Rest assured, it is safe to continue your vegetarian diet while pregnant.
The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. In addition, well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy and lactation.
“It’s safe as long as you’re making sure you’re getting the protein, calories and nutrients your baby needs, whether it’s by eating them in food or taking them in supplement form (as recommended by your physician),” said Sally Phillips, a registered dietitian at Akron Children’s Hospital. “The key is eating a variety of healthy foods and planning ahead to include key nutrients.”
During pregnancy, women and their growing babies need increased amounts of vital nutrients, especially protein, folic acid, iron and calcium — some of which can be more easily found in meats and animal-based products.
In some instances, you’ll need to rely on fortified foods or supplements to fill in the nutritional gaps. In other cases, like calcium and protein, you’ll need to carefully plan out your diet to make sure you’re getting enough of what you and your growing baby need.
Protein can be found in fish, nut butters, cheese, eggs, beans, lentils and soy products. Good sources of calcium include milk or yogurt, cheese, fortified cereals and leafy greens, such as broccoli.
Vegetarian diets tend to be high in folic acid from enriched breads, pastas, leafy greens and beans.
Good sources of iron include enriched whole grains, spinach, eggs and beans. Since pregnant women need such high amounts of iron, Phillips suggests you may need supplemental iron as well.
“Restrictive diets can create challenges for getting the nutrients you and your growing baby need,” said Phillips. “That’s why we recommend pregnant women include adequate amounts of animal products in their diets, such as fish, eggs and dairy.”
To keep you and your baby healthy throughout pregnancy, Phillips recommends you get the following in your diet each day:
- 3 cups of milk or yogurt
- 3 cups of vegetables (especially leafy greens, such as kale and broccoli)
- 2 cups of fruit
- 8 ounces of grains (whole grain breads, pastas, corn, quinoa)
- 6 ounces of protein
“If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant and eating vegetarian or another restrictive diet, individual nutrition consultations are important to ensure a healthy pregnancy,” she said.