For some vegetarian and vegan women the decision of whether or not to continue a meat-free diet during pregnancy can be a hard one. While some people believe that an adequately healthy pregnancy cannot be attained through a vegetarian diet, others agree that a successful vegetarian pregnancy is in fact possible.
Good nutrition is vital during pregnancy and can be gained through a range of vegetarian and vegan foods, including the following:
Fruit and Vegetables During Vegetarian Pregnancy
Plenty of fruit and vegetables are vital for a healthy vegetarian pregnancy. Leafy green vegetables and fresh, frozen, dried, canned, or juiced fruits supply plenty of necessary vitamins, minerals, fibre and iron. Anaemia caused by iron deficiency is common during pregnancy, particularly in the later stages, so good vegetarian sources of iron are important. Fruit and vegetables work in sync because vitamin C helps to increase iron absorption, so having a glass of fruit juice with every iron-enriched meal is beneficial.
Sources of Protein During Vegetarian Pregnancy
Increased protein consumption is also needed during pregnancy. Adequate protein levels can be achieved through eating slightly more of the usual meat alternatives.
These can include:
- pulses (beans),
- wheat proteins,
- peanut butter,
- veggie patties,
- and eggs.
If eggs are incorporated in the diet plan, however, they must be cooked thoroughly so that the yolk is hard, as eggs have been found to contain salmonella which can damage the fetus.
Milk and Dairy During Vegetarian Pregnancy
Extra calcium intake is also vital during pregnancy to enable the development of babies’ bones, especially in the later trimester. Good sources of calcium include cow’s milk or soy milk, yoghurt or soy yoghurt, margarine and cheese.
It is important to acknowledge the risk of listeria in soft cheeses. Cottage cheeses and hard cheeses such as cheddar are alternatively more suitable. Homemade fruit smoothies are an ideal way of receiving the calcium, vitamins and calories needed during pregnancy, and can work well with morning sickness.
Starchy Foods During Vegetarian Pregnancy
Starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta should be used as the basis of most meals because they are filling and provide necessary carbohydrates, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, though wholemeal and wholegrain versions of these foods should be used whenever possible. It should be kept in mind when eating such foods that the extra energy needed during pregnancy averages less than 200 kilocalories a day, negating the eating for two theory.
Recommended Supplements During a Vegetarian Pregnancy
While there are plenty of nutritious vegetarian foods available during pregnancy, sometimes even the most well-planned diet will not provide the large level of nutrients needed for mother and baby. Health supplements are effective in working alongside nutritious foods for a healthy meat-free pregnancy.
- Women trying to conceive are advised to take a 400 microgram supplement of folic acid every day from the time contraception is stopped to the 12th week of pregnancy.
- Vitamin B12 supplements are recommended for women with a low dairy intake, particularly those on a vegan diet.
- Calcium supplements can also be beneficial for vegans, particularly when breastfeeding, or anyone with a diet lacking in the required calcium.
- Iron supplements are often necessary during pregnancy as iron levels normally decrease. Look for vegetable-based iron capsules, as some contain meat product.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have health benefits for unborn babies, including brain and eyesight development. Two teaspoons of flax seed oil every day, or flax oil in capsule form, can help provide enough omega-3 for a healthy meat-free pregnancy. Avoid a very high intake of whole flax seeds during pregnancy as they contain lignans which can affect hormone balance.
- Vitamin A supplements should be avoided as having too much vitamin A can harm the unborn baby.
With the combination of plenty of nutritious fruits and vegetables, protein, dairy, starches and health supplements in a vegetarian diet, a healthy meat-free pregnancy for both mother and baby can be achievable.