Food and Behaviour Research

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The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diet during Pregnancy on the Health of Mothers and Offspring

Sebastiani G, Herranz Barbero A, Borrás-Novell C, Alsina Casanova M, Aldecoa-Bilbao V, Andreu-Fernández V, Pascual Tutusaus M, Ferrero Martínez S, Gómez Roig MD, García-Algar O (2019) Nutrients.  2019 Mar 6;11(3).  pii: E557. doi: 10.3390/nu11030557. 

Web URL: Read this and related abstracts on PubMed here

Abstract:

Vegetarian and vegan diets have increased worldwide in the last decades, according to the knowledge that they might prevent coronary heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

Although plant-based diets are at risk of nutritional deficiencies such as proteins, iron, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, omega-3, and vitamin B12, the available evidence shows that well planned vegetarian and vegan diets may be considered safe during pregnancy and lactation, but they require a strong awareness for a balanced intake of key nutrients.

A review of the scientific literature in this field was performed, focusing specifically on observational studies in humans, in order to investigate protective effects elicited by maternal diets enriched in plant-derived foods and possible unfavorable outcomes related to micronutrients deficiencies and their impact on fetal development.

A design of pregestational nutrition intervention is required in order to avoid maternal undernutrition and consequent impaired fetal growth.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

This open-access narrative review concerns the potential health effects for pregnant mothers and their offspring of vegetarian and vegan diets. The overall summary is a familiar one:

"well planned vegetarian and vegan diets may be considered safe during pregnancy and lactation, but they require a strong awareness for a balanced intake of key nutrients"

The key question is to what extent most vegan or vegetarian mothers do actually have 'a strong awareness for a balanced intake of key nutrients' (as well as both the willingness and the ability to put that 'strong awareness' into practice).

Research in this area remains very limited, and fraught with confounds. 

Most studies of vegetarians or vegans vs omnivores show that diets that exclude or restrict animal-derived foods are linked with higher risks of deficiencies in many key nutrients particularly important for healthy brain development and function - including Vitamin B12, omega-3 DHA, iodine, choline, iron and zinc, among others. 

However, there still remains a serious lack of high-quality studies involving pregnancy or infancy in this important area.

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