Need More Iron In your Vegan Pregnancy?

groaning cake vegan nutrition in pregnancy vegan polenta cake vegan pregnancy what foods are high in iron during pregnancy Sep 13, 2021

Have Iron Smart Snacks...

Like A Slice Of This Nutrient Dense

Orange Polenta Chia Cake

You can go straight to the recipe if you like. Just scroll down.

Or…you can read on to learn about iron, protein and caffeine in your vegan pregnancy. 

You might already have had some counselling about your pregnancy diet. A lot of my clients feel that the routine nutritional information that is given at the start of pregnancy in the routine care settings does not apply to them as vegans.  

Pregnant vegans need some specific information.

Iron

In your vegan pregnancy, it is important to add iron rich foods to your diet every day. Your iron demands increase towards the end of the second trimester and are at an all time high in your third trimester. 

Why is iron important in pregnancy?

A lack of iron will eventually cause the amount of red blood cells in your body to drop. A lack of red blood cells is called anaemia. Red blood cells help you transport CO2 away from your soft tissues and in exchange they deliver fresh oxygen. 

Why is Anaemia Common In Pregnancy?

It is likely that your red blood cell levels drop between your first blood screening tests and the ones at the start of the third trimester. That is normal in pregnancy. It is because you have to increase your blood volume as your baby grows as well as supply your baby with iron. If your levels are relatively low at the start of pregnancy or have dropped significantly in the third trimester you will be advised to use a pregnancy supplement. Some women decide to supplement right from the start of pregnancy with a good quality vegan prenatal vitamin supplement. That way they avoid a significant drop in red blood cells and symptoms of anaemia. If you take a prenatal vitamin, it does no harm to still find iron rich foods to enjoy, too. 

Iron supplements prescribed by your care provider due to an existing anaemia contain high doses of iron. Usually ferrous sulphate or ferrous fumarate. Because you are trying to treat your anaemia, even with those types of treatments you can go ahead and enjoy plenty of iron in your diet. Your blood will be tested again to make sure your treatment is working.

The prescribed high dose supplements can be difficult to tolerate and they can cause stomach cramps. 

What are the symptoms of anaemia?

The most common symptom is tiredness. You might also feel weaker than usual and develop a shortness of breath. You'll be paler than usual. A good way to check is to gently pull your lower eyelid down. Look at the colour of the inside layer of tissue. It should be pink. A white colour is a sign of anaemia. 

Vegan sources of iron

Iron comes in the form of heme and non-heme iron. Meats and fish are the only source of heme iron. A vegan diet provides you with non-heme iron which is harder for the human body to metabolise than heme iron. Having said that, it is possible to meet your iron needs on a plant based diet by increasing your iron intake. In pregnancy it is recommended to get 27mg iron per day from food.

Here are iron rich foods to eat (this is not an exhaustive list): 

Pulses

Lentils, beans and chickpeas are full of iron. A cup of cooked and drained kidney beans for instance has about 15mg of iron. A cup of cooked drained red lentils has 12mg and a cup of chickpeas has around 13.

Tofu

Tofu is made from soy beans and one cup of firm tofu contains around 15mg of iron.

Black Strap Molasses

Add black strap molasses to your baking. Black strap molasses contribute about 4.5mg of iron per 100g of molasses.

Seeds

Chia seeds, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds are all rich in iron with chia seeds bringing about 1mg of iron per tablespoon. 

Nuts

Cashew nuts contain 6.7mg of iron per 100g. Peanuts come in lower at just over 4g per 100g of nuts.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale or broccoli deliver 1-2mg per cup. It comes with vitamin C as well and iron needs vitamin C for the body to absorb it. Ensure to have some vitamin C in your iron rich meal. If you are taking a supplement have it first thing in the morning and take it with a glass of orange juice. Eat your breakfast after that. 

Caffeine

Another factor for iron absorption is caffeine. Caffeine can hinder iron absorption if it is taken alongside the iron rich food or an iron supplement. It is best to avoid tea and coffee around meal time or for about an hour before and after taking a supplement.

Let’s talk caffeine safety while we are here

Here’s what you need to consider when it comes to caffeine in pregnancy. You don’t need to cut it out completely, you just need to be aware of where caffeine is usually found. 

Your upper limit when it comes to caffeine intake should be 200mg. 

Here’s a list of foods and the amount of caffeine in them:

Coffee - filter coffee contains 140mg per mug, instant coffee has about 100mg per mug

Espresso and lattes - a double shot of espresso has around 125mg caffeine.  A large soy latte usually has two shots in it.

Tea - 1 mug contains 75mg

Fizzy drinks - Energy drinks contain about 80mg per can and cola contains about 40mg per can

Chocolate - vegan carob bars are entirely free from caffeine but if you go for dark cocoa based chocolate the caffeine content is around 50mg per 50g bar. The lighter and more milky the chocolate, the less caffeine is in it. 

Hot chocolate - 1 tsp of cocoa powder contains 4.1mg of caffeine

One option to be able to enjoy more separate cups of tea or coffee is to go for decaffeinated options. Remember that there is still some caffeine in those products. Decaffeination removes up to 97% of the caffeine leaving about 7mg caffeine per mug of coffee and about 2mg per cup of tea.  

Time to get talking about the cake

This vegan polenta cake is a nutritious afternoon treat (or even breakfast, I won't tell if you don't). Enjoy it throughout your pregnancy. I usually make it with poppy seeds. Although poppy seeds are even higher in iron than chia seeds, pregnant women are advised to avoid them in pregnancy. 

Poppy Seeds vs Chia Seeds in Pregnancy

Poppy seeds stem from the opium poppy. Whilst the seeds don't contain any opium, the safety advise is that they are avoided in pregnancy because on the rare reports of contamination. Chia seeds are a great alternative for any recipe that calls for poppy seeds. 

In shop based products you will find poppy seeds in seeded breads and in products like lemon muffins. They are there in small amounts, so if you have been enjoying them prior to reading this, please don’t panic. It is a very cautious approach to avoid them entirely and I leave it up to your personal judgement to avoid them entirely. I just don’t recommend using them in the same way I recommend using chia seeds every morning in your overnight oats for their nutritional benefits. 

Protein

This cake packs extra protein.

As a vegan, I am always on the look out for extra plant based protein.

In pregnancy your protein intake should be 70 at the start of your pregnancy increasing to 100mg by the end of the third trimester. Vegans need to be extra smart about protein in pregnancy.

It is possible to get 70g of protein in your diet without supplementing. Even 85g in your second trimester is doable. 

I recommend a protein rich breakfast. Check out these overnight oats. 

In the third trimester, I recommend adding a scoop of a clean hemp or sunflower based protein powder.

I personally use Purition Vegan Protein Powder and I would highly recommend it. I have tasted all flavours and I enjoy every single one of them. 

I like an afternoon snack and I like to make it as nutritious as I can. My country of origin is Germany and we like ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ at around 4 pm. That’s a cuppa Joe and a piece of cake. 

I try to keep the sugar content as low as I can and I like sneaking in ingredients that add nutritional value. 

In this recipe I replaced some of the flour for Purition Sunflower Protein. I added molasses and chia seeds for extra iron. The cake contains the juice of one lemon and two oranges for Vitamin C, making the iron absorbable. 

You could add some vegan chocolate chips or even cocoa nips which are low in sugar and provide some crunch as well as iron and protein. 

Alternatively you could put some blueberries on top just before baking the cake for extra sweetness.

Here’s the recipe, feel free to be creative with it:

Orange Polenta Chia Cake

Ingredients:

125g fine cornmeal/polenta 

6 tbsp chia seeds

100g ground almonds

100g all purpose flour (gluten free if preferred)

50g Purition Sunflower Protein powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

100g coconut sugar

2 tbsp black strap molasses

120ml sunflower oil

60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)

120ml oat milk

120 ml oat cream

1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/4 tsp vanilla seeds

Vegan chocolate chips (optional)

 

For the orange syrup

2 freshly squeezed oranges

3 tbsp coconut sugar

 

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/360°F/Gas mark 4

2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl

3. Add all the wet ingredients and mix to a dough

4. Scoop into a greased baking tin (I used a bundt tin)

5. Bake for 40 minutes (pierce with a skewer or a knife, it has to come out clean - add another few minutes if it doesn't)

6. Make a syrup from the juice of two freshly squeezed oranges and 3 tbsp coconut sugar. Simply add the juice and sugar to a small pot and bring to a boil stirring all the time. Let it simmer for a little bit to reduce to a more syrupy consistency. Scoop over the cake when it is still hot in its tray. 

7. Let it cool for about 20-30 minutes in its tray before turning it out onto a serving dish.

8. Sprinkle with some icing sugar.

9. Serve with whipped vegan cream.

Enjoy! This takes about 15 minutes to mix and 40-45 minutes to make.

It makes 12 slices. 

Ever heard of a  'groaning cake'?

A groaning cake is traditionally made for the mother to sustain her in labour and the early postpartum days. You can also get baking during your early labour to distract yourself during those early niggly labour pains. This is a no fuss recipe perfect for the occasion. The cake is easy to eat and nutrient dense making it the perfect early labour snack.

In conclusion, you can meet your daily iron targets with diet alone but it is also okay to take a good quality vegan prenatal vitamin. 

Try to be smart when it comes to protein. Add some wherever you can and try out our Chia Overnight Oats for a hefty dose of plant based protein for breakfast. 

Be aware of hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolate and 

Try out the polenta cake and let me know how you enjoyed it.

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