A balanced vegetarian diet is a great start to family life. A vegetarian or vegan diet can give you all the nutrients both you and your baby need throughout pregnancy and beyond. All expectant mothers, whether vegetarian or not, will want to ensure an optimum diet for their growing baby by ensuring good intakes of vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
I had two wonderful pregnancies on my vegetarian diet and now have two healthy and happy vegetarian girls aged 8 and 10.
– Julia, mother of Natasha (11) and Zoe (8)
If you were eating a varied and balanced vegetarian diet before pregnancy, keep it up! It will support you through your pregnancy.
Protein needs are higher in pregnancy, so keep your intake up with milk smoothies, and sprinkle toasted nuts or tofu cubes over your vegetables/salads. Try adding lentils or beans (use canned if you don’t have time to soak your own) to soups, stews or stirfrys. Snack on nuts, or miso or tahini spread on toast or crackers. Wholegrains such as brown rice, rolled oats, pearled barley, millet, quinoa, amaranth and wholewheat bread or couscous also are great sources of protein.
Iron needs are higher too. Any woman while pregnant, vegetarian or not, has a greater risk of iron deficiency during this time. A vegetarian diet is full of iron from many sources. Assist your absorption of iron by eating vitamin C with every meal. (Have an orange juice or eat some fruit).
Avoid tea, coffee and cola with meals as they deplete iron.
Non-vegetarians are always asking “But where do you get your iron?!” So I was dreading the blood test they do during pregnancy to check your iron levels. However, my iron levels were fantastic. I took great joy in telling this to my pregnant non-vegetarian friends who had been put on iron supplements.
– Stephanie, mother of Dion (2)
Vegetarian foods high in iron include wholegrains (wholemeal bread, brown rice, quinoa), nuts, dried fruits (raisins, dates, apricots), pulses (lentils, beans) pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fortified soya and rice milks, tofu, chocolate, molasses and green vegetables.
Carbohydrate needs can be met by a well balanced diet of vegetables, wholegrains and fruit. Always choose the whole version: wholemeal bread or pasta, brown rice etc. as these contain more micronutrients and fibre. Potatoes, peas, beans and lentils are also a source of carbohydrates.
Calcium absorption is improved by vitamin D from sunlight. Foods such as green vegetables, wholegrain cereals, tofu, bread, nuts (especially almonds), legumes and calcium fortified milks are rich in calcium.
When I was pregnant, I craved this dish from Renkon called Teriyaki Tofu. I ordered it every
day for at least 3 months. It’s no wonder my son ended up loving tofu. He even steals mine off my plate now.
– Stephanie, mother of Dion (3)
Zinc helps with synthesising protein and making new cells, so it is especially important in pregnancy. Zinc absorption can be affected by iron supplements, so if you need these, take iron supplements separately from meals. Good sources of zinc include wholegrains, leafy root vegetables,
milk and nuts.
B Vitamins are obtained in yeast spreads such as bread, legumes, peas, green vegetables, avocados, peanuts, asparagus, walnuts, cabbage, pumpkinseeds, millet, and wholegrain pasta. Vegans can obtain Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) from fortified soya milks and marmite. Non-vegan sources include eggs, cow’s milk, yoghurt and cheese. To ensure your B12 level, ask your LMC (Lead Maternity Carer) to include a serum B12 level when requesting a routine ante-natal blood screen.
Folate is another B vitamin. Vegetarian diets are naturally higher in folic acid than non vegetarian diets. As this nutrient is easily destroyed by cooking, all pregnant women are recommended to take 0.8mg of folic acid every day at least 4 weeks prior and 12 weeks after conception. Vegetarian sources of folic acid include well washed, fresh, raw or lightly cooked egetables, raw fruit, cereals, legumes and breads.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that can be added to vegetarian diets by using flaxseed or canola oils for salad dressings or by adding them to smoothies. Consume two teaspoons of flaxseed oil or two tablespoons of canola oil or ground flaxseeds a day.
To avoid the risk of food poisoning affecting the baby during pregnancy, always properly wash raw fruit and vegetables, and eat salads or dishes that are freshly prepared. If reheating food, ensure that it is steaming hot with no cool spots. Non-vegans will also need to avoid runny eggs and unpasteurised cheeses.
To provide care for you and your baby throughout your pregnancy, you will need to choose a LMC (Lead Maternity Carer). This is usually a midwife, or may be your GP. You might also want to see a dietician, nutritionist, alternative health practitioner or specialist. Before choosing your health professionals, find out their views about vegetarianism. You will want a health professional who is up to date and positive about your lifestyle, and is able to give you correct information and support should difficulties arise. A negative response to your vegetarianism from your LMC or health professional is likely to affect the quality of information and support you receive, and how
you feel about your care.
I have been a vegetarian my whole life, and my husband is vegetarian also. That’s why I found it so strange how much I got asked if I would raise my unborn son a vegetarian. It goes without saying.
– Stephanie, mother of Dion (3)
Support from your partner, family and friends is also vital for a happy stress free pregnancy. If they are worried about your diet, refer them to the many books/ websites/leaflets about the benefits of vegetarian diets for pregnancy. Remind them of the many groups who produce generation after generation of healthy vegetarian children (Hindu, Jain, Seventh Day Adventist etc.) Your healthy pregnancy and baby will be the best evidence!