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Pregnancy

Is it Safe to be Pregnant and Vegetarian?

Susan Zogheib, MHS, RD, LDN
January 3, 2019 . 2 min read

While you’re pregnant, it is important to follow a healthy diet and choose a variety of foods that will provide you with all the nutrients you and your baby need. This is certainly possible if you’re a vegetarian, but you’ll have to be mindful of the foods you eat because vegetarians are at greater risk of certain nutrient deficiencies. Depending on the type of vegetarian meal plan you follow, you may need to adjust your eating habits.

Vitamin B 12—Vitamin B 12 is found in animal products including fish and shellfish, eggs, and dairy products. If you are a vegan, you may be advised by your physician to take a supplement containing the synthetic form of vitamin B 12. Getting enough vitamin B 12 will help prevent anemia.

Iron—While you’re pregnant, you need more iron than normal to assist in the development of the fetus and placenta and to help your body produce enough blood. Vegetarians often have even greater iron needs because iron from plant sources isn’t absorbed as easily as iron from meat sources. Plant-based iron sources include whole and enriched grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dark green vegetables, dried fruit, and blackstrap molasses. If necessary, iron supplementation may be prescribed by your physician.

Calcium—Getting enough calcium is essential to building strong teeth and bones. If you do not consume enough calcium to sustain the needs of your developing baby, your body will start to take calcium from your bones, which increases your risk of osteoporosis later in life. Try to eat or drink at least four servings of calcium-rich foods a day to help ensure that you’re getting 1,200 mg of calcium in your daily diet. Sources of calcium include dairy products, seafood, leafy green vegetables, dried beans or peas, and tofu.

Vitamin D—Vitamin D will help your body use calcium. Adequate amounts of vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to the sun and in fortified milk, eggs, and fish. However, if you do not eat calcium-rich foods, it is recommended that you receive 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight three times per week or take a supplement.

Protein—Protein aides in muscle growth and repair, but protein is also essential for your baby’s brain development. If you do not eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy products, you will require other sources of protein in your daily diet. Nuts, peanut butter, legumes, quinoa, tofu, or soy products are also good sources of protein.

Sources:

  • Center for Disease and Control and Prevention
  • Risk Factors for Vitamin B 12 Deficiency.
    Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health
  • Nutritional Counseling for Vegetarians During Pregnancy and Lactation.
    Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
  • Vegetarians Diets for Pregnancy.

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