Doctors Endorse Vegan and Vegetarian Diets for Healthy Pregnancies
Nutrition Experts Available for Comment in Response to NIH Study About B12
WASHINGTON—Well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthful choices for pregnant women and their children, and vitamin B12 needs can be easily met with fortified foods or any common multivitamin, say doctors and dietitians with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). PCRM nutrition experts are available for comment in response to a new Pediatrics study showing that low levels of vitamin B12 may increase the risk for neural tube defects.
The Pediatrics study is based on analysis of stored blood samples originally collected during pregnancy from three groups of Irish women between 1983 and 1990. There's no indication that any of the women were vegan or vegetarian, but the study clearly states that this population was deliberately chosen because vitamin supplementation and food fortification were rare at that time. The women lived in a region of traditionally high neural tube defects prevalence, suggesting a moderately high genetic predisposition.
"We did not have detailed dietary information on the participants in the study but the samples were collected 20 years ago in Ireland and I would suspect there were few, if any vegans," explained Anne Molloy, the Pediatrics study's lead author, in an e-mail to PCRM.
"Because of the way that the samples were obtained for our study, we were not able to determine whether or not the women were vegans," study author James Mills explained in an e-mail responding to questions about the study. "At the time that the study samples were collected, I think it is safe to say that vegans were uncommon."
Experts agree that pregnant women can thrive on vegan diets. The American Dietetic Association, the nation’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, states that "well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence." Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher levels of fiber, folate, and cancer-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals.
"Women who follow vegan diets not only have healthy pregnancies, they are often healthier than moms who consume meat," says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., staff dietitian with PCRM. "By eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other healthful vegetarian foods and including breakfast cereals or other foods fortified with vitamin B12, mothers and their children can obtain all the nutrients they need to thrive."
Choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet can also help women avoid the unhealthy hormones and environmental toxins found in dairy products, meat, and fish. Analyses of vegetarians’ breast milk show that the levels of environmental contaminants in milk are much lower than in non-vegetarians.
Vitamin B12 needs can be met easily with fortified breakfast cereals and soymilk, which are low in fat and calories. The most convenient and reliable B12 source is a daily multivitamin.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.