Following a Vegetarian Diet While Pregnant

Throughout your pregnancy, it is important that you follow a healthy diet, so that your baby can get the vitamins and minerals he needs to develop properly. This can be a challenge for some women, particularly when those pregnancy discomforts, like morning sickness and fatigue kick in. But what about vegetarian and vegan moms-to-be? Is it safe to follow a vegetarian diet while pregnant? Here are some tips on how to follow a healthy vegetarian diet during pregnancy!


Staying Healthy While Pregnant

Many women wonder if the vegan or vegetarian diet that they followed before pregnancy will be suitable to follow throughout pregnancy. The general consensus is that a vegetarian or vegan diet is perfectly healthy during pregnancy, as long as you are able to meet the caloric and nutritional needs that pregnancy demands.

Caloric Intake
During pregnancy, it is important to eat an extra 300 calories per day, in order to ensure the appropriate amount of weight gain. Both vegans and vegetarians can add to their diet in order to ensure that they are getting in enough calories every day. Depending upon your pre-pregnancy weight, you might want to adjust the number of extra calories that you are consuming: women who were overweight prior to pregnancy may want to eat a little less, while women who were underweight prior to pregnancy should eat a little more. You can get these additional calories by adding in snacks or extra vegetarian meals everyday.

Nutritional Intake
Throughout pregnancy, your nutritional needs will increase significantly, and this can be a challenge for the vegan or vegetarian. However, with careful planning, you can follow a highly nutritional vegetarian pregnancy diet that will meet all of your needs, as well as baby's. Keep these nutrients in mind:


  • Calcium: It is often difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get in enough calcium every day. But when you are pregnant you need to ensure that you get in at least 1000 milligrams of calcium daily. You can do this by consuming calcium-fortified products, including tofu and soy milk, or by consuming leafy green vegetables, including kale, bok choy, and broccoli.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for your baby's calcium absorption. Unfortunately, vegetarians often lack Vitamin D. However, you can increase your Vitamin D levels simply by spending a little more time in the sun. Sunlight helps your body to manufacture Vitamin D naturally, so aim for at least 20 to 30 minutes in the sun, three times a week. You can also try some fortified cereals and milks (cow, rice, or soy) to up your Vitamin D levels.
  • Iron: Iron deficiency anemia is a big problem for vegetarian and vegans, as the majority of this mineral is found in animal products. Iron deficiency can become worse during pregnancy so it is important to find ways of including this in your diet. Look for fortified breads and cereals or eat lots of nuts and seeds to ensure that your body has enough of an iron supply.
  • Zinc: If you are a strict vegetarian, you may find it difficult to get adequate amounts of zinc into your diet. And because your zinc requirement increases during pregnancy, you may find it even more difficult. However, by eating a lot of whole grains and legumes, you can ensure that you have a good supply of zinc in your body.
  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is found in large quantities in animal products, including meat and fish. This means that most vegetarians and vegans find it difficult to get enough Vitamin B12, which is essential for cell division during pregnancy. To up your intake of Vitamin B12, be sure to eat cereals and breads fortified with the vitamin. Additionally, you may want to eat nutritional yeast, a type of yeast specifically designed to help improve B12 levels in vegetarians.



Your Vegetarian Diet

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, your daily pregnancy diet is going to look a little different from that of other pregnancy diets. Focus on the following four food groups when it comes to choosing your meals throughout pregnancy.


  • Whole Grains: Vegetarians and vegans should try to get at least seven servings of whole grain products, including whole wheat bread, brown rice, and fortified cereals. One serving might look like a ½ cup of cooked pasta or 1 slice of bread.
  • Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds: Unlike other pregnant moms who consume animal products, most vegans and vegetarians will turn to legumes, nuts, and seeds for their protein requirements. Soybeans, tempeh, and seeds can provide you with the 60 grams of protein that pregnant women need daily. However, steer clear of peanuts as these can increase your child's risk of developing a serious peanut allergy in the future. Aim for five or more servings daily. One serving might include a ½ cup of solid tofu.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables form the heart of most vegetarian diets, so be sure to select 8 or more fruits and veggies that are full of necessary nutrients. Focus on fortified juices, figs, and calcium-rich veggies like bok choy. One serving equals one medium-sized fruit or a ½ cup cooked vegetables.
  • Calcium Products: Calcium products are also challenging for many vegetarians and vegans. To help you get your required calcium, try fortified soy milk or rice milk. Aim for at least four ½ cup servings a day.



Fortified Foods and Supplements

Because it is so difficult for women following a vegetarian or vegan diet to get enough nutrients from their food, you may want to consider purchasing fortified foods or nutritional supplements to help ensure pregnancy nutrition.

Fortified Foods
Fortified foods are those foods that have been enriched with additional nutrients in order to provide you with the best diet possible. Common fortified foods include:


  • cereals
  • cow and soy milk
  • breads
  • rice


Nutritional Supplement
It is a good idea for every woman to take a prenatal vitamin throughout their pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins help to ensure that you have adequate iron and folate intake, necessary for baby's early development. However, you may also consider taking an additional iron, calcium, or B12 supplement throughout the second and third trimester. Consult with your health care provider to find out if this would be appropriate for you.


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