Avoiding meat during pregnancy can lead to bad consequences

By Greg Hamilton • Published: December 7th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Eating less meat and more vegetables is a mantra for those looking to improve their health, but can there be adverse consequences? A study in England points to one. Researchers found children of women who ate little or no meat while pregnant were more likely to abuse alcohol, tobacco or marijuana by age 15.

Avoiding meat can lower the intake of iron, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, zinc and cobalamin, [co BAL a min] an essential nutrient found largely in meat and shellfish. Most vegetarians are low in this nutrient and studies have shown profound neurodevelopmental problems due to cobalamin deficiencies in infants from vegetarian mothers in India. Low levels of cobalamin also have been linked to poor brain growth, developmental regression and cognitive problems.

The researchers wanted to see if these neurological impairments included substance abuse. They analyzed data from 5,109 women and their children and found nearly 10 percent higher rates of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use among 15-year-olds whose mothers were vegetarian. Also, using soy protein products as substitutes for meat was also associated with greater risk of substance abuse.

The team considered whether eating less meat was part of a permissive parenting style, but they found the opposite was true. They saw a pattern of greater parental monitoring and protectiveness toward the children.

The scientists, who stressed their research was not funded by meat producers, said the remedy is not necessarily for expectant mothers to eat more meat. Instead, they said fortifying foods with vitamin B12 and vegetarian sources of cobalamin and more widespread use of supplements could be low-cost and feasible solutions.