So you're pregnant and thinking about how to best nourish youself and your growing baby bump. There are many guidelines on nutrition during pregnancy and it can be quite overwhelming for women to know what’s best for them. It’s even more true for vegetarians and vegans. Even the most committed and knowledgeable may face doubts when pregnant. Let’s have a look at what each group needs to be aware in order to enjoy a healthy pregnancy.
A healthy vegetarian diet during pregnancy
If you eat a variety of healthy vegetarian foods, you should be able to get all the vitamins, minerals, protein and other nutrients that you and your baby need. Have something from each of these four main food groups every day:
· Fruit and vegetables - a combination of fresh and frozen vegetable is fine, and try to have five portions a day. A glass of fresh fruit or vegetable juice counts as one portion.
· Carbohydrates - these starchy, filling foods include wholegrain bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. Wholemeal and wholegrain options are healthier, will fill you up and help to prevent constipation.
· Protein - eggs, beans, pulses and nuts are also a good sources of iron.
· Dairy - these milk, cheese and yoghurt, if you are not lactose intolerant
It's especially important to include enough vegetarian protein, iron and calcium in your diet. Try to eat one or more of these sources of iron every day: green vegetables and pulses.Avoid having tea and coffee with your meals, as these drinks contain tannins and polyphenols, which make it harder for your body to absorb iron from vegetables. However, if you have food or drink that is rich in vitamin C with your meals, such as orange juice or broccoli, it helps your body to absorb iron.
What to be aware of when vegan and pregnantOne of the most common questions asked if you are vegan is how do to get enough proteins in your diet. During pregnancy, you should you get around 75g of protein daily. Proteins are essential to the growth of your cells, so it’s no wonder they are an important part of your pregnancy diet. Getting enough protein is vital to your baby’s growth.
The third trimester of your pregnancy is when your baby’s brain will be developing. Proteins high in omega-3 fatty acids like DHA provide the nutrients necessary for proper cognitive activity and growth. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to get an adequate amount of protein during those last few months of pregnancy. Good sources include chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts, and try to use rapeseed oil for cooking.
The other question vegans get asked often is about calcium and vitamin D. Most people think the only good source of calcium are dairy products but the best bioavailable forms of calcium are from dark leafy vegetables like kale, as well as from almonds and sesame seeds. Calcium also works with other vitamins like vitamin D, so make sure you are also benefitting from some sun exposure and eat vitamin D rich foods (fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks, sesame seeds and tahini, pulses) brown and white bread (in the UK, calcium is added to white and brown flour by law) dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricotsThe regular use of vitamin B12 supplements or fortified foods is recommended for all pregnant vegans as vitamin B12 is found primarily in foods of animal origin and plays an important role in the developing foetus. Fortified cereals are a good source and of course you can take specially formulated food supplements for vegans.
A vegetarian or vegan diet doesn’t mean your health or your baby’s health is at a higher risk of being depleted of essentials nutrients. If you choose carefully, your sources of proteins and have a diet rich in dark leafy vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and good oils you are set to give your baby and yourself a very healthy start.Stay healthy, stay happy!
Naturopath and Hypnobirthing Practitioner