After six years on a strict plant-based diet, I decided to eat eggs again. Here's why.
I’ve been on a plant-based whole foods diet for six years, and I have experienced the wide-ranging health benefits of eating this way firsthand.
Prior to getting pregnant, I thought a lot about how or if my eating habits would change. Would I crave animal products? Would I be interested in incorporating animal by-products, such as dairy or eggs, into my diet during this time? The conclusion I always came to was a firm a no.
The fact of that matter is that I never enjoyed eating meat. This, along with the fact that I have been lactose intolerant my whole life, made it really hard to picture a scenario where I’d be consuming these foods again. Even if I were to get unusual or surprising pregnancy cravings that were not in line with my current dietary preferences, I would simply take a mind over matter approach, since I firmly believe that animal fat and protein does more harm than good to my body.
To avoid animal sources, I also knew that I was going to have to try a lot harder to consume and enjoy plant-based protein sources. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you know that consuming adequate amounts of protein is not a strength of mine. So well before I found out that I was pregnant, I knew that I was going to have to make some serious changes to the way that I eat, since daily protein requirements are much greater for pregnant women.
With all of this in mind, it was clear that finding a prenatal doctor who supported my dietary choices, and could be a valuable resource, would be really important to me. I needed to work with a doctor who believed it is possible to consume an entirely plant-based diet while pregnant and deliver a perfectly healthy baby.
Fast forward to many months later, - I’m now 8 weeks pregnant and at my first prenatal visit with an OB-GYN I had just met, who came highly recommended. After about 20 minutes, the diet discussion begins and I let my new doctor know that I eat a plant-based diet and consume no animal products or by-products. My OB-GYN nods her head softly to say she understands, but then strongly suggests that, for the sake of the baby’s overall health and development, I reconsider.
I listened closely to what she had to say. We had a lengthy discussion about prenatal health and the baby’s needs, and as our discussion came to a close she left me with two final thoughts. The first was that she recommends, at the very least, eating just one egg once a week to provide the baby with essential nutrients that can only be delivered through consumption of animal products. The second is that a close colleague of hers, who specializes in prenatal care for troubled pregnancies, follows a strict plant-based diet and has for 20 years but made the decision to eat eggs during each of her pregnancies.
After my appointment, I hopped in my car to head home. As I drove I became increasingly irritated. While I respected my OB-GYN’s opinion, it bothered me that she didn’t seem the slightest bit interested in working with me to offer guidance on how to grow a healthy baby and honor my dietary preferences.I became defensive and tried to remind myself of all that I had read online about having a healthy vegan pregnancy and even pointed to several bloggers before me who had done it.
I sat on all of these feelings for a few days, and my irritation eventually subsided.
While the discussion may not have gone my way, I eventually came to see that the OB-GYN was just doing her job, which is to care for my needs and provide me with pertinent information that will help me grow, deliver and raise a healthy baby.
I also took a step back and reminded myself that I am not a doctor and I have never grown or housed a tiny human in my body before. While I have studied plant-based nutrition and completed the Plant-Based Nutrition Program, I don’t know with absolute certainty that a strict plant-based diet is right for me while I grow a baby. And simply looking to other bloggers who have done it before me as a justification to do it myself, over what my doctor recommends, is, in my opinion, silly and irresponsible.
So, with that said, while meat and fish of any kind were definitely off the table for me, as was any type of dairy due to my lactose intolerance, I ultimately decided that I would consider having locally sourced, organic-fed, non-GMO eggs from cage-free, happy chickens.
These are just a few of the benefits that I simply could not ignore:
Eggs are rich in choline. Choline, a relative of the B-vitamin, has many of the same beneficial effects on a developing baby as folate, including fostering normal brain development and preventing neural tube defects. In fact, in 2015, the Journal of Nutrition cited that there is a large body of evidence that periconceptional (i.e. around the time of conception to early stages of pregnancy) choline deficiency increases the risk of adverse birth outcomes and that the maternal status of choline appears to influence cognitive development in infants.
The top two sources for choline are eggs (specifically the yolk) and liver (I’ll pass). Eating just two eggs a day helps meet about half of a pregnant women’s choline needs, and unfortunately it is easily supplemented as it is not found in most prenatal multivitamins.
Eggs are one of the few non-seafood sources of DHA - I didn’t have to look too far into prenatal nutrition to learn about the profound impact that DHA has on fetal brain development. While you can supplement DHA, and I did even before pregnancy, the choice I made for my baby was not to rely on supplements entirely.
Eggs are high in protein - While there is no shortage of protein sources available on a plant-based diet, consuming enough protein has always been an issue for me - well before I ever transitioned to a vegan diet.
Not only do your protein needs increase once you’re pregnant, but, according to The Journal of Nutrition, your protein needs are a whopping 73% higher than the current estimated average requirement in your third trimester.
The reality is, I have always needed a boost in the protein consumption department. And eating eggs, which also happen to be a complete protein, would make my life a lot easier and help me worry less.
For these reasons, I decided to incorporate eggs into my pregnancy diet. While it was certainly unexpected, I made the best decision that made me feel most comfortable, given my situation and needs. As for what happens after pregnancy, we’ll see. But for now, it is hard to ignore this convenient protein source, and all of the powerful vitamins and minerals it contains.