A healthy vegan diet is in fact packed with rich nutrients and energy, evidence shows, debunking the professor’s claims that pregnant women are in danger.
A ‘vegan diet can have severe impacts on pregnant women’ – states a new headline that surfaces this week to yet again cast doubt on the benefits of eating vegan.
News outlet Berkshire Live has quoted University of Reading professor Ian Givens, who claims a vegan diet could give rise to potential health risks, particularly those linked to young women and those who are pregnant.
His contradictory comments come despite a vast body of evidence indicating a vegan diet can provide everything you need.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has also stated its position on vegan diets. It has deemed it appropriate for all stages of the life cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.
Which is the best diet?
According to the professor, the best diet is an “omnivorous” one because a plant-based diet lacks several important nutrients.
For instance, it lacks iodine – commonly found in dairy’s milk – and this can have ‘severe impacts on the nervous system’ for pregnant women.
This is because dietary iodine is necessary for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. So, decreased thyroid hormone production can lead to weight gain and fatigue.
“Milk is usually the greatest source of dietary iodine, ” Givens told the outlet, and dietary issues “are probably due to reduced milk consumption by young women”.
He added: “Nowadays in Europe, the main concern is with sub-optimal iodine status of women during pregnancy, especially the first three months when the foetus is unable to produce its own thyroid hormones.
“Sub-optimal iodine status in pregnancy is now much more frequent than was thought some time ago and there are six observational studies around the world (one in UK) showing an association between sub-optimal iodine status in pregnancy and the cognitive development of the subsequent children.”
Professor Givens also said that iron is another nutrient found lacking in vegan diets and iron supplements have a “lower bioavailability”, which is why he recommends meat, plenty of fibre, and all of the necessary nutrients such as zinc as well as magnesium and calcium found in dairy.
A most healthy diet is “one that provides all the necessary nutrients in adequate amounts,” the professor said.
“It is, therefore, easier to meet all this with an omnivorous diet but provided the risks are understood and adequately dealt with vegetarian and vegan diets can work.”
‘A healthy, balanced vegan diet has all the nutrients your body needs’
Despite the professor’s claims, major health bodies agree that a healthy vegan diet can provide all the nutrients you need while lowering the risk of all major lifestyle diseases including heart disease, Type II diabetes, and certain cancers.
UK’s National Health Service (NHS) states: “With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.”
Moreover, it’s a myth that you need meat and dairy to get iron and iodine.
Iodine is found in many plant foods. However, the amount varies depending on the levels of iodine in the soil in which they’re grown.
Good plant sources include sea vegetables (arame, wakame, and nori) and iodized salt.
Iron is also found in several plant foods such as dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains such as quinoa, wholewheat pasta, and wholemeal bread.
Additionally, pulses including lentils, tofu, baked beans, kidney beans, and peas are good sources of iron. Seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, and tahini, as well as dried fruit also contain iron.
A 2016 EPIC-Oxford study, compared the diets of over 18,000 meat-eaters, 4,500 fish-eaters, 6,600 vegetarians, and 800 vegans to investigate differences in dietary intakes.
Researchers found that vegans had the highest intake of not only iron but also the highest intake of magnesium, polyunsaturated (healthy) fats, fiber, vitamins C and E, folate, and copper.
A separate 2020 study, carried out by the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health and School of Medicine, found that foods high in folic acid, vitamin b12 and omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on fertility.
Meanwhile, diets high in trans-fat, red and processed meats, potatoes, sweets, and sweetened beverages were found to have negatively impacted fertility.
While it’s crucial to stick to healthy habits during your pregnancy, don’t let ‘scare studies’ or biased opinions keep you from doing what you know is right.
Those looking for help in formulating their diets to include all necessary nutrients can refer to Viva!’s Fabulous Female Fertility & Pregnancy wallchart for more information.
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