Vegetarian Diets for Pregnancy
Pregnancy means eating for two. But it helps to remember that one of
you is very small. So while you will need more nutrition, your overall
diet will not be dramatically different from your normal eating pattern.
needs increase only modestly during pregnancy. In the first trimester,
no additional calories are needed at all. However, an extra 340
calories are needed per day in the second trimester, and an additional
452 calories are needed per day in the third trimester.1 All
pregnant women need to choose their meals wisely. It is important to
eat foods that are rich in nutrients, but not high in fat or sugar, or
excessive in calories.
A vegetarian diet, based on
nutritious whole foods, is a healthful choice for any pregnant woman.
Use the chart below to plan your meals.
Whole Grains, Breads, Cereals
9 or more servings
Serving = 1 slice of bread, 1/2 bun or bagel,
1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, or pasta,
3/4–1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
4 or more servings
Serving = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw vegetables
Choose at least one dark green vegetable daily
4 or more servings
Serving = 1/2 cup cooked, 1 cup raw,
1 piece of fruit, 3/4 cup fruit juice, 1/4 cup dried fruit
Legumes, Soy Products, Nondairy Milks
Serving = 1/2 cup cooked beans, tofu, or tempeh;
8 ounces fortified soymilk or other nondairy milk;
3 ounces meat analogue
Nuts, Seeds, Wheat Germ
Serving = 2 tablespoons nuts or seeds,
2 tablespoons nut butter, 2 tablespoons wheat germ
*Be sure to include a reliable source of vitamin B12, such as many prenatal vitamins or fortified nondairy milk or cereal.
To make certain that you are getting adequate nutrition, pay particular attention to the following nutrients.
Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for calcium during pregnancy is the same
as before pregnancy, 1000 mg/day for women ages 19-50,2 due in part to increased maternal calcium absorption.
as it was before pregnancy, getting enough calcium on a vegetarian diet
is easy. In fact, calcium absorption from plant foods is often superior
to that of dairy products.3 Good sources of calcium include
tofu and soy beans, dark green leafy vegetables, bok choy, broccoli,
beans, figs, sunflower seeds, tahini, almond butter, calcium-fortified
nondairy milk, and calcium-fortified cereals and juices. If these foods
are included in the diet every day, calcium needs are easily met.
Essential fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic
acid (ALA) is an essential fatty acid and an important component of the
diet. ALA converts in the body into omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA).
Institute of Medicine has set the adequate intake (AI) for ALA at 1.1
g/day for women ages 19-50 and 1.4 g/day during pregnancy.1 ALA can be
found in a number of vegetarian foods. Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are
the most concentrated sources; however, ALA is also found in canola and
walnut oils, walnuts, and soybeans.
An important factor in
essential fatty acid status for vegetarians is the ratio of omega-6 to
omega-3 fatty acids. The World Health Organization recommends a ratio
of 5:1 to 10:1 for proper conversion of ALA into DHA and EPA.4
The lower the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, the better the
conversion. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in seeds, nuts, grains,
legumes, and green leafy vegetables, as well as in high concentrations
in certain vegetable oils (corn, soybean, safflower, cottonseed,
sesame, and sunflower).
The fatty acid that is often
discussed regarding vegetarian pregnancy is DHA. DHA has been shown to
be lower in the plasma and umbilical cord of babies born to vegetarian
mothers.5 Since vegetarians don’t consume any preformed DHA
in the diet, they must convert it from ALA. It certainly is possible to
meet omega-3 fatty acid needs on the vegetarian diet by consuming
enough sources of ALA, balanced by not having too many omega-6 fatty
acids. However, if a vegetarian woman is concerned about DHA,
microalgae-based supplements are available, marketed under the name
Folate: Folate, or folic acid, is
necessary to help prevent neural tube defects and serves other
functions as well. Folate is especially important in the first weeks of
pregnancy, and it is therefore important that all women of childbearing
age get adequate amounts daily. As its name (derived from the word
“foliage”) implies, its natural source is leafy greens. Legumes are
also rich in folate. Because diets can be erratic, it is prudent to
take a multiple vitamin or other supplement that provides at least 400
μg/day. Many breakfast cereals and other grain products are now
fortified with folate. During pregnancy, 600 μg/day of folate is needed.6
needs increase during pregnancy to aid in the development of the fetus
and placenta and to maintain increased maternal blood volume. The DRI
for women ages 19-50 is 18 mg/day, increasing to 27 mg/day during
pregnancy.7 Iron needs may be greater for those on a vegetarian diet because of less efficient absorption of iron from nonanimal sources.8
Iron supplements (or prenatal vitamins containing iron) are often
prescribed for women on any kind of diet, as it is difficult for any
woman to meet increased needs through diet alone.
women should include iron-rich plant foods daily, in addition to taking
their prescribed vitamins or supplements. Iron supplements should not
be taken at the same time as tea, coffee, or calcium supplements. Dairy
products decrease iron absorption and should be avoided. Iron sources
include whole and enriched grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dark green
vegetables, dried fruit, and blackstrap molasses. Including vitamin
C-rich foods at meals can increase absorption of iron from these
Protein: The DRI for women ages 19-50 is 46
g/day, increasing to 71 g/day during the second and third trimesters of
pregnancy (25 grams more than pre-pregnancy needs).1 This is
a greater increase than previously recommended; however, it is still
easy to meet these protein needs on a vegetarian diet. DRIs are
intended to cover the needs for 97.5 percent of the population, so
actual needs for most individuals may be slightly lower than this.
sources on a vegetarian diet include whole grains, beans and legumes,
soy products, vegetables, and nuts and seeds. A balanced vegetarian
diet, providing adequate calories and including these foods, will
likely meet protein needs.9 The meal-planning chart above provides plenty of protein for pregnancy.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 needs increase only slightly during pregnancy, increasing from 2.4 μg/day for women ages 19-50 to 2.6 μg/day during pregnancy.6 Vitamin B12
is found in fortified foods, such as fortified cereals, meat
substitutes, nondairy milk, and nutritional yeast. Be certain to check
the labels to find out which foods are fortified. Seaweed and foods
like tempeh are generally not good sources of vitamin B12. To be sure of getting adequate B12, it is prudent to take a prenatal vitamin containing vitamin B12 or to take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Vitamin D: Although vitamin D needs during pregnancy are the same as before pregnancy (5 μg per day),2
it is important to both mother and baby to ensure adequate intake.
Vitamin D is made in the body as the result of exposure to sunlight.
For many people, 5 to 15 minutes per day of sun between the hours of 10
a.m. and 3 p.m. on the arms and legs or hands, face, and arms during
the spring, the summer, and the fall is sufficient to meet vitamin D
This nutrient is poorly supplied in all
diets unless people use foods that are fortified with it. Many brands
of ready-to-eat cereals and nondairy milks are fortified with vitamin
D. Pregnant women who don’t regularly spend time in the sun, live in
northern latitudes, or have darker skin will want to be sure to include
fortified foods in their diet. Many prenatal vitamins contain adequate
amounts of vitamin D as well.
Zinc: Zinc needs increase during pregnancy. The DRI for women ages 19-50 is 8 mg/day and increases to 11 mg/day during pregnancy.7 Needs for women following a vegetarian diet may be higher, however, because of lower absorption of zinc on a plant-based diet.8
is often included in prenatal vitamins. In addition, zinc is found in
legumes, nuts, whole grains, and cereals. Zinc absorption from
plant-based sources can be increased by including sprouted grains,
beans, or seeds and yeast-raised breads in the diet, soaking and
cooking legumes, and combining zinc sources with acidic ingredients
such as lemon juice or tomato sauce.
A note about dietary
supplements: Your doctor may recommend a supplement to ensure you are
meeting your vitamin/mineral needs. Most prenatal vitamins will be
adequate to cover your needs. If you are interested in taking any
additional dietary supplements, including herbal or botanical
supplements, talk to your doctor. Many herbal supplements have not been
adequately tested for safety in pregnancy.
meals around nutritious whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
Add sesame seeds, wheat germ, or nutritional yeast for flavor and
- Cooked leafy green vegetables are a powerhouse of nutrition. Add them to soups and casseroles.
- Snack on dried fruits and nuts to boost your intake of iron and other important trace nutrients.
|Sample Menu Plan for Pregnant Women
- 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal topped with 1/4 cup raisins and 1 cup fortified soymilk
- 2 slices whole-wheat toast with 2 tablespoons almond butter
- 3/4 cup calcium-fortified fruit juice
- Sandwich with 1/2 cup baked tofu, 2 slices whole-grain bread and lettuce
- 2 cups tossed salad with herbs and lemon juice
- 1 piece fruit
- 1 cup red beans and 1/2 cup rice
- 1/2 cup cooked broccoli with nutritional yeast
- 1 cup spinach salad
- 1 cup fortified soymilk
- 2 tablespoons nuts
- 1 cup mixed fruit
- 4 whole-wheat crackers
| *Be sure to include a reliable source of vitamin B12, such as many prenatal vitamins or fortified nondairy milk or cereal.
Guidelines for Good Health During Pregnancy
a healthful diet before you become pregnant. Your body stores of
nutrients support the early growth and development of your baby.
a steady rate of weight gain. Aim for about 2 to 4 pounds total during
the first trimester and then about 1 pound per week during the second
and third trimesters. If you were at a normal weight before you became
pregnant, the recommended weight gain overall is 25 to 35 pounds.
However, if you were underweight before pregnancy, you should gain 28
to 40 pounds, and if you were overweight, you should gain 15 to 25
pounds. Women carrying twins should gain 35 to 45 pounds.11
| See your health care provider regularly.
Do not consume alcohol or use tobacco products during pregnancy.
you choose to consume caffeinated beverages, limit caffeine intake to
<300 mg per day (the amount in about 3 cups of coffee).
during pregnancy is often beneficial to both mother and baby. Talk to
your doctor about an appropriate exercise plan for you.
Limit empty calories found in highly processed foods and sweets. Make your calories count!
guidelines for breastfeeding mothers are similar to those for pregnant
women. Milk production requires even more calories than pregnancy, so
you will need to boost your food intake a little bit. During the first
six months of breastfeeding, you need 500 calories more than you did
before you became pregnant. This drops to 400 additional calories
during the second six months of breastfeeding. Protein needs are the
same as during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy (an
additional 25 grams per day over pre-pregnancy needs).1
1. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference
intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol,
protein, and amino acids (macronutrients). Washington, DC: National
Academy Press; 2005.
2. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference
intakes for calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D, and fluoride.
washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1997.
3. Keller JL, Lanou A, Barnard ND. The consumer cost of calcium from food and supplements. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002;102(11):1669-1671.
4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World
Health Organization. Fats and oils in human nutrition: report of a
joint expert consultation. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations; 1994. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper, No. 57.
5. Reddy S, Sanders TA, Obeid O. The influence of maternal vegetarian diet on essential fatty acid status of the newborn. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1994;48(5):358-368.
6. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference
intakes for thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, and choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998.
7. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference
intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper,
iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and
zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2000.
8. World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations. Vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition.
2nd ed. Rome: World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations; 2004.
9. Messina VK, Mangels R, Messina M. The dietitian's guide to
vegetarian diets: issues and applications. 2nd ed. Sudburg, Mass: Jones
and Bartlett Publishers; 2004.
10. Holick MF. The vitamin D epidemic and its health consequences. J Nutr. 2005;135(11):2739S-2748S.
11. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Nutrition during pregnancy.
Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1990.