What to Eat When You're Pregnant and Vegetarian : Other essential vitamins and minerals (part 2) - Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12

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Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

What it’s for: Riboflavin is needed for the conversion of fats, protein and carbohydrate into energy. Deficiency can result in cracked skin at the corners of the mouth and skin problems around the nose, eyes and tongue.

Amount needed: You need 1.4mg per day during pregnancy and 1.6mg per day while breastfeeding. If you consume too much it will be excreted in your urine.

Where it’s found: It is found in a wide variety of foods.

  Riboflavin (mg) per 100g Riboflavin per portion
Milk 0.2 0.6mg per half-pint/300ml
Cheddar 0.4 0.1mg per 30g portion
Mushrooms 0.3 0.2mg per 80g portion
Almonds 0.75 0.2mg per 25g handful
Marmite 7.0 0.3mg per 4g portion
Vegemite 8.6 0.3mg per 4g portion
Weetabix and similar cereals 1.2 0.5mg per two bisks

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

What it’s for: Vitamin B6 is needed for the metabolism of protein and the release of energy from foods. It is also required for the development of a healthy nervous system and red blood cells. Deficiency is rare, but there is some evidence that women with low levels are less likely to become pregnant and more likely to miscarry in early pregnancy. There is also some evidence that low levels are linked with morning sickness. Vitamin B6 supplements are sometimes used to treat hyperemisis gravidarum.

Amount needed: You need about 1.2mg per day. There is no extra requirement for pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Where it’s found: It is found in nuts and some fruit and vegetables, especially potatoes if you eat the skin too. It is also found in fish.

  Vitamin B6 (mg) per 100g Vitamin B6 per portion
Nuts (hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts) 0.59–0.67 0.2mg per 30g handful
Bananas 0.29 0.3mg per medium banana
Avocados 0.36 0.3mg per half avocado
Red peppers 0.36 0.2mg per half pepper
Potatoes 0.54 1.0mg per potato with skin
Wholemeal bread 0.11 0.1mg per two slices
Tofu 0.09 0.1mg per portion (quarter-block)
Milk 0.06 0.2mg per half-pint

Vitamin B12

What it’s for: This vitamin is important for healthy red blood cells, the release of energy from food, and the development and normal functioning of the nervous system. It is also necessary for the body to be able to process folic acid. Women with low vitamin B12 levels appear to be at greater risk of pregnancy complications, including neural tube defects. However, evidence for this is only limited, compared with the very strong evidence of association between folic acid and spina bifida prevention. Research with pregnant Dutch women found those with low vitamin B12 levels in early pregnancy were more likely to have babies who were colicky and cried for three or more hours a day.

Amount needed: The official UK recommendations are for 1.5µg of vitamin B12 per day during pregnancy and 2.0µg per day while breastfeeding. However, other countries, including the US and Norway, recommend higher intakes, and the UK advice may change in the future. To be on the safe side you should aim for at least 3µg per day. As it is best absorbed in small amounts, it is better if this is spread out throughout the day. If you are getting all your vitamin B12 at one time by taking a daily supplement then a higher dose may be better; the Vegan Society advise 10µg per day if you’re getting all your vitamin B12 from a daily supplement.

As it is found naturally only in foods of animal origin, vegetarians tend to have a lower intake. In a study of pregnant women in the Netherlands it was found that lacto-ovo-vegetarians were more likely to be vitamin B12 deficient than other women. Blood tests showed that 22% of lacto-ovo-vegetarians were vitamin B12 deficient, compared with 10% of ‘low-meat-eaters’ and 3% of non-vegetarians. There have also been a number of cases of severe vitamin B12 deficiency among vegans who were breastfeeding and their babies.

Where it’s found: It is found in almost all foods of animal origin but in virtually no foods of plant origin. Most soya milks are fortified, but organic soya milks are not allowed to be fortified, so they don’t contain any vitamin B12. Some other milk-alternatives are also fortified, including Oatly Oat Drink but not Rice Dream original nor Kara Coconut milk. Some breakfast cereals are also fortified with B12, but again, others are not. More natural cereals, such as muesli and porridge oats, don’t contain any vitamin B12 but bran flakes and cornflakes do (unless you buy organic). Yeast extract is often recommended as a good source of vitamin B12 for vegans, but it’s worth noting that while Marmite and most supermarket own brands of yeast extract have added vitamin B12, Vegemite doesn’t. The real message is that if you’re vegan, or don’t have milk or eggs daily, you have to read the label to see which food and drink products have it added, and include these as a regular part of your diet. One easy way to boost your intake is to use a fortified yeast extract in cooking. A spoonful can be used instead of stock in dishes like pasta sauce or chilli.

  Vitamin B12 (µg) per 100g Vitamin B12 per portion
Milk 0.8–1.0 2.5µg per half-pint/300ml
Yogurt (plain) 0.3 0.4µg per small pot
Eggs 1.1 1.2µg per two eggs
Soya milk-alternative (Alpro original)* 0.4 1.2µg per half-pint/300ml
Oat milk-alternative (Oatly)* 0.4 1.2µg per half-pint/300ml
Soya desserts/custard (Alpro)* 0.4 0.5µg per small pot
Pure dairy-free soya spread (margarine substitute)* 5.0 0.5µg per 10g serving
Marmite (Vegemite has no vitamin B12 added)* 15 0.6µg per 4g serving
Shreddies* 1.6 0.6µg per 40g bowl
Bran flakes (various brands)* 1.0–2.5 0.4–1.0µg per 40g bowl
*These figures are correct at the time of writing but manufacturers may change product ingredi

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