Vegetarian diet during pregnancy

A balanced vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy. If you eat a vegetarian diet, pay special attention to getting enough protein, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, and iron while you are pregnant and breast-feeding. These nutrients are vital to your fetus's cellular growth, brain and organ development, and weight gain.

Consider working with a registered dietitian to be sure you are eating a balanced diet, particularly if you plan to eat a vegan diet. A vegan diet places both you and your fetus at risk of being poorly nourished during your pregnancy.

  • Protein. Protein is made of building blocks called amino acids, which are essential to fetal cell growth and development. Dairy products, eggs, fish, seafood, poultry, and meat are excellent sources of the essential amino acids. While a vegetarian menu that includes eggs and dairy provides quality protein, a plant food–only vegan diet requires careful planning. A variety of plant-based protein sources must be included in your daily diet.
  • Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is found only in foods from animal sources, such as milk, eggs, and meat. To support a vegan diet, be sure to eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 (such as fortified soy milk) or take a supplement that contains vitamin B12.
  • Iron. Iron from plant foods is not absorbed as well as iron from meats. Include beans, lentils, and leafy green vegetables in your diet. Try not to rely too heavily on cheese (a very poor source of iron) for protein. Eat foods that contain vitamin C to improve the absorption of iron from a meal.
  • Calcium. If you don't use milk or milk products, be sure to get calcium from other sources. Soy milk fortified with calcium is a good source. Nonmilk sources of calcium include calcium-enriched tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice, corn tortillas made with lime (calcium carbonate), almonds, turnip greens, broccoli, mustard greens, kale, and blackstrap molasses.
  • Zinc. Zinc from plant foods is poorly absorbed by the body, so make an effort to get enough zinc in your diet. Good sources of zinc include leavened whole grains (such as whole-wheat bread), legumes (beans and lentils), soy foods, vegetables, and milk and yogurt.
  • Vitamin D. If you don't use milk or milk products, be sure to get enough vitamin D from other sources. Soy milk is often fortified with vitamin D, as are some cereals. Your body can also produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight on a regular basis. Supplements may be necessary if you don't consume a source of vitamin D and don't get adequate sunlight.

Prenatal vitamins are very important for pregnant women who are on a vegan diet.

For more information, see the Special Issues section of the topic Healthy Eating.

Last Updated: November 28, 2008

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