My dear friend Alicia Silverstone recently interviewed me and Susan Levine on the topic of preparing for a vegan pregnancy. Here’s part one of her three-part series.
What kind of formula should a vegan baby drink?
Christina: Well, first, I have to say that the best food for babies is breast milk. In the rare instance that a mother cannot nurse, then a formula can be used. There is a lot of controversy around soy and the isoflavones that include phytoestrogen. Somehow, it has been put out there that phytoestrogens are the same as estrogen - but they’re not at all the same. Unlike estrogen, phytoestrogens are plant-based. They just behave in the same manner as estrogen receptor cells, which regulate levels of estrogen in a woman's body. That said, the soy formula I have found to be the most natural - without simple sugars, additives, GMOs, antibiotics or other questionable ingredients - is Baby’s Only Organic sweetened with brown rice syrup.
Susan: Soy-based formulas are the best option for a non-breast feeding baby. Human breast milk is unique and not mimicked by anything else in nature, so grocery-store brands of soy, rice, cow’s milk by themselves are not substitutes for formula.
Also, macrobiotic counselor, Warren Kramer recommends checking out this book about organic baby food.
Is soy bad for a pregnancy, and while breastfeeding?
Christina: No. Even if a baby is shown to be sensitive to soy, nothing seems to come through in the mother's milk, so there is no worry. While the baby gets all the nutrients the mother consumes, experts say that if a baby has food sensitivities, that does not mean the mother cannot enjoy the foods the baby is sensitive to. The baby gets the nutrients, but usually does not show signs of distress from the sensitivity. And, usually, an infant's sensitivity to soy is not something they are born with; often the mother has one, too. We say that the mom should eat normally and see if there is a negative reaction in her infant, like excessive fussiness, indigestion, crying...it will not usually be severe. In fact, studies have shown that mothers eating traditionally-produced organic soy, like tofu, tempeh, shoyu and miso, are more relaxed and as a result, so are the babies.
Susan: Soy products are safe and may even have health advantages. In fact, research has shown that the earlier people consume soy in life, the greater the health advantages. So sharing your love of soy with your children may be a priceless gift. Soy is not essential, but it does reduce cancer risk later in life. Additionally, protein needs go up during pregnancy and lactation, and soy is a great high-protein source. Emphasize whole soy foods such as miso, tempeh, tofu, soy milk, and of course the whole soy bean (edamame).
Christina: People are freaked out by soy because they have been told to be freaked out. The truth is that traditional soy can help women with so many things, from PMS to hot flashes associated with menopause; to reducing breast cancer risk; to reducing muscle tension in the legs. On the other hand, any soy products with soy isolates or isolated soy protein should be avoided, because the way they’re processed makes them unhealthy.
Are soy formulas safe? If so, which one should a mother feed her baby?
Christina: Most soy formulas are loaded with sugar and are not made from organic soybeans, so you could be getting GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and other additives. Again, the only one I have found to be free of all that jazz is Baby’s Only Organic.
Susan: Yes, soy formulas are safe. According to published research, there does not seem to be any difference in outcome between babies who drank soy and cow’s milk formulas. Dr. Spock himself felt soy formula did have advantages over cow’s milk formula because of cow milk’s link to various diseases such as type 1 diabetes, lactose intolerance, and dairy allergies.
In the 8th Edition of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, it states, “cow’s milk itself … is not safe for infants. The protein and sugar mix is wrong, and infants fed straight cow’s milk are likely to become seriously ill.”
How can a vegan, pregnant woman increase her protein without going overboard on soy?
Susan: Don’t sweat the protein issue. If you consume adequate calories, your protein needs will be met. When you eat more calories during pregnancy, you naturally consume more protein as well. It takes care of itself! Remember, protein is found in whole grains, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. Yes, even broccoli gets 1/3 of its calories from protein!
Christina: There is no need to go crazy with protein because you’re pregnant. There is protein in everything we eat, except fruit. Women should get their protein from beans, soy foods (traditional, again, no isolated soy), seitan and grains like quinoa and amaranth, which contain the same levels of protein and structure as an egg, and a daily serving of nuts. A vegan woman need not go nuts with soy to get what she needs. I usually recommend people eat tofu once a week and enjoy fermented soy more often: twice a week for tempeh, daily for miso. Fermented soy is easy on digestion, so people have fewer difficulties with it.
That covers the soy questions! In parts two and three, we'll look at questions about breastfeeding, stretch marks, Vitamin B-12 and much more!