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04/11/2012

Vegan Pregnancy: Let’s talk about fiber!  »


One of the biggest head trips about pregnancy is the fact that all of a sudden, your body is largely out of your control. I’m used to a state of affairs where I know the cause-effect relationship behind the changes in my physique. Looking fine in them jeans? Why yes, I have been working out! Sporting a new muffin top? Damn you, delicious Oreos!

But once you’re up the duff, things will happen to your body—sometimes overnight—and you will not really understand why. You will also not necessarily be warned about them. I knew that my stomach would get bigger, of course. I expected my boobs to do the same, though not quite as remarkably or quickly as they did. (Ow.) But were you aware that when you’re pregnant, your nipples get darker? I was not! It’s nice to be warned about these things!

There are actually biological reasons for these changes, though—those darker, saucer-sized nipples help your blurry-eyed newborn easily find them to nurse, for example. That’s a good trick, evolution! Here’s another: When you’re pregnant your digestion slows down, giving your body more time to get nutrients from your food to your fetus. Pretty cool. However, this change comes with an unfortunate side effect: constipation.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m vegan, I couldn’t possibly get constipated! I eat all the legumes! And that may be true, but I know you nodded when I mentioned Oreos. The thing is, even if you’re pretty good about your fiber intake, normal rules no longer apply. Your baby wants to steal all your vitamins and minerals, and your digestive tract is complying, so you’ve got to bring out the big guns or else risk getting hemorrhoids. Apparently that’s a common feature of pregnancy too!

I don’t want hemorrhoids. I have gone my entire adult life (thus far) without them, and I hope to continue that streak. And I know you don’t want them either. That’s why we’re going to talk about all the roughage you need to get into your body in between bouts of nausea and all that napping.

There are actually two kinds of dietary fiber that you need to pay attention to: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber binds with fatty acids and slows down the time it takes for food to exit your stomach and get into your intestines, which in turn means that sugars are released and absorbed more slowly. This kind of fiber helps to lower your total cholesterol and your LDL cholesterol, which is the kind you particularly don’t want to have. It also helps to keep your blood sugar regulated, which is important if you are diabetic, or have gestational diabetes. Oats, dried peas and beans, nuts, barley, flax seed, fruits, and vegetables all provide soluble fiber.

The other kind of fiber, insoluble, helps to keep the bulk of food waste moving along through your intestines, preventing constipation and keeping your guts at a healthy pH level. This keeps you pooping on the regular, which means you’re getting waste out of your body efficiently, and is tied to colon cancer prevention. You get this kind of fiber when you eat vegetables like green beans and leafy greens, fruit and root vegetable skins, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.

The average ratio of fiber is 75 percent insoluble to 25 percent soluble, but don’t get hung up on that; lots of foods provide both types. Just focus on eating lots of high-fiber foods in general, and the ratio will likely even out.

How much is “lots,” exactly? The American Pregnancy Association recommends getting 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily when you’re pregnant. It’s also important to drink lots of fluids. You need a good amount when you’re pregnant anyway, and the liquid helps keep things chugging through your digestive tract. Exercise can also literally help keep things moving, along with just being good for you in general. Talk with your medical pro about what’s right for you when you’re knocked up.

As an added bonus, a lot of the foods that are high in fiber—particularly legumes and whole grains—are also good sources of iron and zinc, important minerals for baby-growing. And because iron supplements can be constipating, it’s great to get as much iron from food sources as you can. Finally, getting enough fiber could also help prevent preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous vascular condition that can affect pregnant women. Now go eat some roughage!

Terri Coles lives in Toronto, where she enjoys barbecuing, feeding feral cats, going to local music shows and getting really mad about hockey games. She blogs about her adventures in plant-based eating at The Vegina Monologues. We edit out all her extra vowels.

[photo by Jessica via Flickr]

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