What nutrients do I need to consider while being pregnant and vegetarian or vegan?
There are a few key nutritional requirements for vegetarians and vegans in general, but they become especially important during pregnancy.
Caloric intake becomes especially important during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy when you need additional calories to support your baby’s growth and development in utero. Eating a wide variety of foods will help ensure you are getting enough nutrients and calories each day.
How many extra calories do I need?
During the second trimester you need approximately 350 more calories each day and 450-500 during the third trimester. A great way to add in these extra calories is by upping your typical portions during your meals or adding an extra few snacks throughout your day.
Iron-deficiency anemia is the number one micronutrient deficiency among women of child bearing age, therefore extra care is needed for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
During pregnancy your blood volume increases by about 50%, which means you are producing more red blood cells to support baby’s growth and need more iron to make this happen.
Iron from plant-based sources is non-heme and less bioavailable than heme iron from animal source, making it extra important to ensure you are getting enough iron in your meals but also helping support its absorption.
How do I help support iron’s absorption?
Plant based iron food sources include:
Folate (B9) & Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 and folate work together to aid in the development and growth of your baby, including DNA synthesis, brain development and the forming of red blood cells.
Having enough vitamin B12 and folate helps prevent neural tube defects and other complications associated with spine and brain development.
Your prenatal multivitamin should contain both folate and vitamin B12, however if your doctor or health care provider is monitoring your blood, they may suggest an additional supplement.
Vegetarians and vegans are especially at risk for B12 deficiency because the large majority of Vitamin B12 sources come from animal products.
Be sure to check in with your health care provider to make sure you are getting enough!
Plant based foods that contain folate:
Plant based foods that contain vitamin B12:
During pregnancy your body needs protein more than it ever did before! That’s because your body is busy building a baby and protein is the macronutrient used to build new cells. In fact, women’s protein needs increase during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, with the aim being between 75-100 grams of protein each day.
When following a vegetarian or vegan diet, getting enough protein could be a challenge. One tip is to ensure you are eating both grains and legumes throughout the day, this will help ensure you are getting complete proteins in your diet (meaning they contain all essential amino acids).
Great plant based protein sources:
Some other key nutrients to consider include: calcium, zinc, vitamin D, and essential fatty acids.
Calcium works with vitamin D to help support you and baby’s bone health. Interestingly, some research has shown that exercise can help improve calcium absorption. We commonly think of dairy products when thinking about calcium (yogurt, milks, cheese, etc.). However, many plant based dairy alternatives like coconut yogurt, almond milk, and dairy free cheeses are also fortified with calcium.
Where else can you find calcium?
Zinc is needed for cell growth and the production of DNA. Zinc becomes especially important during pregnancy because your baby is growing so rapidly. In addition, zinc needs increase during breastfeeding (something to think about during the postnatal period).
Plant based food sources of zinc:
Did you know?
Essential Fatty Acids
Include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both these essential fatty acids compete for absorption and therefore a balanced intake ratio is needed. Typically, in North American diets we tend to under consume omega-3s, which play a critical role in child cognitive functioning, nervous system and cell membrane development.
Often vegetarians & vegans get enough omega-6s from vegetable oils but not enough omega-3s.
Where can you find plant based sources of omega-3 fatty acids?
Many of our nutrient needs increase during pregnancy as we are supporting another life. If you are vegetarian or vegan you will need to ensure you are meeting nutrient requirements, especially for the nutrients mentioned above. In addition, it will be extremely important to take your prenatal supplement regularly, with potential additional supplements for vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Aim to consume a variety of nutrient dense foods and don’t restrict calories, that growing bump needs that extra support.
If you are concerned about your diet during pregnancy or needed help ensuring you are getting the nutrients you and your baby needs while following a plant based diet, consider consulting with someone like myself (a registered dietitian nutritionist) or another health care provider.
I offer a FREE 15-minute health chat, if you want any questions answered. Please send me an email at email@example.com if you’d like to set up your free health chat.
Some healthy snack ideas include: