You’ve been a vegetarian before pregnancy and want to continue with the same diet regimen during pregnancy, and you wonder whether this type of diet will favorably affect the development of your baby?
The answer is yes! Be assured that vegetarianism and pregnancy go hand-in-hand. Studies show that woman who is fed a well planned vegetarian diet during pregnancy can give birth to a completely healthy child. All you need is to eat diversely and choose those foods that will provide adequate daily amounts of all essential nutrients during this special period.
What type of vegetarian diet I can and what type I must not adhere to during pregnancy?
You have still decided on a vegetarian diet, and now you are in doubt which type is best for you? There are 4 types of vegetarian diets: a strict vegetarian diet (includes only foods of plant origin: legumes, grains fruits, vegetables…), lactovegetarian (together with plant food, consumption of milk and dairy products is allowed), ovo-vegetarian (consumption of plant food and eggs is permitted), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (this diet consists of grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, milk and dairy products and eggs).
During pregnancy, you must not choose the strict vegetarian diet! With this type of vegetarian diet, pregnant women cannot eat meat, or fish, or eggs, or dairy products. Thus the fetus is not getting enough of necessary amino acids, and the formation of the brain does not occur correctly. You must bear in mind that the body of your future child will lack even basic materials: iron and vitamin B12, as well as vitamins A, D and E. The situation with vitamin B12 is especially alarming (it is not found in vegetables, even in cereals).
The situation is somewhat better if you opted for lacto-ovo-vegetarianism because it will be easier to obtain your daily requirement for nutrients, as you consume milk (lacto), dairy products and eggs (ovo), compared to strict vegetarians who completely avoid foods of animal origin.
However, we recommend that during pregnancy you choose a restrictive form of vegetarianism – semivegetarianism, that is, that along to your “lacto-ovo-vegetarian foods” (foods of plant origin, eggs, milk and dairy products) you take chicken meat and fish.
Will my vegetarian diet provide all the necessary nutrients?
Daily needs for nutrients (especially vitamins or proteins) of your body, but also in the developing fetus, are significantly increased compared to the period before pregnancy. The key to a “healthy” vegetarian diet during this period is inappropriate selection and combination of foods rich in nutrients necessary for the development of your child. Due to the reduced intake of products of animal origin, a deficit of protein, zinc, iron, calcium and vitamins B12, A, D and E is possible.
Proteins (or amino acids) are a vital component that participates in the construction of fetal organs (brain, heart, liver). Therefore, unless you get good amounts of “building material” (the fetus does not possess reserves of protein) there is a very real risk of developmental disorders. The less diverse the nutrition of the expectant mom, the higher the risk. The consequences of iron deficiency (anemia), vitamin B12 (risk of anemia and neurological abnormalities), folic acid (damage to the fetus), vitamin E (leading to disruption of metabolic processes, changes in the work of the central nervous system and muscle weakness in the pregnant women) are non-negligible.
What foods should be present in the vegetarian menu оf a pregnant woman?
You already know that the needs for nutrients during pregnancy are significantly increased. In addition, you mustn’t neglect the fact that a vegetarian diet is deficient in protein and vitamins and minerals. Therefore, in your daily menu there must be present foods that will provide all the essential nutrients, namely:
- Milk and dairy products (cheese, yogurt, sour cream…) are an excellent natural source of calcium (needs during pregnancy are 1,500 mg daily), vitamin B12 and valuable protein. Allergies to cow’s milk are common during pregnancy. In these cases, use as a substitute soy milk fortified with calcium and tofu.
- Cereals and cereal products – wheat, bread and pastries from whole grain cereals (black rye bread, graham bread, bread with bran), brewer’s yeast, will grace your body plenty of protein and vitamin B complex.
- Fish and seafood shall satisfy the need for proteins as good as meat. In addition, these foods are a great source of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Do not disregard the use of chicken meat and eggs.
- When it comes to fat, use olive oil (cold pressed), pumpkin, corn or sunflower oil (they contain essential amino acids), and be “more economical” in the use of butter and margarine. Do not ignore the fish oil as an excellent source of provitamin D (in the body, under the influence of sunlight, it turns into vitamin D).
- Vegetables – all categories: leafy, root, flower and bud vegetables (source of iron, protein, and vitamins C and B complex), raw or cooked, in large quantities. Be sure to use legumes: soy, beans, peas.
- Fresh fruit (apples, pears, strawberries, oranges, kiwi, watermelon and other fresh fruit), core and dried fruit (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, prunes), as well as juices from freshly squeezed fruits.
- Salt – very moderate – do not add salt to the food at the table;
- Beverages – unsweetened herbal teas, plain and mineral water in unlimited quantities;
- Coffee – no more than two cups a day!
Do you need to take extra vitamins and minerals?
Pregnant lacto-ovo-vegetarians or semi-vegetarians aren’t exposed to a greater risk of nutrient deficiency. However, due to the reduced use of foods of animal origin. they may have difficulty in satisfying their daily needs for protein, zinc, iron, calcium, and vitamins B12 and D.
Usability of vitamins and minerals can be improved by a proper combination of foods. For example, the absorption of iron from plant foods can be increased with a combination of citrus fruits rich in vitamin C (helps absorption). However, these nutrients should be administered in the form of additional preparations. It is mandatory to consult with your doctor on using them and use them in prescribed quantities. Note that vitamin pills are never a substitute for food!