With climate change and concern over the environment and animal welfare, going vegan seems to be the hot thing right now. We definitely need to make some changes in how we treat animals and how we raise food, but is a vegan diet a good choice for making a baby?
No, and I realize that will ruffle some feathers, but hear me out because I really do want you to realize your dream of being a mom.
Plant foods do not contain vitamin A. I know what your thinking, “but they have beta carotene which turns into vitamin A.” It is true that you can get beta carotene from plants and it is true that beta carotene can be converted to vitamin A in the body, however, that conversion process doesn’t work very well if you have diabetes, thyroid issues, or autoimmune conditions. There is also a genetic component to consider as certain gene variations (we call these SNPs or single nucleotide polymorphisms) prevent the conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A.
Vitamin A is essential for making a healthy baby. It aids in the production of sex hormones and follicles (which you need to release an egg), supports the endometrium and increases sperm count and motility. The embryo also needs vitamin A for proper development. The best way to get vitamin A is to consume liver (once a week), eggs, full fat dairy, meat and fish. Beta carotene is found in dark green vegetables and orange colored fruits and vegetables but if you can’t convert it to vitamin A, a vegan diet will not work well for you.
Plant foods do not contain vitamin B12. We need B12 to synthesize DNA and RNA and we need that for making a baby since the egg and sperm are DNA carriers. Adequate B12 also promotes healthy sperm and motility. If you are vegan, you will need to supplement this. There are rumors that spirulina contains B12 but that isn’t true. It contains B12 analogs which further deplete B12 in the body, so there are no plant sources that will provide B12.
Zinc is not as absorbable from plant foods. Zinc is involved in numerous enzymatic reactions in the body, and is also necessary for protein and DNA synthesis, healthy hormones, and proper growth and development of a fetus. It is found in high concentrations in sperm, increases sperm count and helps sperm mature properly. Zinc is also involved in converting inactive B6 to its active form and B6 can lower elevated prolactin levels, metabolize excess estrogen, and produce progesterone, so getting enough zinc is necessary to get all the baby making benefits from B6.
The best sources of zinc are oysters, other shellfish and red meat. It is also high in whole grains, legumes, and nuts but it is bound to phytic acid in these foods which makes it less absorbable. You can increase the absorption of zinc by soaking, sprouting, or sour leavening, but if you consume a vegan diet, you may want to take a supplement to ensure adequate zinc for baby making.
Iron is less absorbable from plant foods. Iron comes in two forms; heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal foods like egg yolks, red meat, poultry and fish and is much better absorbed than non-heme iron found in plant foods. Eggs need iron to mature properly and iron is also involved in DNA replication.
It can be difficult to get enough iron to support fertility if you only eat plant foods. To increase absorption of iron from plants, eat iron rich foods like leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds, and dried fruit with a vitamin C rich food like citrus, strawberries, or bell peppers.
You can increase your chances of getting pregnant by consuming animal foods simply because animal foods contain higher amounts of baby making nutrients in more absorbable forms than plant foods; and you don’t have to eat as much food. Weston A. Price studied indigenous cultures around the world and found that all of them had feeding rituals for fertility that involved large amounts of animal foods due to the fertility benefits.
There are other nutrients that are difficult to get from plants like choline and glycine that are necessary for the development of a healthy baby, so I do not recommend a vegan diet when trying to get pregnant or while pregnant or nursing. If you insist on a vegan diet, you will need to plan well and supplement wisely, but consuming animal foods will make it much easier to make a baby.
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