Nutrition in Pregnancy for Vegetarians

Vegetarian nutrition
Your baby can receive the nutrition needed to grow and develop while you follow a vegetarian meal plan. During pregnancy, it is important to choose a variety of foods that provide enough protein and calories for you and your baby. Depending on the type of vegetarian meal plan you follow, you may need to adjust your eating habits. Follow the guidelines below for healthy vegetarian eating during pregnancy. 

Types of vegetarians

  • Vegan — diet includes fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, seeds and nuts. All animal sources of protein including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products are excluded from the diet.
  • Lactovegetarian — diet includes dairy products in addition to the foods listed above in the vegan diet. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs are excluded from the diet.
  • Lacto-ovovegetarian — diet includes dairy products and eggs in addition to the foods listed above in the vegan diet. Meat, poultry and fish are excluded from the diet.

Goals for Healthy Eating

  • During pregnancy, you need extra calories from nutrient-rich foods to help your baby grow. You should consume 200 to 300 more calories than you did before you became pregnant.
  • Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. The “Vegetarian Foods to Choose” chart listed below provides the number of servings to eat from each food group every day.
    **If you do not eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy products, you will need to include other sources of protein in your daily diet. Other protein sources include nuts, peanut butter, legumes, soy products and tofu.
  • Choose foods high in starch and fiber such as whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat and drink at least 4 servings of calcium-rich foods a day to help ensure that you are getting 1200 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 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. Vegans should receive 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight to the hands, face or arms three times per week or take a supplement as prescribed by their health care provider.
  • Eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods per day to ensure you are getting 18 mg. of iron in your daily diet. Sources of iron include enriched grain products (rice), eggs, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, dried beans and peas, raisins, prunes and peanuts.
  • Choose at least one source of Vitamin C every day. Sources of Vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, honeydew, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, green peppers, tomatoes and mustard greens.
  • Choose at least one source of folic acid every day. Sources of folic acid include dark green leafy vegetables, legumes such as lima beans, black beans, blackeyed peas and chickpeas.
  • Choose at least one source of Vitamin A every other day. Sources of Vitamin A include carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, spinach, squash, turnip greens, beet greens, apricots and cantaloupe.
  • Choose at least one source of Vitamin B 12 a day. Vitamin B 12 is found in animal products including fish and shellfish, eggs and dairy products. Vegans are at risk of not consuming enough Vitamin B 12.  Your health care provider may recommend a Vitamin B 12 supplement.
  • Avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol has been linked to premature delivery and low birth weight babies. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol use, please talk to your health care provider so he or she can help protect you and your baby.
  • Limit caffeine to no more than 300 mg. per day (two 5-ounce cups of coffee, three 5-ounce cups of tea or two 12-ounce glasses of caffeinated soda). Remember, chocolate contains caffeine — the amount of caffeine in a chocolate bar is equal to 1/4 cup of coffee.
  • The use of non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration is acceptable during pregnancy.  These FDA approved sweeteners include aspartame and acesulfame-K.  The use of saccharin is strongly discouraged during pregnancy because it can cross the placenta and may remain in fetal tissues.  Talk with your health care provider about how much non-nutritive sweetener is acceptable during pregnancy.
  • Limit salty foods Salt causes your body to retain water. While there is no documented risk to mother or baby, you may want to limit extra salty foods to avoid feeling overly bloated. Do not restrict salt unless prescribed by your health care provider.
  • Decrease the total amount of fat you eat to 30% or less of your total daily calories. For a person eating 2000 calories a day, this would be 65 grams of fat or less per day.
  • Limit cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams (mg) or less per day.
  • DO NOT DIET or try to lose weight during pregnancy — both you and your baby need the proper nutrients in order to be healthy. Keep in mind that you will lose some weight the first week your baby is born.