Food and Behaviour Research

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Pregnant women are missing vital nutrients, a situation that could worsen with plant-based foods

by University of Southampton

7-pregnancy - Credit CC0 Public domain.jpg

Pregnant women are not getting the essential nutrients they and their babies need from modern diets say scientists, who have warned that the situation will likely worsen as more people turn to plant-based foods.


The finding that 9 out of every 10 women who are pregnant are lacking ESSENTIAL nutrients is quite shocking - but not actually surprising, given that nutrition still remains a totally neglected area of public health.

The consequences of this neglect are equally shocking - as many of the effects of prenatal nutritional deficiencies on the health of the unborn child can be lifelong, via so-called 'nutritional programming' effects.

These findings show that reliable information about the importance of nutrition - and what a healthy diet actually means - is clearly not being provided to most women before and during pregnancy.

As the article also flags, vegan and vegetarian diets increase the risks of deficiencies in many nutrients that are critical for healthy brain development and function - so that supplements and/or fortified foods are needed to ensure adequate intakes.

For details of this research, which is open-access, see:

And see also our recent FAB webinar, which explains why dietary guidelines have inadvertently been adding to the problem of essential nutrient deficiencies in pregnancy.

And for more information on the important issue of nutrition in pregnancy, and its implications for healthy brain development and mental wellbeing in the next generation, please see:  

5th December 2023 - University of Bristol


A study looking at the health of expecting mothers from high-income countries, including the UK, New Zealand and Singapore, found that 90% were lacking key vitamins necessary for healthy pregnancies and the well-being of unborn infants.

Scientists from the University of Southampton, working with experts worldwide, surveyed more than 1,700 women and found most were missing essential nutrients found in abundance in meat and dairy products.

These included vitamins B12, B6 and D, folic acid and riboflavin which are essential for the development of fetuses in the womb.

Lead author and Professor of Epidemiology Keith Godfrey, from the University of Southampton, said the prevalence of vitamin deficiencies among women attempting to become pregnant in wealthy countries is a serious concern.

He added, "The push to reduce our dependence on meat and dairy to achieve net-zero carbon emissions is likely to further deplete expecting mothers of vital nutrients, which could have lasting effects on unborn children.

"Our study shows that almost every woman trying to conceive had insufficient levels of one or more vitamin, and this figure is only going to get worse as the world moves towards plant-based diets.

"People think that nutrient deficiency only affects people in underdeveloped countries—but it is also affecting the majority of women living in high-income nations."

The study, which was published in PLOS Medicine, assessed 1,729 women between the ages of 18 and 38 at conception and followed many during subsequent pregnancies.

It was undertaken by researchers from Southampton and its National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Center, the University of Auckland, National University of Singapore, and Agency for Science, Research and Technology, Singapore.

Results showed that nine out of ten women had marginal or low levels of folate, riboflavin, vitamins B12 and D around the time of conception, and that many developed vitamin B6 deficiency in late pregnancy.

Co-author Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology Wayne Cutfield, from the University of Auckland, said while folic acid is recommended for women planning conception and during pregnancy, expecting mothers should be given over-the-counter multivitamins to reduce nutrient deficiencies.

He added, "The well-being of a mother ahead of conceiving and during a pregnancy has a direct influence on the health of the infant, their lifelong physical development, and ability to learn."

The PLOS Medicine trial was the first to show that supplements, available over the counter, can reduce vitamin insufficiencies during the preconception, pregnancy and lactational periods.

Associate Professor Shiao-Yng Chan at the National University of Singapore said,

"If we continue to move towards diets with less meat and dairy products, reducing intakes of micronutrients essential for a child's development, vitamin deficiencies will continue to grow unless women start taking more supplements or are supported with specific advice about nutrient-rich foods."