I first perfected this vegan muesli bar recipe after I had my daughter and was recovering from my birth. In addition to this, I had just started breastfeeding, and like any breastfeeding mom would tell you, I was STARVING all of the time. I found myself needing to keep the house filled with snacks – I had coconut yoghurt and fruit, nut mixes and my all time favourite – cliff bars. Unfortunately, this was all getting a little bit expensive. So I thought? Why not try make some more dishes from scratch (once I felt up to it of course).
Breastfeeding and pregnancy is a time of huge nutrition and energy demands, so it is extremely important to make sure your nutrition is on point. These are a vegan muesli bar – making them free of any animal products as well as egg free and dairy free (so great for allergies!).
Not only will these bars be great for pregnant or new moms, but there perfect for school lunches, a quick snack on the run or even great to prepare in advance to help you stay healthy!
Vegan Muesli Bar – Chocolate and Cranberry
Serves: 8 bars
1.5 cup pitted dates
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut chips
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup toasted almonds
2 heaped tablespoon cacao powder (or for something sweeter, try Cadbury Dairy Milk Drinking Chocolate – it’s also vegan)
1.5 cup rolled oats
Process dates in the food processor until they resemble a ball/dough consistency
In a large bowl, add together dates, coconut chips, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, almonds, oats
3. In the microwave (or a pan) mix together and heat up maple syrup, cacao and peanut butter. Pour over oat mixture until well coated.
4. Transfer mixture to a small pan/tray lined with baking paper. Press down until flattened – I used a rolling pin!
5. Place in the freezer overnight.
6. To serve, cut into 8 even bars. Keep fresh by storing In the freezer (I find this also helps them stick together the best!
When should you start thinking about prenatal nutrition?
In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive in how to boost fertility on a plant based diet. It’s never too early to start thinking about optimising your diet for fertility. Research suggests that 3 months prior to falling pregnant is thw most important window as it takes 90 days for an egg to mature. Therefore, the 3 month lead up to conception is a key period to support egg health, optimise chances of conception and build up stores of essential nutrients such as folate, iron and iodine.
Can nutrition impact male fertility?
It takes two to conceive a baby and as such the male’s nutrition is just as important. Sperm maturation takes roughly 60-70 days to occur. The male partner’s nutrition in the 3 month lead up conception also plays a role.
Key nutrients that men need to consider include:
Zinc: low zinc levels have been associated with infertility. Plant-based sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, chickpeas and sundried tomatoes. Read more on zinc here
Vitamin C: This nutrient acts as an antioxidant protecting the sperm from damage. Men with low levels of vitamin C have been found to have a higher likelihood of having sperm dysfunction.
Folate: low folate levels are linked with poor quality sperm. Foods rich in folate include broccoli, brussel sprouts, peas, chickpeas and kidney beans.
Vitamin E: As a powerful antioxidant this nutrient helps to protect sperm from damage known as oxidative stress. It also helps to improve the motility of sperm (how well they move) and increase sperm count. This nutrient is rich in sesame seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds, spinach, pumpkin, sunflower oil and peanuts.
Selenium: Lower selenium levels have also been found in men with fertility issues. As a nutrient that is often lower on vegan diets, selenium is one to pay particular attention to. It is richest in brazil nuts, but can also be found in sunflower seeds and beans.
Do plant-based diets improve fertility?
Plant-based diets are often criticised as being insufficient to provide adequate nutrition for pregnancy. However, this is not the case. A well planned vegan diet can meet all the nutritional requirements for a healthy pregnancy.
Plant-based diets are often higher in antioxidant rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes and wholegrains. These are all fertility friendly foods and provide a wealth of health benefits for families trying to conceive
There are some nutrients which can be harder to obtain on a plant-based diet. These include such as iron, zinc, iodine and omega-3s. This is especially relevant pre- and during pregnancy when nutrient requirements are increased.
Here are 5 top tips to improve your fertility whilst on a plant-based diet:
1: Stock up on dark green leafy veg
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, rocket and silverbeet are rich in many essential pregnant micronutrients.
In particular, they are a great source of folate. This nutrient is vital in the early stages of pregnancy for foetal development and the prevention of neural tube defects.
It is recommended that couples looking to conceive aim to eat 1-2 serves of green leafy vegetables per day (1 serve = 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked).
This may look like tossing them into salads, wilting into pasta sauces/curries/casseroles or blending it into a smoothie.
As dietitians, we always promote a food-first approach which it comes to getting in your nutrients. However, due to the increased requirements for folate in early pregnancy, consuming a prenatal vitamin containing at least 400mcg folate per day is recommended.
The amount and type you may require can vary from person to person. It may be beneficial to consult ourfertility dietitian to determine which supplement is best for you.
2: Increase foods rich in plant-based iron
Iron requirements almost double to 27mg/day when pregnant. Optimising iron stores before falling pregnant is helpful in helping to decrease the risk of becoming deficient during pregnancy.
Those following a plant-based diet require up to 180% more iron than omnivores. This is due to plant-based foods containing non-haem iron. This form is more difficult for the body to absorb, thus requiring a higher amount.
Adding an iron rich food at each meal and snack is essential both pre and during pregnancy.
Those following a plant-based diet require up to 180% more iron than omnivores.
Iron rich foods include:
Wholegrains such as amaranth and oats
Nuts including almonds and pistacios
Seeds particularly pumpkin and hemp seeds
Fortified products such as weetbix
Consuming a food rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberry, broccoli and lime juice can help boost absorption further. Add lemon juice to a bean-based salad or use a tomato base in a chickpea curry.
Due to the high requirements of iron during pregnancy, obtaining enough from food can often be difficult and an iron supplement may be necessary.
Our vegan fertility nutritionist can help guide you further on supplements and assist in developing a nutrition plan with you to boost your fertility on a plant based diet.
3: Eat plenty of wholegrains
Wholegrains are an important food to boost fertility. This category include foods such as oats, barley, brown rice, freekeh, buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa, wholegrain bread, flour and pasta. These foods are excellent sources fertility friendly nutrients such as zinc, iodine and iron. These micronutrients are vital during prenatal nutrition but can be more difficult to obtain on a vegan diet.
Good sources of plant-based omega-3s are flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. These can be added into your morning muesli, made into a chia pudding, blended into smoothies or added to salads. An algae-based omega-3 supplement containing DHA and EPA may also be beneficial to consider.
Our vegan fertility dietitian can also provide you with a prenatal omega-3 test. This test can help assess your omega-3 status. Your dietitian can use this information to develop an individualised fertility diet plan to improve your levels.
5: Cut down on processed foods
Highly processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, sugary drinks, ready meals and fake meat alternatives are high in added sugars.
A diet high in added sugars has been linked to infertility in both men and women.
Processed foods are also often high in saturated or ‘bad’ fats. These fats are associated with negative fertility and pregnancy outcomes.
There are many nutrients to consider when trying to boost fertility on a plant based diet. When trying to conceive, it is recommended you fill your diet with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and legumes and start on a prenatal supplement regime which is right for you.
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin is one of the thirteen essential vitamins that the body requires to survive.
It is involved in many crucial processes, including (1) creating DNA, cell division and, maintaining and repairing Myelin Sheath (a protective coating around nerve cells).
This water-soluble vitamin is naturally present in some foods, fortified in others or available as a dietary supplement.
Unfortunately, there are limited vegan vitamin B12 sources as plant based foods do not naturally contain this vitamin. Animal products including meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products are rich in this vitamin.
Consuming enough B12 is crucial for proper blood and brain function and it can be stored in the liver for many years. Deficiency can lead to a range of health consequences including nerve damage and pernicious anaemia.
It is important for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet ensure they are getting enough each day through foods or supplements.
This article explores vitamin b12 on a vegan diet, where you can find it, supplement recommendations and how to avoid deficiency.
How Does Vitamin B12 Function In The Body?
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that almost every cell in the body requires for proper functioning.
Vitamin B12 has two main metabolically active forms. These are methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin.
There are two other forms available – hydroxycobalamin and cyanocobalamin. These forms become biologically active after they are converted to the first two forms.
You may see different forms available in different supplements. Hydroxycobalamin is commonly found in Vitamin B12 injections. Supplements often contain methylcobalamin or cyanocobalamin form.
Vitamin B12 is involved in two main enzyme processes in the body. It acts as a cofactor in these reactions, essentially meaning it becomes a “helper molecule”.
Methylcobalamin acts as a cofactor to the enzyme methionine synthase. Methionine synthase is important for the conversion of homocysteine to the essential amino acid methionine and tetrahydrofolate.
Methionine, is a universal methyl donor. This means it’s essential for a multitude of enzyme processes in the body including DNA, RNA, hormone, proteins and lipids. (2)
The absorption of vitamin B12 contains a number of steps.
In animal based foods, it is found in the form of methyl-, deooxyadenosyl-, or hydroxy-cobalamin.
When this form of B12 nutrition reaches the stomach, two digestive enzymes – pepsin and hydrochloric acid break down the binding protein, releasing the cobalamin portion of the nutrient known as “free vitamin b12”.
When synthetic (man made) B12 is added to fortified food or supplements, it is already in its free form and therefore does not require this separation step.
Free vitamin b12 then combines with Intrinsic Factor (IF). IF is a type of protein secreted by parietal cells in stomach. This complex is then able to be absorbed in final section of the small intestine known as the illeum.
Absorption can also be influenced by age, reduced gastric acidity and other gut disorders.
This vitamin also has many inactive analogues. These are molecules that look like its active form, but actually are not, and can interfere with it’s function and absorption.
How much vitamin B12 can be absorbed at once?
Vitamin B12 absorption depends on how much is consumed at one time. When added to foods such as soy milk or veggie delight sausages in low amounts (less than 5 mcg per dose) it has a similar absorption rate to animal products. It is absorbed at approximately 56% of a 1mg dose.
Meaning, if you drank a glass of Sanitarium So Good Soy milk which contains 1mcg per cup, you would only be able to absorb approximately 0.5mcg.
This means, that if you take a supplement of 500mcg, you’re only able to absorb 5mcg at one time.
How Much Vitamin B12 Do I Need?
How much you require each day is based on the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI). The RDI is the average daily dietary intake that meets the nutrient needs of 97-98% of the population.
For children under 12 months of age the RDI cannot be determined and therefore Adequate Intake (AI) is used. The AI is based on the average daily nutrient intake deemed to be adequate based on estimates of healthy groups.
Vegan Vitamin B12 Food Sources:
Our bodies can not create B12, meaning that it must be eaten in the diet.
Vitamin B12 is bound to protein. It is found in all animal foods with the exception of honey. This includes meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products (3).
Individuals who follow plant-based diets must rely on fortified foods and supplements to meet their daily requirements.
Vegan vitamin B12 food sources include:
Certain plant-based milks (i.e. Sanitarium soy milk)
Reduced salt Vegemite (note: the original vegemite is not fortified with B12)
If you are wanting to meet your daily needs through fortified foods it is essential that you read the ingredients list and nutritional panel as not all products listed above will be fortified with this nutrient.
It is also important to note that nutritional yeast, may not be a reliable source. The vitamin levels contained within nutritional yeast can vary between brands, meaning it is not recommended as a sole source B12.
If you want to try and meet your requirements through food alone you will need to consume 2-3 servings of fortified foods, at least 4 hours apart for optimal absorption.
The number of servings required daily will vary depending on which fortified products you consume. Due to this not being feasible for many individuals, it may be beneficial to consider a vegan vitamin b12 supplement.
Poor Sources of Vitamin B12
Some vegan foods claim that they contain B12. This includes tempeh, seaweed, organic foods and spirulina. Unfortunately these contain inactive analogues. This means, when analysing these compounds in the lab they may look like vitamin B12, but they are not biologically active meaning they have no use in the body and can actually interfere with the absorption of active b12.
Some plant foods, such as unwashed potatoes can contain vitamin B12 on their surface. This is due to soil residue or contamination. Unfortunately, this is not a reliable source of this vitamin for vegans. Relying solely on unwashed food products can place you at higher risk for deficiency and food poisoning.
Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
As Vitamin B12 has wide spread use throughout cells in the body, deficiency can cause significant effects.
A 2013 systematic review investigating the prevalence of deficiency among vegetarians and found rates of 62% amongst pregnant women; 32% amongst vegetarians; and 30% to 76% amongst vegans (depending on the definition of deficiency) (6)
Deficiency can be common amongst vegans and those following a mostly plant-based diet.
Studies have also shown deficiency to occur in up to 40% of older adults. This has been linked to issues with absorption, gastrointestinal conditions and use of certain medications.
Although textbooks state that deficiency can take 2-5 years, our dietitians have seen deficiency occur in as little as 6 months. It is essential to commence supplementation or ensure you are eating adequate amounts as soon as you adopt a completely plant based diet
It is also important for plant-based eaters to regularly check their blood status. Failure to do so can increase the risk of irreversible brain and nerve damage.
What is the best test for Vitamin B12 status?
There are a number of tests available that test vitamin B12 status.
Serum Vitamin B12
Traditionally, vitamin B12 status is assessed by its concentrations in blood (serum) levels.
Unfortunately, there have been recent concerns that these tests are unreliable in the interpretation of the intermediate range of vitamin b12. Some studies have indicated vitamin B12 deficiency may occur at intermediate levels.
Interpretation should be used with other indicators as levels may also increase with folate deficiency.
What is the best supplement to take?
There are a variety of different B12 supplements available on the market.
Supplements are available as liquids, tablets, lozenges and injections. For the prevention of deficiency, oral supplements are primarily used.
Cyanocobalamin is the most stable and widely studied out of all forms. It has been shown to help prevent and reverse deficiency and therefore is the most commonly form recommended by health professionals. The main exception for this is in smokers, where it is best for hydroxycobalamin to be used.
How frequently should you supplement B12?
There are many different factors that influence how frequently you should supplement vitamin B12. These include age, gender, absorption issues (such as coeliac disease or gastric bypass surgery), increased requirements (pregnancy and lactation), blood test results and ability to remember the supplement.
It would be unethical of us to give you a straight answer as to how much you should have, without knowing your full history and medical background. To work out an appropriate supplement regime for you, book in for a consultation with one of Plant Nutrition and Wellness’s plant-based dietitians.
Should vegans supplement Vitamin B12?
Even though there are some plant-based foods fortified with B12, the selection is quite limited and these foods need to be consumed daily to meet the RDI. There are also cases of vegans experiencing deficiency even when having fortified foods.
For this reason it is often recommended that those that follow a largely plant-based diet to take a supplement.
This is important for all vegans, but especially those with higher requirements such as pregnant and breastfeeding women.