Vegetarian Diets for Pregnancy
During pregnancy your need for nutrients increases. For example, you will require more calcium, more protein, and more folic acid, although your calorie needs increase only modestly. It is important to eat foods that are rich in nutrients, but not high in fat or sugar or excessive in calories.
Vegetarian diets, based on nutritious whole foods, are healthful choices for pregnant women.
- Begin a healthful diet before you become pregnant. Your body’s store of nutrients supports the early growth and development of your baby.
- Maintain a steady rate of weight gain. Aim for about three to four pounds total during the first trimester and then about three to four pounds each month during the second and third trimesters.
- See your healthcare provider regularly.
- Limit empty calories found in highly processed foods and sweets. Make your calories count!
To make certain that you are getting adequate nutrition, pay particular attention to these nutrients:
Calcium: All of the new four food groups include foods that are rich in calcium. Be certain to include plenty of calcium-rich foods in your diet. These include tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, kale, broccoli, beans, figs, sunflower seeds, tahini, almond butter, calcium-fortified soymilk (try Silk or Vitasoy brands or others that use whole organic soybeans), and calcium-fortified cereals and juices.
Vitamin D: The normal source of vitamin D is sunlight. You’ll want to get at least 20 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight on your hands and face two to three times weekly.
If you do not get regular sunlight, vitamin D is also available in multiple vitamins and in fortified foods. Many brands of ready-to-eat cereals and soy and rice milks are fortified with vitamin D.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is not found in most plant foods. To get enough of this important nutrient, be certain to include vitamin B12-fortified foods in your daily routine. These foods include many breakfast cereals, some meat substitute products, some brands of soymilk, and Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast. Be certain to check the ingredient label for cyanocobalamin, the most absorbable form of vitamin B12. Seaweed and products like tempeh are generally not reliable sources of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is also in all standard multivitamins and in vegetarian supplements.
Iron: Iron is abundant in plant-based diets. Beans, dark green vegetables, dried fruits, blackstrap molasses, nuts and seeds, and whole grain or fortified breads and cereals all contain plenty of iron. However, women in the second half of pregnancy sometimes need to take a supplement regardless of the type of diet they follow. Your healthcare provider will discuss iron supplements with you.
A Word about Protein: Protein needs increase by about 30 percent during pregnancy. While there may be concern over whether protein intake is adequate at such an important time, most vegetarian women eat more than enough protein to meet their needs during pregnancy. With ample consumption of protein-rich foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains, protein needs can easily be met during pregnancy.
The guidelines for breastfeeding mothers are similar to those for pregnant women. Milk production requires more calories, so you will need to boost your food intake a little bit.