Learning to Listen & Thoughts on Vegan Deficiencies

Lately, I feel at peace with food.

Since I’m pregnant, I’m not trying to lose weight, or even maintain my weight so I think my behavior has relaxed a bit, which has been insightful. I’ve definitely gone through stages of thinking about the issue of gaining weight (especially since I gained so much in my FIRST trimester), but have come to terms with the fact that my body knows best, I just need to listen, use good judgement and wisdom, and be at peace with that.

So I eat what sounds good, and at times this means peanut butter oatmeal cookies with cashew or brown rice ice cream or a large spinach salad with garbanzo beans, sunflower seeds, and my favorite poppy seed dressing. I mostly want to eat whole natural foods, but in the past few weeks I haven’t denied myself of anything if I wanted it, and been surprised that my after a few bites of something rich, I am satisfied. My body seems to know when it’s had enough of one thing, and lets me know.

I suppose I’m sharing all of this because I’ve realized, more internally, that it’s important to listen and trust my body.

For the next two months, my body will work on putting the finishing touches on the little human inside me, getting her ready to face the world. I have faith that my body knows what I need to do that. With a little knowledge and common sense, my goal is to continue to practice intuitive eating, and only eat what, for a lack of a better term, “sounds good.”

I’ve also realized that I think sometimes when we change our diets, in hopes of reaping greater health or just feeling better about ourselves, there is a tendency to demonize food. ______ is good. ______ is bad. But in reality, some foods may be appropriate for certain times and periods of our lives, while others might not (or ever be, depending on your allergies/intolerances). For example, right now, I am eating a much higher fat diet than I ate when I wasn’t pregnant, and physically, it feels better do so.

On a somewhat related note, I’ve read on various blogs about concerns that people have or had as vegans or ex-vegans regarding nutrition and wanted to give my two cents on the issue of “the dangers of a vegan diet.” There are some who advocate against a vegan diet because it is deficient and you need to supplement for various nutrients.

Here are the main things that people say a vegan should supplement for (I’ve included my thoughts on why or why not I think the recommendation to supplement is worth much weight):

Iron: green leafy vegetables, plums, tomatoes, are some examples of good sources; including a vitamin-C rich food with your meal also helps to increase iron absorption, limiting tea/coffee and dairy foods or at least consuming them separately from iron rich foods also helps to increase absorption. Personally, I have never had an issue with iron-deficiency or anemia, in fact, I have had my iron levels checked during this and other vegan pregnancies, which have shown that my iron level is healthy, and well above average.

Vitamin-D: Some people may need to supplement, but consider most people can get all the vitamin-D they need by 15-20 minutes of daily sun exposure. Since vitamin-D is a fat-soluble vitamin, your body can store vitamin-D to be used when you are not able to get adequate sun exposure. Vitamin-D levels can be tested, so if you’re concerned about whether or not you’re getting enough, have it checked it out.

Calcium: This mineral comes from the ground (not cow’s milk, although it is abundantly present in most cow’s milk, thanks to cattle feed supplementation, unless the cows are actually grass fed, which is highly unlikely if the milk you are drinking is the stuff from an average grocery store) and is found in small to moderate amounts in plant foods. Almonds, figs, sesame seeds, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, among other plant foods contain higher amounts of calcium, although this mineral is found in nearly all plants. Fortified plant milk or fortified non-dairy yogurt can also be a good source. On an average day, I consume anywhere from 1100-1800 mg calcium (tracked using CRON-o-meter), all from non-dairy sources. Absorption of calcium is also increased when animal protein (from flesh or animal milk) levels are low.

B-12: Take a daily supplement. Easy, painless, very inexpensive. I take a pill, my kids do drops.

Omega-3 fats: If you are in poor health, you may consider taking an Omega-3 algae supplement since your body may not be able to convert omega-3 to DHA. Otherwise, your body should be able to convert these fats into DHA by consuming 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed a day, a small handful of walnuts, hemp seed, or chia seeds. This will be more than enough for most people. Omega-3 fats are also found in smaller amounts in most plant foods, like beans, in particular soy, so it is possible to get these fats without taking flax or walnuts or supplement.

Zinc: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, wheat germ, wheat bran, yeasted whole-grain breads, sweet potatoes, Brazil nuts, are some examples of the many plant foods that are rich sources of zinc.

Protein: Come on. Protein is found in all plant foods. Rich sources include lentils, all beans, peas, tofu, nuts, greens. Consider that most people need only 50-60 grams. Pregnant mommas like me, need a bit more, around 70-80 grams. No need to combine certain foods at meals, just eat a variety of whole plant foods in a day.

So you can see, as long as you’re smart about it (which may require some more thought and planning into what you buy and eat), you can easily cover your nutritional bases on a plant-based diet, vegan or not.


  1. Cindy
    on December 7, 2010 at 3:47 am said:

    I cannot agree with you more on the issue of trusting ourselves and our body's wisdom. After learning about good nutrition (hello, whole, plant foods are obviously nutritious…) then we really should trust ourselves and our appetites. Look at how children, even infants, eat; they eat when they are hungry, they eat what tastes good, and they stop when they are full. (Have you ever noticed how a child can leave half of a cookie on their plate and not think about it? They are just finished. A "dieter" couldn't do that because they would be thinking about the calories, the fact that they "shouldn't" finish the cookie, etc). I apologize for being long winded, but the gist of what I'm trying to say is that I think there is a tendency in the health-oriented/vegan community to be too controlling and anxious about food. Giving oneself permission to enjoy healful and delicious food, without guilt, is, I think, the key to truly healthy eating. Thanks again for this post–it is something that I really needed to hear.

  2. Courtney
    on December 2, 2010 at 7:29 pm said:

    I must start off by saying that I absolutely love reading your blog!I have a question for you. I am in a similar marriage as you are (I am vegan, my husband in omnivore) and, although we do not have kids yet, I would love to be able to raise our children on a whole-food vegan diet. My husband is pretty supportive of that idea, because I've told him of all the health benefits and such, but he also wants to let our children explore all kinds of foods when they are old enough to become curious of them. Such as my husband likes to drink cow's milk and wants our children to be able to make the choice between plant-milk and cow's milk if they ask for it. (eek!) I am wondering if you have ever had to deal with this type of situation? I know that you have said that sometimes you will cook a plant-based meal for you and your children, and your husband will have meat on the side. Do your children ever wonder what Dad is eating and ask why they aren't allowed to eat it? I would love to hear your opinion on this and what you would suggest would be a good solution. Should I just let our children explore all foods when they become curious? Or just say no, even though daddy is eating it…-Courtney

  3. Whole Foods Vegan Momma
    on December 2, 2010 at 1:56 pm said:

    Anonymous: First, I love how you willing you are to be open and honest, searching for what is right for you. I applaud you for realizing that something must change in order for you to be in a better place. I can relate with not knowing what to do (I was there!). I do have some thoughts and suggestions, and would love to share. Please stay tuned, and I'll put my full response as a post rather than a comment, as I'm sure you are not the only one with the these issues and concerns.

  4. Anonymous
    on December 2, 2010 at 4:28 am said:

    I have been following your blog for quite some time while contemplating the food choices in my own life. I know I feel better on a gluten- and dairy-free diet, and I really don't have much of a taste for meat…but I find I can't quite figure out how to do the vegan thing yet. And so I eat the typical American diet and feel gross most of the time. I am gaining weight, I have migraines, I feel bloated and tired most of the time… I really want a change, but I don't want to do another eating "program." I want to eat well and enjoy it, and have it represent who I am.My biggest concern about going vegan remains these deficiencies you talk about here – especially protein – which I realize is probably unfounded…but I can't quite shake it. Do you have any recommendations for a person like me? Should I try to track my nutrition to ease my fears? Should I ease into a vegan diet by eating vegan several meals a week or gradually cutting out dairy, red meat, etc? I find myself stuck in the place of "I don't know what to do!" while my body, meanwhile, is crying out for a change!

  5. Whole Foods Vegan Momma
    on December 1, 2010 at 3:39 am said:

    Lfwfv: I think higher fat foods do a play a role in people's diets. Some people need to be more restrictive or careful with the more calorie dense foods, but I've found that these foods, in small amounts give me greater satiety (especially when I'm pregnant!). For a time I was eating very lowfat (this was when I was neither breastfeeding or pregnant), but I found I had to eat large amounts of food and had trouble with satiety. I think the trade off–eat a bit more whole, good fats via seeds/nuts/ect. and less of the bulky foods–is well worth it. I'm really proud of you for allowing your body to reach it's natural weight. Not an easy step, but being honest with yourself and learning to truly listen to what your body is trying to tell you, is what we all should be doing. I think it's tempting for all of us to compare ourselves with this unrealistic image of the "perfect" version of ourselves (which unfortunately, because of society's programming encourages ultra-thinness, which is not healthy). Thanks for commenting, I love hearing from you. I wish you all the best in your journey.

  6. Anonymous
    on December 1, 2010 at 1:23 am said:

    Thank you for this insightful post. I have recently added a great deal of nuts, seeds, nut butters, grains, and legumes back into my diet. I had been restricting for health reasons initially, but it quickly triggered my past anorexic tendencies and I ended up slipping back into extremely restrictive eating and an underweight physique. I am trying to eat freely from whole vegan foods (including unrestricted fats right now) and am eating 'what sounds good' and allowing my body to reach its natural weight. It is scary to let go of the control, but i do feel much much better and am more satisfied. Thank you for sharing your experiencing and for reinforcing my current decision to trust that my body knows best. Take carelfwfv