We want to have children, but we’re vegan! Some people wonder how being vegan will affect their ability to conceive. The good news is that a healthy plant-based diet can actually help fertility.
Let’s start with the men. Meat, especially processed meat, has a detrimental effect on male fertility. The more meat a man eats, the fewer and less active his sperm. To dispel a myth, vegan men have the same testosterone levels as meat eaters. To dispel another myth, consuming soy does not affect testosterone levels in men. Boys raised on soy protein formulas showed no breast growth, no early puberty, no changes in their bones and no other signs of hormonal abnormalities. Vegan men have much less risk factors for erectile dysfunction. Vegetarian men produce 29 million more sperm per milliliter and the sperm are more active compared to meat-eaters, so a veg diet can definitely help with fertility.
Vegan women too have hormone levels comparable to those of meat-eaters. Vegan pregnancy has some advantages too. For instance, pregnant vegan women have a reduced risk of complications such excessive gestational weight gain, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and gallstones. Pregnant women following a well-planned plant-based diet also have a reduced risk of an infant being born with spina bifida, whereas a high meat diet doubles the risk of a baby being born with a cleft palate.
What about those turning to invitro fertilization? It turns out that eating plant protein increases the chance of pregnancy in IVF. Also a Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil and low in red meat, has been shown to increase the chance of a successful pregnancy, so a healthy plant-based diet can make a big difference.
Many vegan men and women are fertile and give birth to healthy babies. Congratulations to them all!
Research shows that veg diets are not only safe during pregnancy, but they have significant health advantages over meat-centered ones.
First, let us reassure you of the safety. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association) says it clearly: “Well-designed vegetarian diets, that may include fortified foods or supplements, meet current nutrient recommendations and are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.” This statement confirms a large amount of experience from vegetarians and vegans the world over. In fact, vegetarian, especially vegan, mothers have more high-birth-weight and fewer low-birth-weight babies than non vegetarian mothers.
Regarding the health advantages, vegan mothers have a risk of preeclampsia 300 times lower than mothers following a diet with foods derived from animals. Vegetarians in general have only half the risk of excessive gestational weight gain. But let’s remember that moms with 9 months of pregnancy and perhaps several more of lactation also have longer term health needs. By following a vegetarian diet, she will be reducing her risk of a number of ordinary diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.
The most important supplement for veg moms is vitamin B12. However, a good general prenatal vitamin source is a nutritional insurance policy for those who have a busy lifestyle and can’t always eat the food they ideally need. Although pregnant women have better conversion rates of omega 3 fatty acids to DHA than others, it’s still important to have a good supply of omega 3’s in the diet. Fish are not the best source of Omega 3’s, due to the mercury and other pollutants, not to mention the saturated fat and cholesterol they contain. Good sources include flax and chia seeds, along with walnuts, soy products and canola oil.