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Is a Vegetarian Diet a Good Idea in Pregnancy?

By Published On: August 6th, 2012

If you are a vegetarian Mum to be – or are planning to become a Mum to Be – you will probably hear a lot of advice from well meaning friends and family members that you should add meat back into your diet “for the sake of the Baby”. The fact is that that is quite simply not true. A vegetarian – or even a vegan – diet is quite safe for a Mum to Be to follow throughout her pregnancy.

In some ways a lot of vegetarian Mums to Be have an advantage over meat eating Mums to be in that their diet tends to be at least a little bit healthier. As a veggie you will have to take a little time to come up with just the right eating plan but you may actually have an easier time doing so than your carnivorous peers!

Types of Vegetarian

The term vegetarian actually means different things to different people. Many vegetarians follow what is called an ovo lacto vegetarian diet. This is a fancy term that means a person does not eat meat in any form but they do still eat dairy products and eggs. A lacto vegetarian is someone who has a very similar diet but they have cut out the eggs as well.

Veganism is more about lifestyle than diet. Vegans do not eat – or wear – any animal products, or byproducts at all. Being vegan and pregnant is going to take a little more effort to make sure that every dietary need a Mum to be has is met but that is still perfectly possible.

Vegetarian Mums to Be and Protein

The biggest reason all those well meaning souls will cite for adding meat back into your diet is the fact that Mums to Be need to make sure they get enough protein. The getting enough protein advice is absolutely correct but meat is far from the only source of protein in common foods!

There are plenty of ways that a vegetarian, and yes even a vegan, can get the 60-70 grams of protein a day that it is generally recommended that pregnant women consume and the chances are that most vegetarians are already pretty close to that number with their everyday diet. Legumes, nuts and the kinds of meat substitute soy products that many vegetarians and vegans already eat are all protein rich.

Soy itself can be particularly important to a pregnant veggie. The type of protein found in plants is a little different to the type of protein found in meat and ideally you do need both. Soy is almost perfect in this regard though as it is the only plant based food that contains all nine essential amino acids that meat protein does and in addition a simple veggie burger contains far more fiber than a meat version does, something that many women do not realize they are not getting enough of until digestive problems like constipation crop up to make their pregnancy that little bit harder!

Vegetarian Mums to Be and Calcium

Calcium is also a very important part of a healthy pregnancy diet for both vegetarians and meat eaters. As the foods that are rich in calcium tend to be things that a lacto vegetarian eats everyday anyway – dairy products and leafy greens not getting enough calcium is probably not an issue. Even vegans can keep up with their calcium intake thanks to things like soy milk, spinach, black beans and almonds.

Vegetarian Mums to Be and Iron

Another concern that many people will express about a Mum to be’s vegetarian diet is whether or not it is providing her with enough iron. Pregnancy related iron deficiency is a concern for Mums to be but it is one for both meat eaters and veggies alike. The difficulty is usually not getting enough iron but how well the body absorbs the iron that it does intake.

To help address the issue any Mum to be should try adding some of the foods that are known to aid iron absorption into their diet. These include any food that contains a good amount of Vitamin C and vegetarians usually do a better job of getting enough vitamin C than many meat eaters anyway.

In some cases doctors may prescribe a pregnant woman a separate iron supplement in their second or third trimester anyway if they are concerned that iron deficient anemia might become a concern. Ask your doctor before you start taking one on your own though because some people prone to iron deficiency cannot even absorb the iron in a supplement and direct injections are occasionally called for.

Vegetarian Mums to Be and Folic Acid

Folic acid is crucial for a healthy pregnancy as it can go a long way to helping prevent birth defects as well as enhance the Baby’s developing brain. This tends to be another area where vegetarian Mums to be are already in better shape than many meat eaters. There are higher levels of folic acid in leafy greens, whole grains and fortified cereals, all food items that often a veggie will eat more often than a non veggie anyway.

Overcoming Objections to Your Vegetarian Diet in Pregnancy

If you have been a vegetarian for a while you will already know that lots of people still believe that eating meat is the only way you can consume a healthy diet. As you can now see they are wrong but that will rarely change some people’s minds.

One of the biggest challenges many vegetarian Mums to be face is not eating right but warding off criticism from others, usually the people who believe that a big juicy steak is the only way to true dietary perfection. It’s hard to ignore those people sometimes but you should. If vegetarianism works for you then it will continue to work for you in pregnancy too, so follow the diet that you enjoy sensibly and learn to give a small dismissive smile to those meat fans who try to bring you back to “their side”!