If you’re vegan and you want to have children, this is a must read. World fertility rates are declining, veganism is on the rise, and not all of the dietary advice about fertility is helpful to vegans. You may be missing out on this one essential nutrient.
Of course, veganism is so much more than a diet, and some vegans are opposed to having children on ethical grounds. However, there are plenty of plant-based babies being born every year, and vegan couples who want children face the same issues of declining sperm health and female infertility as everyone else.
While the media loves to pretend that a plant-based diet is either the key to a Hollywood glow or a one-way ticket to terrible health, the truth is that there are many types of vegan diet. Some vegans only eat raw and gluten-free, and others eat Oreos dipped in Biscotti spread, and there’s every type of diet in between. There are some very general diet tips that apply to all vegans who want children, and one of the most important is to get your Omega-3 oils.
Abundant but not straightforward
The richest source of Omega-3 is the ocean. Pregnant women and those trying to conceive are advised to eat oily fish several times a week. Babies and toddlers also need a source of this essential fatty acid, as it is vital for brain development. Fortunately, various types of Omega-3 can be found in plants, although there are drawbacks to getting it from a plant-based source.
On the surface it’s simple – you can find plant-based sources of Omega 3 all over the place, so you don’t need to eat fish. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Here’s why:
Omega 3 is an essential nutrient. This means your body can’t make it, and you have to get it from your food. When nutritionists say that Omega 3 is essential they aren’t kidding. It’s absolutely necessary for brain function, heart health and many other processes, and it significantly impacts your reproductive health. Low levels can make you feel tired and depressed. It helps to slow cognitive decline as you age too, so it’s essential to get enough even if you’re not planning on starting a family.
To further complicate matters, we eat far too much omega 6, which is essential for health too but promotes inflammation in the wrong omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. Some scientists believe we’re not genetically adapted to high levels of Omega 6, and that the pro-inflammatory effects of these levels can negate the awesome powers of omega 3. Not only do we need to eat enough Omega 3, and the right types, but we also need to cut right down on our Omega 6 consumption. Sunflower oil, corn oil and soybean oil are all high in Omega 6, while coconut, canola, rapeseed and unfortunately for jungle wildlife, palm oil, are far lower in Omega 6.
The bad news:
The problem is that plant sources of omega 3 are not absorbed by the body as easily as the stuff that comes from fish. A lot of it is wasted, and not all of it is the right stuff. DHA is the type of Omega 3 that most vegans are missing out on, and most people get this from seafood or fish oil. Low levels of Omega 3 can negatively impact fertility in both men and women. Low levels can also affect the brain development of the foetus, so it’s incredibly important for vegans to ensure they get both enough Omega 3, and a variety of types. Babies and children also need a source of DHA too, although babies can get it from breast milk, and it is added to baby formula, including plant-based formula.
The good news:
Just as cows and silverback gorillas don’t need to eat steaks in order to obtain protein, vegans don’t need to eat fish to get DHA. The fish get it from algae, and it’s available as a supplement. Phew!
It’s still important to include a variety of plant-based sources of Omega-3 in your diet, in order to reap the full range of benefits of this important nutrient. Cold-pressed rapeseed oil is an excellent source of Omega-3, with the added benefit of being both cheaper, and often having a smaller carbon footprint than olive oil. Walnuts are rich in Omega-3, and have proven fertility benefits for men in particular, and the humble Brussels Sprout is a surprising source of this important fatty acid too.
In a (walnut) shell:
Omega 3 is essential
You can get it from some plant foods
You need a type of Omega 3 called DHA
You can get DHA from algae, in the form of supplements
Lack of Omega 3, especially DHA has a negative effect on fertility
Lack of DHA is a problem for vegans, even those with a healthy diet
Cutting down your Omega 6 will help your body to use the Omega 3 more effectively
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