Vegetarian Diets for Pregnancy
Vegetarian Starter Kit
During pregnancy your need for all nutrients increases. For example, you will need more calcium, more protein, and more folic acid. But calorie needs increase only modestly during pregnancy. In fact, you will need to pack all of that extra nutrition into just 300 extra calories a day. For that reason, all pregnant women need to choose their meals wisely. 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. Use the chart below to plan your meals.
MINIMUM DAILY SERVINGS FOR PREGNANT VEGAN WOMEN
Serving = 1 slice of bread; 1/2 bun or bagel;
1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, pasta;
1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal
Serving = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw
Serving = 1/2 cup cooked; 1 cup raw;
1 piece of fruit; 3/4 cup fruit juice;
1/4 cup dried fruit
Serving = 8 ounces soymilk
Legumes, Nuts, Seeds
Serving = 1/2 cup cooked beans;
2 tablespoons nuts, seeds, or nut or seed butter;
4 ounces tofu or tempeh
Adapted from: Messina M, Messina V. The Dietitians Guide to Vegetarian Diets. Aspen Publishers, 1996, p. 256.
Guidelines for Good Health during Pregnancy
Begin a healthful diet before you become pregnant. The early growth and development of your baby is supported by your body stores of nutrients.
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 health care 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 groups above include foods that are rich in calcium. Be certain to include at least four servings of calcium-rich foods in your diet every day. These include tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, bok choy, broccoli, beans, figs, sunflower seeds, tahini, almond butter, calcium-fortified soymilk (try Westsoy Plus or Better Than Milk brands), and calcium-fortified cereals and juices.
Vitamin D: This nutrient is poorly supplied in all diets unless people eat foods that are fortified with it. Many brands of ready-to-eat cereals are fortified with vitamin D. However, the body can make its own vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sun. Pregnant women who don’t include fortified foods in their diets should be certain to get at least 20 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight on their hands and faces two to three times weekly.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is not found in most plant foods. To get enough of this important nutrient, be certain to consume one serving every day of a food that is fortified with vitamin B12. 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 best absorbed 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 have very high iron needs and may need to take a supplement regardless of the type of diet they follow. Your health care 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. One study in particular showed that the average protein intake of vegan women was 65 grams per day.* With ample consumption of protein-rich foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains, protein needs can easily be met during pregnancy.
* Carlson E. A comparative evaluation of vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore diets. J Plant Foods 1985;6:89-100.
Plan meals around nutritious whole grains, beans, and vegetables. Add sesame seeds, wheat germ, or nutritional yeast for flavor and nutrition.
Cooked leafy green vegetables are a powerhouse of nutrition. Add them to soups and casseroles.
Snack on dried fruits and nuts to boost your intake of iron and other important trace nutrients.
SAMPLE MENU FOR PREGNANT WOMEN
Cold cereal topped with fruit and fortified soymilk
Toast with peanut butter
Tofu spread on whole grain bread with lettuce
Tossed salad with herbs and lemon juice
Lentil and Rice Casserole flavored with nutritional yeast and chopped tomatoes
Trail mix with almonds and raisins
Tofu and fruit shakes
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.