What are the benefits of a vegan diet during pregnancy?

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A well planned vegan diet is perfectly healthy for any stage of life, including pregnancy and fetal development.

Today, especially in the Western Hemisphere, this phrase seems to be raising awareness from the general population and even many health care professionals. Approximately 6% of the U.S. population consider themselves vegan. (22) Being Vegan means not consuming any animal by-products. Although you cut certain proteins out of your diet, there is still plenty of room for other proteins in the vegan diet. This is why Vegan pregnancies are healthy and beneficial to baby. 

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Emesis gravidarum is colloquially known as morning sickness, though it is more accurately described as nausea and vomiting of pregnancy since it can happen at any time throughout the day. Nausea is present in about 70-80% of all pregnancies and vomiting in about 60% of pregnancies.

Nausea and vomiting has been shown to be more common among pregnant meat eaters than vegans (17, 18, 19). This is not to say that vegans will not experience morning sickness, however, they have been shown to have lower rates of emesis and hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). HG is a condition in which vomiting can become so severe that it leads to severe dehydration and electrolyte disorders which can be life threatening.

Vomiting during pregnancy is known to be a defense mechanism to rid your body of toxic substances that may be harmful to your baby. Some factors that contribute to this are:

Saturated fat

Every additional 15 grams of saturated fat consumed during pregnancy, raises the risk of nausea and vomiting by 540% (21). Animal products are very high in saturated fat, the source highest in saturated fat in most diets is cheese. Other sources high in saturated fat include red meat, pork, poultry and even fish.


Meat is a source of a wide range of pathogens that may pose a grave threat during pregnancy. Since your immune system is suppressed during pregnancy, they are more susceptible to food-borne microorganisms and their subsequent illnesses.

Some of these pathogens include bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes and parasites like Taenia solium.

Heterocyclic Amines

Meat must be cooked to a certain temperature to kill bacteria and parasites that it may contain, this forms heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs are carcinogens and mutagens that have been associated with cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, prostate, stomach, pancreas and lung.

We need to cook meat in order to avoid pathogens, but cooking meat produces carcinogens. Wouldn’t eliminating meat from our diets make more sense?

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Saturated fat

The American Heart Association recommends a diet consisting of no more than 5-6% of saturated fat. This means that someone who has a calorie intake of 2000 calories should be limiting their saturated fat consumption to 11.1-13.3 grams per day. It is unlikely to achieve this target while consuming animal products.

Heart disease has been shown to start developing from within the womb (10, 11). Fatty streaks, the first sign of heart disease, have been found in virtually all three year-olds that follow the Standard American diet (11, 12).

Meat and dairy are very high in Saturated fat raises levels of LDL in the blood, the “bad” cholesterol transporter that contributes to atherosclerosis. What somepeople tend to not realize is that High levels of LDL during pregnancy have been shown to contribute to heart disease in fetuses as well as atherosclerotic plaque built up in the umbilical cord, reducing the placental blood flow and fetal circulation (10).

Trans Fat

Animal products are the only “natural” source of trans fat as far as we know. It has been suggested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that we not only reduce our intake of trans fatty acids, but eliminate trans fat completely from our diets. This is why trans fats have been banned from processed foods in many countries, even including parts of the United States.

It is not possible to eliminate trans fat from your diet without removing meat and dairy.


Cholesterol is a lipid that makes up part of the cell membrane. It is important for many processes, especially hormone synthesis and regulation. Cholesterol is found in all animals, including humans. We produce our own cholesterol. With that being said, consuming animal products causes excess cholesterol build up, which contribute to a number of negative health consequences the most important being atherosclerosis, reducing blood flow, which may have negative impacts on all organs.

Heme iron

Heme iron comes from hemoglobin and myoglobin, which are found in blood and muscle tissue. Non-heme iron is the form of iron that is found in plant foods. When people eat meat, they get heme iron as well as some non-heme iron.

The problem with heme iron is that our intestines are not able to regulate the absorption of it and we can get too much. This has been shown to contribute to cardiovascular disease due to oxidative stress. Additionally, high levels of heme iron have been shown to stimulate the growth of malignant cells.

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A person is diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus (DGM) if they develop hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) after week 20 of pregnancy. Signs and symptoms may include frequent urination, the urge to drink more water than usual and a tendency to feel hungrier throughout the day. Because these are common to a lesser degree, in most pregnancies, when these symptoms are caused by GDM, it can be difficult to diagnose. This is why care teams do various screenings for GDM throughout pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes can lead to fetal macrosomia (birth weight of 8 lbs 13 oz or more), major congenital malformations, and neonatal hypoglycemia (low blood sugar in the new born which may lead to fatal consequences). Furthermore, approximately 50% of women who develop GDM go on to have type-2 diabetes mellitus later in life (2, 3).

While vegans can still get GDM, the risk is reduced by about 61.5% after removing meat and eggs from the diet and is further reduced by about 80% after removing all animal products (5).

Saturated fat and Cholesterol

Meat and dairy consumption has been associated with a higher risk of developing GDM because of their saturated fat and cholesterol content. Eating meat before pregnancy has even been linked to developing diabetes during pregnancy. This is especially true with processed meats such as bacon and cold cuts, which also have substances that are toxic to insulin producing cells of the pancreas (2).

The cholesterol from eggs is also associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy, even if consumed before conception (3).

Heme Iron

In addition to the aforementioned risks, higher pre-pregnancy intake of heme iron (animal based iron) is associated with an increased GDM risk. On the other hand, non-heme iron (plant-based iron) does not have these risks because its absorption is better regulated. Non-heme iron has also been found to be protective against GDM (6).


Gestational hypertensive conditions include: Gestational hypertension, pre- eclampsia, eclampsia, and HELLP syndrome.

The risk of gestational hypertension (pregnancy induced high blood pressure) has been shown to be lower among pregnant vegans. Animal protein may cause inflammation of the renal arteries, which contributes to hypertension. Additionally, animal protein can increase the levels of maternal cortisol, a stress hormone.

Vegan diets also tend to be much lower in sodium than those containing animal products. Reducing sodium intake is always recommended as a way to prevent and treat hypertension.

Author Bio:

Dr. Miranda Graham (The Pure Doctor) is a plant-based physician in Costa Rica. She practices evidence based medicine and nutrition and is the co-founder of the facebook group and website Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting.




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