Being vegetarian can be tricky at the best of times, add pregnancy to the mix and you’ll need to understand your nutritional needs more than ever, ensuring that you’re eating foods and supplements to meet the health requirements of both you and your baby. That said, there is no reason at all why a vegetarian following a vegetarian or vegan diet should not have a healthy pregnancy.
Planning what you eat when you are pregnant and vegetarian will be crucial to make sure you have sufficient calories and nutrients for a normal weight baby. You need to ensure that you eat a wide variety of foods and use the appropriate pregnancy supplements, if necessary. This is even more important if you are underweight or vegan.
In particular, you need to make sure you get enough protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and zinc in your diet.
Its best not to rely solely on foods such as cheese and eggs, also try also to eat a combination of beans, peas, lentils and grains.
It’s good to bear in mind that plant proteins (with the exception of soya) contain fewer essential amino acids than animal protein. However, by eating plant foods from different sources you can ensure that you are getting the entire range that you need. These foods will also provide B vitamins, iron and fibre, so should form a key part of your daily diet.
Eat nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and soya beans and the products derived from them such as tofu.
During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by almost 1.7 litres ( 3 pints); iron is a key component of red blood cells. Many women, vegetarian or not, are prescribed iron supplements.But you should also try to eat iron-rich foods from the list below, every day. To increase iron absorption, have food rich in vitamin C, and avoid tea or coffee with meals.
- fortified breakfast cereal
- green leafy vegetables
- wholemeal bread
- tofu and dried fruit
Calcium and vitamin D
The body adjusts to pregnancy by increasing the amount of calcium it absorbs from food. Try to have a large glass (300ml) of milk a day, plus yogurt, fromage frais or cheese.
You can also try vegan sources, such as white bread, tofu, chickpeas, almonds and fortified soya drinks. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, so you need to eat vitamin D -rich foods too.
For vegetarians getting vitamin D can be a problem, as oily fish, butter and margarine are the main dietary sources. Another source is sunlight, which produces vitamin D in exposed skin. However, if your exposure to sunlight is limited for any reason, take a supplement of 10 mcg a day.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Mainly found in animal foods and essential for forming blood cells, vitamin B12 is the one vitamin vegans really need to keep an eye on.
There is some vitamin B12 in fortified foods, but a supplement is also advisable.
You should take vitamin B12 combined with folic acid, as they work together in the body.
This mineral is involved in the cell divisions that make a baby and is key for forming the immune system and bones. To get enough zinc in your diet, particularly if you are taking iron supplements – which can interfere with zinc absorption – ensure that you eat plenty of seeds,
cereals, brown rice and pasta.
If you are having difficulty conceiving, consider your partner’s diet too, as low zinc stores in men can be a cause of infertility.
Vegetarian nutrient-packed snacks
To boost and vary your vitamin and mineral intake, try to eat a few of these each day:
- Nuts are great for flagging energy levels. Try cashews for iron or almonds for calcium.
- Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds supply you with protein and zinc.
- Fresh fruit contains vitamin C to help iron absorption from food and
also supplies phytonutrients.
- Dried fruit, such as figs, apricots and prunes, are portable snacks
which give you valuable amounts of iron, fibre and calcium.
- Munch toast for energy, iron and B vitamins and some calcium.
- Fortified breakfast cereals are a great source of vitamins and some
minerals, particularly iron.
- Yogurt and cheese are tasty calcium boosters.