Dr. Bowers was recently quoted in an article by Jacqueline Bodnar titled Pregnancy and Your Vegetarian Lifestyle, posted on SheKnows
Ms. Bodnar was generous enough to share her July 2004 interview with us:
JB: Is it healthy to follow a vegetarian diet during pregnancy (for mother and baby)? Any special precautions to take?
Dr. Bowers: Absolutely. The US seems to be protein-obsessed, particularly with the recent rise of the Adkins’ diet and the lo-carb craze. The truth is, human beings do not need a diet higher in protein than 2-10% of calories as opposed to 30-40% in lo-carb diets. That remains true in pregnancy and is the percentage found in vegetable sources. Certain vegetables have a higher protein content (Legumes:10%) than others (Carrots: 3%), for example so I do shift my patients to higher relative protein contents during pregnancy. But…high protein diets are actually harmful in pregnancy and contribute to conditions such as Toxemia and kidney problems as a result of so much protein being cleared through the kidneys. The kidneys already work harder during pregnancy and most certainly do NOT need any extra protein to clear. That is one reason why vegetarianism is so compatible with pregnancy.
JB: What are some key nutrients that the mother and growing baby need during this time? What’s the best way for a vegetarian to get them?
Dr. Bowers: Unless a pregnant woman starves herself, it is nearly impossible in this country for her to become protein-deficient, even as a vegetarian. US pregnant women, if there are ever dietary deficiencies, are generally lacking in Iron and/or Calcium. However, vegetarianism is probably a better way for pregnant females to gain these nutrients than with meat-consumption. The reasons are complicated but relate to better absorption because of better bio-availability (particularly iron) from vegetable sources (such as spinach, kale, leafy greens, etc.). Another key in iron absorption is acidity. Iron absorbs better in acid environments making combinations of citrus with leafy greens ideal. Try creating your own salad dressings by using lemon juice and olive oil as a base with other seasonings (such as dill, garlic and summer savory) added from there as an aid to iron absorption.
Calcium balance is also better in vegetarians given the exact same calcium intake, simply because the metabolism of proteins wastes calcium, making lower-protein diets better in preserving useable calcium. I do suggest a calcium supplement for all pregnant women (beyond prenatal vitamins) such as citracal or caltrate but only in doses of 400 mg or so. Dairy sources of calcium are fine but, again, are probably less bio-available sources than that found in foods such as broccoli.
The notion of ‘complete proteins’ refers to achieving the full complement of amino acids that are found in protein. This was popularized in the book, “Diet for a Small Planet” but has been dispelled as a viable concern in vegatarianism as long as calorie intake and reasonable variety are maintained in one’s diet. You simply do not need a PhD in Biochemistry in order to eat healthily during pregnancy. A bit of creativity and common sense are all that is required!
JB: Have you heard of a vegetarian pregnant woman craving meat during pregnancy? If so, any reason why?
Dr. Bowers: Yes, I have had patients who crave all sorts of things but meat is a common craving. Oddly enough, this is common only to my carnivorous patients or for those in whom ‘meat memory’ remains engaged. This relates to the need for additional iron sources in pregnancy. I also see the same basis of craving in my vegetarians who crave salads of all sorts, probably for the reasons mentioned earlier.
JB: What would be an ideal vegetarian diet to follow during pregnancy (calories, necessary nutrients, vitamins)?
Dr. Bowers: I like to see all patients achieve about 1600 calories per day although this too has been overly-doctrinized. The key is to eat only until full, no matter what the basis of one’s diet is. Generally, vegetarians will gain less weight in pregnancy, simply because their fat content is lower and because their fiber content allows for more rapid metabolism. Generally, that is a good thing. Iron supplementation beyond prenatal vitamins is recommended only as indicated by blood studies performed routinely by your doctor(Hematocrit/hemoglobin) but may be useful. In my experience, I have not seen a higher need for iron supplementation in pregnant vegetarians. The ideal diet is one of variety, variety, variety. Fruits, grains, and vegetables should be the foundation for all pregnant women and, if followed, would result in fewer women gaining massive amounts of weight that seems to cling with them for the rest of their lives. Pregnancy should NEVER be the doorstep of obesity.
JB: What is a good piece of professional advice you can offer to a vegetarian that gets pregnant?
Dr. Bowers: Relax and don’t worry. You are entering the most magical, emotional, amazing period of your life as a woman. As a vegetarian, you are bringing earth’s goodness and postive karma with it. There are many reasons to believe that your diet represents the spiritual ideal for pregnancy and for human life in general. Celebrate the changes that are occuring in your body as steps toward the creation of an amazing little person within you.