Is a Vegetarian Diet Safe During Pregnancy?

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Yes, a vegetarian diet is safe during pregnancy if care is taken to include the right vegetarian foods. The bottom line is eating right to ensure healthy development of the baby in your womb. Being vegetarian may be a result of several reasons like religious beliefs, personal choice or allergies.

To begin with, the types of vegetarian diets must be understood.

Is a Vegetarian Diet Safe During Pregnancy?

Vegan - Fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, seeds and nuts are included in this diet. Foods excluded from this diet are all animal sources of protein and dairy products.

Pescatarian - Fish, dairy, eggs and all the foods included in the vegan diet are a part of this diet. Meat and poultry are excluded.

Lactovegetarian - As the name suggests this diet includes dairy products in addition to the foods mentioned in the vegan diet. Poultry, meat and fish are excluded.

Lact-ovovegetarian - This diet includes eggs and dairy products in addition to the foods mentioned in the vegan diet. Poultry, meat and fish are excluded.

Depending on the type of vegetarian, the following dietary recommendations will give an insight to what foods must be included in the diet and what nutrients they provide.

Recommendations for eating right during pregnancy

• Contrary to popular belief, you are not eating for two during pregnancy. The first trimester of pregnancy does not require the mother to eat any extra calories. For the second and third trimester an additional 300 Calories is necessary for a woman of normal weight. This will help in the growth and development of the fetus.

• Include protein rich foods in the diet. It is especially easy to lose out on protein in a vegan diet. To avoid this include pulses and legumes in your meals. Fish, eggs and low fat dairy products are also excellent sources of protein.

Pregnancy: Protein rich foods in the diet

• The fetus needs calcium to develop healthy bones. The recommendation of calcium per day for a pregnant woman is 1,200mg. To obtain this quantity of calcium, 3 to 4 servings of calcium rich food must be included. Green leafy vegetables, peas, dried beans, tofu, dairy products and sea food are good sources of calcium.

• Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption. Sources of vitamin D are fortified dairy products, eggs, fish and exposure to sunlight for about 10 to 15 minutes a day (important for vegans).

• Choose high starch and fiber foods. Fiber in the diet will alleviate symptoms of constipation which is experienced by many women during pregnancy. Starchy foods will keep you feeling full. Choose from foods like bread, pasta, fruits, vegetables, rice and cereals.

Pregnancy: Fiber foods

• Include at least one serving of Vitamin C every day. Vitamin C is essential to maintain a healthy immune system. This will prevent the onset of infection in the mother and fetus. Oranges, mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kiwis, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, tomatoes and strawberries are good sources of Vitamin C.

• The requirement for iron is 27mg per day. Three servings of iron rich foods a day will meet this requirement. Sources of iron are eggs, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, enriched grains like rice, peas, peanuts, sweet potatoes, meat and liver. Iron requires Vitamin C for optimum absorption – a squeeze of lime on a green salad will deal with this.

• Folic acid is vital for the neural and spinal cord development of the fetus. One serving of folic acid a day will meet the requirement. Chickpeas, dark green leafy vegetables, lima beans, black beans, black-eyed peas and other legumes are rich in folic acid. Women who are looking to conceive must also include these foods in their diet to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

• Include one source of Vitamin A in the diet, daily. Vitamin A plays a role in the development of sight. Pumpkins, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, cantaloupe and apricots are good sources of Vitamin A.

Pregnancy: Vitamin A food

• Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is important for brain and nervous function. Include foods like eggs, milk, fish, shell fish and cheese. Vegans might have to consult their physician for a supplement, if necessary.

• Exercise. It is healthy to exercise moderately during pregnancy. Check with your physician how much exercise is recommended.

Pregnancy: Exercise

Foods to Avoid and Limit

• Avoid alcohol - Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has serious consequences like premature delivery and low birth weight.

• Avoid artificial sweeteners - Sweeteners which contain saccharin are not FDA approved for pregnancy.

Pregnancy: Avoid artificial sweeteners

• Do not go on a diet during pregnancy. Pregnancy is not the time to focus on weight loss. This will hinder the health of the mother and baby.

• Limit Caffeine - Caffeine consumption is limited to 300mg a day. This is about two 150mL cups of coffee or three 150mL cups of tea. Remember that chocolate and some sodas also contain caffeine.

• Limit Salt - Excess salt in the diet leads to water retention. Bloating causes discomfort during pregnancy.

• Limit fat and cholesterol intake - This may not seem like a big concern to those on a vegetarian diet but there are some foods which contain hidden fat and cholesterol such as vegetables puffs prepared with margarine or vegetable fat.

There are no real disadvantages being vegetarian during pregnancy if the diet is based on the guidelines discussed in this article. As long as there is variety in the diet and right food choices are made the baby will have a healthy development. Consult with a physician and a nutritionist to make sure the diet is sufficient and if not, what kind of supplements are needed.


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