What Supplements I'm taking during my Vegan Pregnancy
I've been hanging out to write this blog post about which supplements I take! I think it's one of my most commonly asked questions, so naturally, I'm excited to share with you all the secrets of supplementation.
I've done hours and hours of research and a great deal of consideration about the choices I outline below. These supplements tie in with what I stand for as a vegan and one who loves alternative medicine and whole foods. Not only that, I have chosen these specific supplements based on scientific research and also guidelines set out by my midwife. I want to remind you that I am not a qualified health professional, and this post should not be taken as a prescription for your pregnancy. But, I do hope you learn something new and can take this information to your midwife or naturopath to help get you started on learning about the nutrients you and your baby need.
I also want to acknowledge that I am pro supplementation of the 'right' supplements, especially during pregnancy. I supplement, not because I am vegan, but because modern farming practices have caused soil nutrient levels to decline for decades. During pregnancy, I recommend supplementation as an extra form of insurance for the above reason and for those like me, who struggled to eat normal quantities due to nausea and vomiting. A pregnant women's body requires more of certain nutrients like folate, iron, vitamin c, vitamin b6 than non-pregnant women, so best to look into supplementation to support you and your baby.
Of course, supplements should not replace a healthy diet filled with healthy whole plant foods. It's also required during pregnancy that women eat more antioxidant-rich foods like berries, and bright coloured vegetables to help with the oxidative stress caused by pregnancy. I am trying my best to keep eating the way I usually do through my anti-inflammatory whole food vegan diet - avoiding processed foods, refined sugar, wheat and gluten. During this pregnancy, I'm focused on eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, gluten-free grains, healthy omega fats and protein/ iron-rich foods such as legumes.
I always eat until I am satisfied, or at least until I can't stomach any more food (nausea and a huge baby occupying your tummy help with that). During weeks 4 to 14, when my nausea was at its worst, big green nutrient dense smoothies packed with plenty of naturally occurring folate, iron, protein, vitamin c, and omega fatty acids were the last thing my stomach could handle. They were quickly replaced by cooked oats, or granola (mostly half eaten) with berries, citrus, chia seeds and hemp seeds. So really what these supplements have done is take the pressure off having to eat foods that made me feel sick. Now the morning sickness has gone (read my blog post here about coping with morning sickness), I enjoy my big green smoothies along with a few added supplements and whole food supplements.
Ok, let's get into these supplements! First, the growing baby related ones:
Iodine supports your immune system, is important for thyroid health and it also helps maintain strong and healthy nails, skin and hair. More specifically it is critical for brain development. Because babies get iodine from their mothers, pregnant and breastfeeding women need more iodine.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that pregnant women and breastfeeding women take an iodine supplement containing 150mcg daily. Before I was pregnant my iodine sources were seaweed, dulse, iodised NZ sea salt and my fortified homemade almond milk - I'll explain later on why this contains iodine.
With this in mind, I take an iodine supplement almost every day. If I have my homemade almond milk plus a generous portion of dulse, I tend to avoid overdosing on iodine and skip the iodine that day. When I do take iodine, I have it at night after dinner with a glass of filtered water. Kelp is a really good iodine supplement along with any iodised iodine supplement. I trust Good State and use a few of their products because their products are in a liquid form (replacing big, dry pills). This means the minerals absorb faster and more efficiently than traditional pills. They are also concentrated forms of an ionised mineral!
Folate, not folic acid!!
Folate helps the body to make new cells and is important because it can help to prevent birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine, such as spina bifida.
Folate is naturally found in chickpeas, beans, kale and green vegetables. According to Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, vegan diets tend to be high in folate and it's usually pretty easy to meet your body's requirements. But pregnant women need 50% more according to NHMRC so I make sure to get an extra dose of folate through my superfood supplements (another blog post coming soon) or I take a folate supplement for extra insurance.
In my first trimester, I would take the Doctor's Best Folate - because it provides the best source of active folate MTHF (5-methyltetrahydrofolate), which is the form most directly required for DNA regulation and other fundamental metabolic processes. It is also vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO.
You don't need to eat fatty fish or take fish oil to have a healthy pregnancy, even though many health professionals will say so. In fact, fish contains not only mercury, PCBs and other contaminants, it's not sustainable or ethical to eat fish for its omega fat content. The reason fish contain omega-3 fatty acids is because they eat marine microalgae. Microalgae contain the original source of EPA and DHA which are required by your brain. So why would you eat fish when you can go directly to the source: algae! I'd love to dive deep into what exactly EPA and DHA are, as I've done so much research regarding them, but I'll point you to one of the BEST pieces of information you can quickly watch to learn more. One of my favourite vegan doctors, Dr Brooke Goldner explains in this video how your body converts ALA into EPA and DHA. If you are a healthy person who doesn't eat any animal foods and eats plenty of omega 3 ALA-rich foods daily (flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds), your body will most likely be making DHA and EPA. However, conversion rates are hard to figure out person to person, therefore, taking a supplement, especially during pregnancy and for children is a good safeguard. I don't want to mess around with brain development, so I take Dr Brooke Goldners advice and supplement with 100% plant DHA and EPA!
There are plenty of vegan algae DHA/EPA products on the market. I've tried a few and finally found one I like. I used to take Deva Vegan Liquid DHA-EPA, but I must be honest, I didn't take it very often as it tasted so bad. Beth happily takes her 7 drops, but I would always gage. I recently found V-Omega 3 which is sold by a New Zealand company. It's sourced from marine microalgae, it's free from mercury and other contaminants, and it has no fishy smell or aftertaste. It also has an added bonus of having 100IU of plant-based vitamin D3, although it's not much and I still do supplement with D3 anyway. When looking for marine microalgae - make sure you check the ingredients, you don't want any added nasties, and for it to be processed by hexane - especially if you are pregnant!
Vitamin D supports the development of healthy bones and teeth. It's really important, pregnant or not, vegan, or non-vegan to know about vitamin D and how to supplement if you need to. I wrote a good blog post "Vitamin D: What You Need To Know Before You Apply Sunscreen", which I highly recommend you read. Basically, it's the sun or supplement if there is no sun. Here in New Zealand, as it's winter, the sun comes out when it wants to, so I rely on a supplement for the most of the winter. It's important to make sure you are getting vitamin D as it goes through the umbilical cord into your growing bub! They can't bake in the sun so you need to do it for them. And then after they are born it's important to supplement with a very small dose of vitamin D as well or have very safe exposure to the sun in small amounts.
The supplement I have been using for the last couple of years is the Garden of Life Vitamin D3 Spray. I love this one compared to others because it is in an easy liquid form, so you feel you're not taking another white capsule. It's also completely organic, non-GMO, and tastes really nice! Beth, Dan and I all take it - one spray and you've got your D!
Check out the Vitamin D Council to see how you can get the right amount of vitamin D for your body or child.
Even though it's not an entirely pregnancy-related vitamin (well, essentially it is), taking B12 is a MUST. If you are going to take any supplement, take B12. There are no naturally occurring reliable sources of adequate vitamin B12 in the vegan diet. The consensus in the mainstream nutrition community, as well as among vegan health professionals, suggests vitamin B12 fortified foods or supplements are necessary for the optimal health of vegans and vegetarians. Luckily, vitamin B12 is made by bacteria such that it does not need to be obtained from animal products. Here are two sources of information I found helpful for learning more about B12: "Vitamin B12: Are You Getting It?" and "Everything You Ever Needed to Know about B12". Essentially, B12 protects the nervous system, is required for all neurological functions and like folate is needed to help red blood cells divide.
As a family, we use Doctors Best Vitamin B12.
Here's why: it's methylcobalamin (the best source of B12), it's a high dose, easy to take, certified vegan, and has no additives, colourings, flavours or sugars. It's also extremely cheap! I actually pop open the capsule and dissolve the contents under my tongue for five minutes. This way the B12 gets absorbed directly into my bloodstream. B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, therefore any excess B12 will be flushed out in your urine - making it safe to take in higher doses. Be careful though, as overdose can cause acne - and for that reason I take I tablet of 1200mg of B12 every other day.
Magnesium is one of my favourite minerals! It has come to the rescue of taking away period discomfort, it has helped my pregnancy nausea, and it has also helped me sleep deeper and fall asleep faster at night. I have so much to tell you about magnesium that I'm most likely going to do a separate blog post dedicated to how amazing this mineral is.
“Magnesium is the most critical mineral required for electrical stability of every cell in the body. A magnesium deficiency may play a part in more diseases than any other nutrient.” – Dr. Normal Shealy
In short, magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic processes in the body and brain. Magnesium oil spray (when used topically) is very helpful for pregnancy - it can help:
- raise vitamin D levels (crucial to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers)
- increase sleep quality (what pregnant mama wants better sleep? ME!)
- reduce muscle aches, pains, cramping, headaches and spasms like restless leg
- create healthy skin and reduce outbreaks of dry skin, eczema, and psoriasis
- increase energy levels, improve moods and help with brain fog
- relax, unwind and de-stress
After a tonne of research, I found magnesium oil spray was one of the best ways to safely supplement with magnesium.
The spray, when used topically uses what is called transdermal therapy, which creates complete “tissue saturation”. This allows magnesium to travel straight into the body’s tissues and cells at a high dose without losses through the gastrointestinal tract. It takes 6 seconds for what you apply to the skin to reach the bloodstream.
I currently spray 5-10 sprays of Life-Flo's Pure Magnesium Oil (from the ancient Zechstein Seabed) on my belly before applying my belly/stretch mark cream at night after a shower.
Note: when you are deficient in magnesium your body may itch slightly after the oil is sprayed onto your body. After a few applications or weeks/days, this will subside. Alternatively, you can also use Epsom salts dissolved into your bath. I have an Epsom salt bath once or twice a week at night.
Alright, so those are essentially the main pregnancy supplements I am taking. The main ones to keep note of are DHA, iodine and vitamin B12. These three are crucial to making sure your body is in top nick for growing a smart and healthy plant-based baby. Below are my daily supplements I take year round pregnant, breastfeeding or not. I thought I'd include these to give you the whole picture on what supplements I take and why.
Zinc is another superstar mineral. It contributes to hundreds of processes inside your body, plenty which is reflected on the outside. White spots, flecks, ridges or disappearing half moons on your nails are all signs of a zinc deficiency. As well as having a flaky dry scalp, purple markings on the skin after breakouts, frequent colds or flu's, depression, loss of appetite and even stretch marks that won't disappear or fade. So take note if you have any of these symptoms as they are all signs you may have a zinc deficiency.
In my last pregnancy, I remember having a few of these symptoms, and so I am listening to my body from the outside and taking a zinc supplement in this pregnancy.
Zinc supports healthy skin (especially for acne sufferers), immune system function, maintenance of vision, taste and smell. Zinc activates more human enzymes than any mineral except magnesium and it's crucial for your body, brain, and immune system. Not even 100 years ago, zinc was abundant in many soils, but like I said above, most foods don't contain zinc, unless they are grown in organic or biodynamic soils.
For all the above reasons I take a zinc supplement. I take Good State's Zinc a few times per week. I have taken the dosage down during my pregnancy, however - so it's not too strong.
Tip: on the onset of a sore throat, squirt liquid zinc straight to the back of your throat. It will help kill any bad bugs that are trying to set up camp. Just don't do it on an empty stomach! Taking Zinc right before bed is the best time to take it.
For the past year, I've been fortifying my own homemade almond milk for a few reasons.
1. I don't buy any fortified calcium products, so as a family we need to rely on calcium from our food as our sources.
2. Calcium is available in plenty of plant sources but there are only a few leafy greens that are highly absorbable in calcium such as boy choy, kale, collard and mustard greens, watercress and turnip greens.
3. But in the quantities recommended by nutrition boards across various countries (1,000mg for pregnant women), this would mean I'd have to eat a heck load of greens just to meet my requirements. Propaganda and a few doctors would say this recommendation has been made up by the dairy industry so that dairy would be consumed daily in larger portions. That's up to you to decide what you would like to believe. But, let's just stick to the requirements, for now, to show you what I do with my calcium intake during pregnancy.
What I do: I eat large quantities of greens every day (mainly kale). The calcium in kale is highly absorbable. A bonus to eating this many greens is they also contain vitamin K, which is good for bones and teeth. But, on top of this, I fortify my homemade almond milk which helps to meet my daily calcium requirements. They say the average vegan will not meet recommendations without drinking a glass of fortified milk, eating calcium-set tofu or taking a supplement.
Not all calcium supplements are the same. After spending a lot of research on calcium, I decided to go for a whole food sourced calcium called 'Natural Calcium' by the brand Lifestream. It contains not only calcium but other necessary minerals such as Zinc, Magnesium, Copper, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Boron, Iodine, and Selenium. Bonus minerals, yes, please! It is also certified organic, highly bioavailable, 100% vegan, G.E free and gluten-free. It also contains no hydroxyapatite (crushed cow bone), no preservatives, no synthetic additives nor is it made from chalk.
I will be posted my homemade fortified coco-almond milk recipe soon on my blog!
You may notice that iron is not on my list of supplements even though it is required more of during pregnancy - I think it's roughly 50% more.
Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the world. It's caused by inadequate dietary intake of iron, poor adoration or loss of iron due to bleeding. In fact, vegans' iron intakes are as high or higher than non-vegetarians according to this VeganHealth article.
I know this post is about vitamin C, but I want to explain in a few points why vitamin C is so crucial for iron absorption, and why I take vitamin C.
Iron is prevalent in a wide variety of plant foods, especially beans and greens. But, phytates, found in legumes and grains, can inhibit the absorption of plant iron. The best way to increase non-heme iron absorption is by taking vitamin C as it is a strong enhancer of plant iron and can overcome the inhibitors in plant foods. Eating foods high in vitamin C at meals or taking a vitamin C supplement significantly increases iron absorption. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, swiss chard, Brussel sprouts), bell peppers (yellow, red, and green), and cauliflower. Another way to help reduce phytates is by soaking your beans and grains before you cook them.
In one study, vegetarian children with anaemia and low vitamin C intakes in India were given 100 mg of vitamin C at both lunch and dinner for 60 days. They saw a drastic improvement in their anaemia, with most making a full recovery.
In some women, iron supplementation does not lead to an increase in iron stores. In one study of such women, adding the amino acid L-lysine (1.5 - 2 g/day for 6 months) to iron supplementation did increase iron stores.
Taking gluten out of the diet may also help increase iron absorption.
When I started menstruating 11 months post-partum with my daughter, I noticed a huge decline of energy. A quick visit to my doctor and a blood test showed I was anaemic. She recommended I take iron tablets, so I did for a short time but I found a whole bunch of information on Jack Norris' website which I have shared above, about how to increase your iron without taking iron supplements. Since then, I have taken vitamin C daily to increase the absorption of iron uptake in my body.
I should also mention that taking vitamin C is not only good for iron absorption, but it's an important antioxidant that supports healthy immune function, healthy skin and gums. It also supports wound healing and is beneficial in times of stress. Naturally, my diet is very rich in vitamin C, but it can't hurt to support it with an extra dose of vitamin C, especially while pregnant!
I currently take two forms of vitamin C, both are 100% natural whole food sources. I switch it up depending on what I'm eating.
One is Acerola berry - it's a powerful little tropical berry that is a natural alternative to synthetic ascorbic acid (which is present in typical vitamin C supplements).
Most Vitamin C supplements available today are artificially produced from corn glucose, via chemical and/or fermentation processes. That's why I buy Lifestream Natural Vitamin C as it doesn't contain any synthetic Chinese ascorbic acid, any artificial ingredients and is GMO-free. Just a pure, natural, vitamin C-rich extract made from certified organic acerola berries. Winning!
The other is another berry powder packed with vitamin C and high levels of antioxidants. It's Nutrient Rescue's Red Shot powder - made of organic New Zealand blackcurrants and blackberries. It's a lot tastier than the acerola berry powder, so I can sprinkle the powder onto my food, add it to smoothies, shot it with water or my favourite: add it to freshly squeezed orange juice to make a yummy drink! I love supporting New Zealand owned and run businesses and products and it's even better that it's owned by a friend of mine. New Zealand is the best place in the world to grow antioxidant-rich blackcurrants too! If you want 15% off use my code: Sarah15 at the check-out.
Also, to note while we are the topic of iron:
- Do not drink coffee, or black, green or specific herbal teas with meals; the polyphenols, which include tannic acid inhibit iron absorption.
- Avoid taking calcium supplements with iron-rich foods. Calcium competes with iron for absorption, as it is a bigger molecule, calcium will always win. To ensure I absorb adequate levels of both iron and calcium I eat two breakfasts! First thing in the morning I have an iron-rich smoothie with plenty of greens, fruit and one of the above berry powders. After a few hours when it is digested, I'll have a bowl of homemade muesli/granola with my fortified almond milk (which includes the calcium I talk about above). Or I'll just make sure I eat one of my meals packed with iron and one with calcium!
Much to Doctor Michael Gregor's disagreement, I take spirulina almost every day. Dr Gregor is a well-respected plant-based doctor and he has recently said spirulina has the potential to cause neurotoxicity. But in his research, he most likely did not look at Hawaiian Spirulina! Like all the supplements I've stated above, not all are created equal. One vitamin C powder could be made in a factory in China and another picked by hand from an organic farm, then dried into a powder. Both offer the same end goal: vitamin C. It's the same with spirulina. After much research, Hawaiian Spirulina is the only spirulina brand that promises everything you could want in a superfood supplement and is safe for people of all ages to take. Hawaiian Spirulina is grown in a BioSecure zone free from pesticides, herbicides, and GMO's. It uses the same nitrogen source that wild-grown spirulina has used for thousands of years. In some locations, high pollution levels in the air/ runoff from near-by factories contain high levels of heavy metals. Spirulina absorbs these metals, just like they do in your body, and if they are in the environment, they will be in your spirulina. Because Hawaiian Spirulina is grown on the Kona Coast inside Hawaii's BioSecure zone, Hawaiian Spirulina is in no danger of toxic heavy metal contamination and is also 100 per cent free from any radiation contamination from 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.
So now I've cleared the air on that, let's get into why Hawaiian Spirulina is my favourite superfood supplements.
• Spirulina is very high in bio-available iron, making it beneficial to those with anemia or pregnancy, with reduced risk of constipation.
• Spirulina is a good source of vitamins B1(thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3(nicotinamide), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), B12 (cobalamin), vitamin E, and vitamin K1 and K2.
• It is also a source of potassium, chromium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc.
• It has four times the antioxidant ability of blueberries.
• Spirulina is a good source of protein: gram per gram more so than beef, poultry, fish, and soybeans.
So I hope you enjoyed reading all that I have come to know about what supplements are the best for me and my lifestyle. I have always been very fascinated by the human body and so I always strive to know what can further my health and make me the best mother I can be from food and nutrition.
Here is a rough outline of what I take and how often:
Folate: Everyday up until 16 weeks. Currently: 1-2 times per week
Omega-3: 1 pill every day
Vitamin D3: Everyday when there is no sun
Vitamin B12: Twice to three times per week
Magnesium oil: Everyday or when I remember
Zinc: Once a week or when I'm feeling off
Calcium: I have fortifed homemade almond milk almost every day
Vitamin C: I add vitamin C to my smoothies which I have most days
Spirulina: Same as above
I could alternatively take one pregnancy multivitamin but I only like to take what I need. I source out the highest quality supplements and have not found 'one pill/ supplement' that meets all my requirements.
I did my best to talk through this entire blog post in a YouTube video! Have a watch here:
Disclosure: When it comes to any health food or supplements, that's the one thing I will be 100% transparent about. I would never take money to promote a supplement - especially one I wouldn't use myself. This blog post is written from years of research and these are the products I use and love every week. I was not paid by any of these companies to write this, most of them won't even know I have written this blog post! There are however affiliate links to mainly iHerb and Good State (discount codes are included for you) where I can be rewarded a tiny amount of money for recommending a product if you chose to order through the linked products written on this blog post. Hope that clears the air in case you were wondering!
Lots of love as always,