious reasons. She has had the hardest time recovering after the birth of her children. It takes a long time for her tissues to heal and for her to bounce back emotionally and physically. I don’t think that’s just coincidence. Pretty much all the other vegetarians I know are either struggling with health problems and their vegetarian diet and all the juicing in the world is not helping, or they dabble in meat occasionally :)

  14. Danielle Cole via FB

    says:

    Thank you for such an informative post! I’m a “pescetarian” (I eat only fish and seafood, no meat) and am also 18 weeks pregnant. I have been going back and forth between going back to meat or to stick to my (stubborn) convictions. I had been planning to just wait and see if I have a meat craving, but your post has made me rethink my diet and *why* I eat that way. Thank you again!

  15. I have been vegetarian for 21 years now, and was vegetarian throughout my two pregnancies. Both of my babies, while born on the “early” side, were good size for their age and healthy, and are still, as vegetarian kids, tall & thin, very healthy and hearty eaters.

    I was not vegan, and I did not completely avoid animal products (milk, eggs), nor soy during my pregnancies (I did not eat any processed soy (i.e. soymilk), for hormonal reasons).

    If you are aware of your diet, take appropriate supplements (I personally recommend whole food vitamin supplements), and listen to your body (for example, during breastfeeding w/my daughter, I was craving chicken, so I made some chicken soup and during pregnancy, I had a craving for fish, so I did not deprive myself), I don’t see why it can’t be a perfectly healthy pregnancy! My midwife & OB had no issues with it.

    I wouldn’t suggest STARTING a vegetarian diet during pregnancy – I don’t think starting any kind of diet that you’re not familiar and comfortable with is a good idea during pregnancy; but no reason to switch things up because you are pregnant. Just eat more good stuff – fruits, veggies, nut & bean & egg & dairy proteins!

  16. Excellent post, Heather! There is so much nutritional misinformation out there that many women are eating “right” without getting the nutrition they really need. Thanks for sharing your view with us!

  17. A. B.

    says:

    I’m sharing this with a nursing friend who has just turned vegan “cringe.” In response to the aforesaid “healthy” vegans/vegetariens…I know several people who eat the Standard American diet, smoke, and drink soda and juice every day and vaccinate their kids. They have had good pregnancies (even without prenatals!) and their children are considered “healthy” by most terms (though they often need glasses and braces.) However, we know their diet is not ideal and they are living on the good genes and nutritional reserves passed down from their healthy parents and grandparents. Perhaps a vegetarien/vegan pregnancy can be successfully followed by those with optimal digestion with no obvious immediate side effects….but is it the best we can give children? In a world full of toxins and stores filled with food that has a fraction of the nutritional content it had 100 years ago, I’m taking no chances!

  18. Ahhhh, this is an amazing comment Danielle Cole! Congrats on your pregnancy. Wishing you a beautiful birth and a healthy, gorgeous baby!

  19. A.B. – “(though they often need glasses and braces.)”

    Eyesight & need for braces are often thought to be hereditary; braces can also be caused by thumbsucking; the very genes you’re talking about being passed down. Of course, that being said, I’ve never needed braces; vegetarianism & all.

    In terms of good genes & nutritional reserves… The canned/processed junk our parents were raised on; is that where the nutritional reserves came from? Baby formula made from powdered milk instead of breastfeeding for our parents & grandparents? The DDT-laden crops they ate? The cigarettes generations smoked with gusto? The post-work drink/nightcap that was the usual social expectation? I don’t think our parents or grandparents were the picture of health.

    Frankly, I breastfed my children for 4 & 3.5 years, respectively. The vegetables we grow & we get from our local farm, the chickens from which we get our eggs, who walk around the farmyard freely, certainly they are far more nutritious than the factory-raised/farmed meat & veggies grown on over-used, under-nourished farms our parents ate. The certified organic produce & grains & other ingredients that I cook with now are certainly more nutritious than Velveeta, Canned Milk, Tasticakes, McDonalds, and other processed foods w/tons of artificial ingredients & preservatives that our parents & even grandparents experienced.

    Also neither my parents, nor my generation, nor my kids have experienced famine, nor depression. I don’t buy that I, nor my children, are riding on borrowed time. I make conscious decisions about the foods we eat; my children know where their food comes from, and why we eat the way we do.

    Are SOME vegetarians unhealthy; sure, though I’d say FAR MORE meat-eaters are unhealthy – science can bear that out (see: heart disease, obesity, etc.). Anyone who takes time to THINK about their diet & make good choices about what goes in & on their bodies is going to be more healthy than someone who just eats what’s available, without putting thought into it. It isn’t a matter of vegetarian vs non.

    • Kate

      says:

      I agree with a lot of what you say, i’m not a vegetarian but I’m also not sure if I buy that you have to eat liver everyday to be healthy.
      Although I just have to point out that your argument about what our parents and grandparents ate is flawed. This is the study of epigenetics which is pretty interesting. But the thing with epigenetics is that it sort of has to be looked at on an individual basis. Your parents might have been raised on formula and velveeta and smoked like sailors but that is def. not the case for millions of others who’s parents and grandparents were raised on breastmilk and more traditional fare. My point is is that you’re making a huge assumption that every American’s family history on food and lifestyle are similar and I know for a fact that that assumption is dead wrong.

      I think that I’m fortunate to have inherited pretty decent genes. Good looks and long lives run in the family and I really do think it has something to do with coming from a long line of farmers who subsisted on meat and produce that they raised and grew themselves.

  20. Emily Brown

    says:

    Just read this post, Heather. It’s profoundly perfect….just like all your research articles! I LOVE it….and I love bookmarking each one to send to clients/friends/anyone who will listen about topics like this!!! :)

    P.S. Hope you’re having a wonderful time at the WAPF conference!!!!! So wish I were there!

  21. This is a great post. I think my daily cod liver oil does more to bridge the nutritional gap that most anything. I wish I would have taken it without hesitation when I was pregnant with my boys, especially my younger one who was subsequently born with a cleft lip and palate and other health abnormalities. I know now that the foods I evolved to eat are nourishing and essential. Thanks for tackling this, Heather!

  22. […] There ARE fish oils that have been purified using natural processes, but I think fermented cod liver oil (CLO) is superior because it is processed naturally with all it’s antioxidants intact AND it contains vitamins A&D. These two fat-soluble vitamins work synergestically with one another to create robust little people. You need them in certain ratios  to maximize their benefits. This is why I recommend CLO over Vitamin D3 + Fish Oil. In that scenario you’re still missing a piece of the synergistic puzzle. And don’t believe the experts, carrots do not contain vitamin A! […]

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  24. Ashleyroz

    says:

    I wasn’t aware of the WAPF while I was pregnant last year but I tried my damndest to eat red meat. It made me yack. I even tried liver quite a few times since my husband requests it a few times a month. I was able to eat ground beef and liver in pate form but at the time I was still in SAD mode and thought that pate was an indulgence. The one weird thing I went nuts on was beef marrow. I roasted marrow bones about once a week and slurped up that fat like it was kool-aid on a hot summer day. I felt so guilty about that indulgence but I’m glad I wasn’t completely off. I also had my husband go out on missions to the russian grocery 45 minutes away to bring me salmon caviar. At one point I ate almost 12 oz in 3 days. It was insanity. I wish I hadn’t been eating it on top of white flour crepes but at least I know better now and I can do better during my next pregnancy. I AM happy to say despite my unsoaked grains and love affair with canola, I still had a big healthy boy who could keep his head up the first hour he was born, but who knows what damage I did that will show up down the road. I’m glad I found WAPF and Primal so soon after I had him. My vitamin D levels were around 60 when I got my postnatal blood tests and I know it has to be because of all the salmon roe I was wolfing down. Cheers to listening to your body!

    • Heather says:

      Wow, Ashley, this is such an amazing example of how wise our bodies are despite what we “know” to be healthy! That is so awesome about your D levels, and oh the thought of all that marrow just makes me smile!

  25. Healthy Vegan

    says:

    My husband and I transitioned to a vegan diet 10 years ago and have never been healthier.  In the past 10 years we both have not suffered from the flu and have had only a handful of colds – going years in-between without one. I have two beautiful, healthy children in which I was vegan throughout my pregnancy, as well my children are being raised this way. Our blood tests are perfect, our cholesterol HDL is over the top – and we are not lacking in any nutrient deficiencies. We have ridiculous amounts of energy and the entire family is very healthy. We do take a few different supplements including a B-Complex, 3-6-9, zinc/copper, vitamin D and probiotics. I am also a registered holistic nutritionist – I’ve worked with many clients and have cured degenerative diseases through plant based diets. A vegan diet must be a balanced diet.  There are more articles being written today about the virtues and health aspects of a vegan diet, it is becoming archaic to think a vegan diet is lacking in nutrients and that it is unhealthy. The science behind B12 uptake in the human body is not well understood.  There are sizable populations of vegans who’s health and nutritional levels are much better than the national average as well as optimal levels among individuals who take their nutrition seriously.  I have been able to help hundreds of people around the world regain their health by making similar changes to their diet. It is sad that this article discredits a way of eating that not only saved my life but also that of many others. Just eating a meatless diet, is not enough. I have seen many sick vegans, just as I have seen many sick meat-eaters. A vegan diet is not necessarily a healthy diet. A true vegan diet, however, is highly nutritious.

    I also just wanted to comment on your statement in regards to the child who died who had vegan parents. Firstly, we really don’t know all the facts about this case. The above article does not a represent a serious investigation, but constitutes speculation based on assumptions, not facts. If a child of meat-eating parents dies, and also has a vitamin deficiency, nobody cries foul. And there are many children dying each day for many different reasons, whether they are breast-fed or not. Besides, there are many factors that can influence vitamin A absorption, such as a lack of sun exposure, which dramatically reduces the body’s ability to make vitamin D. In this case, nobody has asked whether the child has been vaccinated against childhood infections. We know that vaccines can seriously inhibit vitamin absorption from food, including vitamins contained in breast milk.

    What’s extra crazy is that if you look further into the story, you find out the baby died from pneumonia related illness after the parents had neglected to seek professional attention. Apparently the baby had been sick for months and they refused to try anything but natural remedies that weren’t working. What the media is focused on is the fact that the parents were vegan when, in fact, vegan or not they were just plain stupid. Keep in mind that if an ambulance had shown up and found a dead baby in a family whose cupboards were stuffed full of junk food and fast food — sugary cereals, McDonald’s food wrappers, frozen pizza, ice cream and donuts — that would not have seemed suspicious at all. You could have a baby die with a half-eaten bacon double cheeseburger in its hand and that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. It is only the fact that the parents were vegans that the police were called.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Healthy Vegan! I really appreciate the tone of this response, thank you. However, can you clarify a few things for me? You say that the “science behind B12 uptake in the human body is not well understood,” but you mentioned it as one of the supplements you take. What is the rationale behind supplementing with B12 (which is only found in animal-based produts) if you consider the vegan diet to be adequate?

      Regarding your supplementation of vitamin D, are you referring to the far less bioavailable D2 form (that is synthetic http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=110 and inferior to the animal-based D3 http://vitamind3blog.com/2010/05/vitamin-d2-vs-vitamin-d3/)?

      And finally, there is an established link between vitamin D deficiency and mortality (http://www.americandailyherald.com/20110512509/health/the-vitamin-d-pneumonia-link), so although I agree with you that the case is not cut and dried I do believe there is a causal connection.

      • I understood that vegan B12 is sourced from a bacteria, not an animal. Is this not correct?

        As for D3 – enough D can be made by your own body, through regular exposure to the sun and/or UVB sunlamps (WITHOUT sunscreen – there’s really no need for sunscreen except in cases of extreme/all day exposure).

        Vitamin D is incredibly important, and I’d never leave it solely diet or supplementation; even if I were a meat-eater.

        • Heather says:

          True, but D3 cannot be manufactured in the winter due to the angle of the sun’s rays on skin. During that time our family relies on animal products to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. Regarding B12, can you provide me a link to a specific product? Google searches came up nil and I would like to look into this more.

          Any thoughts on these two statements?

          “First, many, if not most, vegans have impaired vitamin B12 metabolism. This has been verified time and again in vegan groups. Second, metabolic deficiency of vitamin B12 can be detected after as little as 22 months on the Hallelujah Diet. While serum vitamin B12 levels may still be normal for several more years, the body, especially the central nervous system, may be deficient at the cellular level. 83% of the people in our study with metabolic vitamin B12 deficiency had normal levels of serum vitamin B12. ”

          “Healthy vegans with a healthy bowel flora should produce B12 in their small intestine. This may be the natural way God intended for us to receive our vitamin B12, but our study showed that this was not a reliable and sufficient source of B12. All people produce B12 in their colon, but this is not available for the body since B12 is absorbed in the small intestine.” Source: http://www.chetday.com/b12.html

  26. Paula

    says:

    I was wondering if you had any thoughts on raw-veganism or if you’ve read Creating Healthy Children by Karen Ranzi. Beyond the point about refined products and unnatural synthetics in today’s junk food… I still can’t find a clear path to take about food. I’m researching everything I can and I’m still wondering… How come I can regain so much health by being raw vegan with zero animal products? When I was pregnant I had a wonderful pregnancy without any of the common ailments (like morning sickness, edema or restlessness) but I did allow myself to go for what I craved, I craved tons of fruit, I kept drinking vinegar drinks (you know, diluted apple cider vinegar) and ate the ocassional raw cheese or fish (and I mean “ocassional” as in it probably happened twice during the whole pregnancy). So, I wonder Is it really unhealthy? Is there a way to measure what things would be beneficial? I mean to say that I believe all things are given from God for our benefit, so I don’t see anything wrong with feeding my baby (who’s now 9 months old) egg yolks or goat’s milk. What are your thoughts on it? I would love to know your opinion. How can an adult maintain health without all of it but a growing child not and when can he leave it all or is it even wise? What do you think? Thanks so much in advance ;)

    • Heather says:

      Hi Paula! Because there is only so much time during the day to answer emails/questions/write posts (usually during naptime), this will not be as detailed as I’d like. I am not familiar with Karen Ranzi, but basically it is my experience that the positive effects of veganism are a short-term effect. Many societies practice rituals of cleansing similar to the vegan diet for short periods. If a person is healthy this period of rest can be rejuvenating. However, it is not sustainable long-term. IMO health problems will crop up due to dietary deficiencies. Because we can store fat soluble vitamins in our bodies for long periods of time it will not show up immediately, but over time B12, D & A stores will be depleted. There is a book called Deep Nutrition, which describes how our genes respond to food. What we eat creates momentum in our genetic code that we pass on to our children. It is not a convenient reality, but our genes expect and need animal products to preserve their integrity. I highly recommend watching The Ghost in Your Genes for a sobering look at how our food choices affect the generations after us (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toRIkRa1fYU). This article from a former vegan is also very interesting http://thelabrawtory.com/2010/03/09/i-am-no-longer-raw-vegan/

  27. Paula

    says:

    Thanks so much!!! I totally understand about the time for replying being “nap times” lol, it is the same for me ;) I just feel stretched out thin trying to find the information I need to make decisions for my family. There’s so many contradictions. I truly appreciate your input and the videos. I will definitely watch them, I hope I can get my hands on a copy of that book. Thanks. One last question and I won’t bother you anymore: When you eat meat for nutritional needs only, how much of it do you eat? Every day, every other day, a couple of times a week? What kinds of meat do you consume? If the purpose is getting the most nutritional benefit out of the caloric intake (and the most health of course), how much is enough? Thanks so much again. I’m loving your website by the way. Have a wonderful day!!!! :D

    • Heather says:

      I have been nursing for four years straight now, which means my nutritional needs are pretty intense. I eat local pasture raised beef/chicken/lamb/pork every day according to how much I feel I need. I also consume a lot of eggs, raw cheese, fish/cod liver oil and coconut oil for healthy fats. We do seafood 1-2x’s a week too because it is rich in minerals and b-vitamins. Of course, that is not ALL I eat. I consume a lot of fermented foods, raw veggies and fruits plus nuts and seeds. Hope that helps!

  28. Christin

    says:

    So, not long after reading (and instigating!!!) this post, I found out that I was pregnant! I am currently 14 weeks and 3 days, and I’ve given a lot of thought and prayer about my diet. We have always been big believers in consuming local, organic produce, making *everything* from scratch, and rarely (if ever) eating anything with unpronounceable ingredients. (We follow Michael Pollan’s rule that “If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, it’s not food.”)

    I’ve also been doing tons of research, which has led me to re-incorporate dairy and fish oil supplements into my diet. I am working closely with my naturopath to make sure that my protein intake is where it should be, but most importantly, I have given myself “permission” to eat what I need to eat to take care of my baby. Right now, I can’t imagine eating meat or even a meat broth–it’s been so long since I’ve had anything like that that I can’t imagine not getting sick from it. However, if it starts to look like meat is what the baby and I need, you’d better believe I’ll hold my nose and choke down some broth!!!! :D

    As always, Heather, thank you for your gifted writing, your thorough research, and, most importantly, your sweet spirit.

  29. […] Home Economist, Nourished Kitchen, Mercola, The Food Renegade (here and here), Holistic Kid, Mommypotamus, etc., that will all establish the serious issues that come along with this lifestyle, especially […]

  30. […] with Vitamin A to utilize calcium in the phosphorous in the body. Contrary to what we have heard carrots contain betacarotene, not Vitamin A, so it is very likely that using D drops alone only gives us part of what we need […]

  31. Ingrida

    says:

    Hi Heather! Your posts have been very interesting and inspiring. As a vegetarian for 2 years now I have done a lot of research regarding this diet and there are many more things to learn each day. After reading this particular post, I became concerned if I was receiving all the nutrition that I need to stay healthy , so I did more reading. What is very interesting and frustrating is that there are many contradicting opinions with facts on both sides. I am glad your family is happy and healthy eating the foods that you do. Since you were a vegetarian in the past too and decided to change your diet( I assume that it was not nutritionally complete for you) maybe you will find these links interesting. I found this youtube channel recently and I was amazed by the diet. Here are few links below ( I am not saying that you are wrong or should change something about your diet, or anything like that. They are only for information that I found interesting and maybe you will too).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmfjQsz1xME&feature=fvwrel

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niMwHBoAtLw&list=PL7E05E29A78AB0A48&index=8&feature=plpp_video

    http://www.youtube.com/user/rawfoodfamilylife?feature=watch

    Best of luck with everything. Your children are very adorable

  32. […] Tell Me How to Take Care of My Baby? from Mcsweeneys.net The Odd Mom Out from Mama and Baby Love Yes, No, Maybe?? Thoughts on Vegetarianism and Pregnancy from The […]

  33. […] Thoughts on vegetarianism and pregnancy from Mommypotamus. This one’s gonna rile up a lot of folks. I happen to agree with it. […]

  34. Paula

    says:

    Thanks for replying, I hadn’t check in a while but I appreciate your response. I’m with Healthy Vegan on my own research about nutritional intake, but I have rethought my ‘vegan’ standards when I failed to breastfeed, looking into an ovo-lactovegeterian way to raise my child (including WAPF homemade formula and egg yolks as a supplement). Things have change with time, because of my kid’s ‘preferences’ and our family’s challenges (financial and time constraints). All I know is that I had a vegan pregnancy and it was beautiful, have an ovo-lactovegetarian kid who never gets sick and that dietary choices are made mostly from what works for people. I see the agelessness of some raw-vegan people that I’ve never seen in meat-eaters and I wonder if it’s just genes (considering some of them looked like the rest of us before switching). The only thing I know EVERY HUMAN NEEDS for survival is sunlight, exercise and greens/fruits/veggies, etc. Anything outside that we can pursue our difference of opinions, whether we need eggs, goji berries, colonics, wheatgrass juice, etc. and still come us with just disagreements based on ‘statistics’ or personal experiences that may or may not apply to the whole of the population. I’m still undecided on cod liver oil, because in my worldview it’s killing, but I will continue researching to see pros and cons and make a decision based on the health of my child which is my topmost priority (same as i did with the decision to consume eggs, and goat’s milk, kefir, and raw milk). Thanks again! I do appreciate your articles and newsletter.

  35. Jennifer says:

    I guess all the conversation going on here between vegetarians and not vegetarians reflects quite well how different our bodies and diet needs can be. I have been vegetarian for 5 years (eating LOTS of beans, veggies, homemade food..) but after being sick most of those 5 years, meeting the “foodie community” and doing some research of my own I decided to turn back and eat meat again. I don´t feel as great as I want (I guess it takes time and refinement AND EXERCISE!) but after 2 months in the new diet I do feel a lot better, w/a lot more energy and healthier than I did in the past few years… and I´m happy I did this change before getting pregnant (and my boyfriend is happy as well as he gets to eat what he was craving for more often :P ).

  36. Anna

    says:

    I am tending towards WAPF style eating, but your source about beta carotene being a poor precursor doesn’t seem that good. Do you have any other references as to why vitamin A from animals is so important?

    • Heather says:

      Sure! You may find this article helpful, especially since it’s from a resource you’re already familiar with!

      “Under optimal conditions, humans can indeed convert carotenes to vitamin A. This occurs in the upper intestinal tract by the action of bile salts and fat-splitting enzymes. Of the entire family of carotenes, beta-carotene is most easily converted to vitamin A. Early studies indicated an equivalency of 4:1 of beta-carotene to retinol. In other words, four units of beta-carotene were needed to produce one unit of vitamin A. This ratio was later revised to 6:1 and recent research suggests an even higher ratio.5 This means that you have to eat an awful lot of vegetables and fruits to obtain even the daily minimal requirements of vitamin A, assuming optimal conversion.

      But the transformation of carotene to retinol is rarely optimal. Diabetics and those with poor thyroid function, a group that could well include at least half the adult US population, cannot make the conversion. Children make the conversion very poorly and infants not at all — they must obtain their precious stores of vitamin A from animal fats6— yet the low-fat diet is often recommended for children. Strenuous physical exercise, excessive consumption of alcohol, excessive consumption of iron (especially from “fortified” white flour and breakfast cereal), use of a number of popular drugs, excessive consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids, zinc deficiency and even cold weather can hinder the conversion of carotenes to vitamin A,7 as does the lowfat diet.”

      http://www.westonaprice.org/fat-soluble-activators/vitamin-a-saga

  37. Lash

    says:

    what about taking liver pills? I am mostly vegetarian, but started eating fish during my first pregnancy. This pregnancy I am taking FCLO so am not really vegetarian anymore at all. I am also thinking about dessicated liver from hormone free, grass-fed beef. I would not be able to stomach any actual meat, but I could handle pills I think. After my first was born I struggled with milk supply issues, and am of course hoping to avoid that this time around. I did manage to go on to nurse for 2 years, but had to supplment for the first 6 months. She is very healthy though, has never had more than a cold at age 4.5. I would love your thoughts on supplementing with pills. thanks!

  38. Lorna

    says:

    I’ve been vegetarian (no meat, chicken or fish, or supplements derived from any of these) for 30 years, and at the age of 43 gave birth to a lovely, bouncy, healthy girl after an amazing pregnancy. I felt so good whilst pregnant that I actually really miss it! Sadly, I won’t be having any more. But anyway, I just wanted to say that so long as you are healthy, it’s perfectly possible to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child. Just be sensible – eat a very varied diet, make sure you get enough protein. Nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, legumes, starchy stuff – common sense stuff really.

  39. Anna

    says:

    I was born and raised as a vegetarian who eats minimal amounts of seafood. I still am to this day and I always will be. As long as you take your necessary supplements and eat to the best of your ability, I believe you and your baby will be perfectly fine. I came out perfect and in better health than the majority of people I know. I believe any kind of diet choice works as long as you are SMART about what you are putting into your body and regulating your intakes. Otherwise, who cares if you do or don’t eat meat?

  40. larzi

    says:

    I’m currently pregnant AND vegetarian. I have been a vegetarian for a majority of my life. Rarely get ill, never had fillings, dont use chemicals, rarely consume alcohol, and plan to be vegetarian for many years to come. I dont eat fish, or anything like gelatine, lard etc. Saying you aren’t healthy if you don’t eat meat is simply a myth, I know plenty of meat eaters who are very ill and they eat balanced diets. I also know plenty of vegetarians who have no idea what they are doing and are very unhealthy. I’m also intolerant to dairy and was born that way, so I limit the milk, cheese and other dairy that I consume. One would imagine I’d be low on calcium. Last test I had a week ago, normal calcium levels (shock horror, where did that calcium come from if I don’t consume dairy? Or meat?). Iron levels, normal. In fact the doctor, said they were better than some of his meat eating patients. Thyroid, normal. Blood pressure normal. Blood was apparently very healthy. Omega levels normal, protein levels normal. Baby is very healthy. That’s interesting
    Tell me where all those nutrients came from if I don’t eat meat????

  41. […] just a little off base.  For example, some experts indicate a vegetarian diet can be optimal (I disagree), recommends keeping fish to a minimum (Chris Kresser has a great article on that, though I am […]

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