Vegetarian Diets for Pregnancy

neural tube defects and serves other functions as well. Folate
is especially important in the rst weeks of pregnancy, and it
is therefore important that all women of childbearing age get
adequate amounts daily. As its name (derived from the word
foliage”) implies, its natural source is leafy greens. Legumes
are also rich in folate. Because diets can be erratic, it is prudent
to take a multiple vitamin or other supplement that provides
at least 400 μg/day. Many breakfast cereals and other grain
products are now fortied with folate. During pregnancy, 600
μg/day of folate is needed.
Iron: Iron needs increase during pregnancy to aid in
the development of the fetus and placenta and to maintain
increased maternal blood volume. e DRI for women ages
19-50 is 18 mg/day, increasing to 27 mg/day during pregnancy.
Iron needs may be greater for those on a vegetarian diet
because of less ecient absorption of iron from nonanimal
Iron supplements (or prenatal vitamins containing
iron) are oen prescribed for women on any kind of diet, as
it is dicult for any woman to meet increased needs through
diet alone.
Vegetarian women should include iron-rich plant foods
daily, in addition to taking their prescribed vitamins or
supplements. Iron supplements should not be taken at the
same time as tea, coffee, or calcium supplements. Dairy
products decrease iron absorption and should be avoided.
Iron sources include whole and enriched grains, legumes,
nuts, seeds, dark green vegetables, dried fruit, and blackstrap
molasses. Including vitamin C-rich foods at meals can increase
absorption of iron from these sources.
Protein: e DRI for women ages 19-50 is 46 g/day, in-
creasing to 71 g/day during the second and third trimesters of
pregnancy (25 grams more than pre-pregnancy needs).
is a greater increase than previously recommended; however,
it is still easy to meet these protein needs on a vegetarian
diet. DRIs are intended to cover the needs for 97.5 percent of
the population, so actual needs for most individuals may be
slightly lower than this.
Protein sources on a vegetarian diet include whole grains,
beans and legumes, soy products, vegetables, and nuts and
seeds. A balanced vegetarian diet, providing adequate calories
and including these foods, will likely meet protein needs.
e meal-planning chart above provides plenty of protein for
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 needs increase only slightly
during pregnancy, increasing from 2.4 μg/day for women ages
19-50 to 2.6 μg/day during pregnancy.
Vitamin B12 is found
in fortied foods, such as fortied cereals, meat substitutes,
nondairy milk, and nutritional yeast. Be certain to check
the labels to nd out which foods are fortied. Seaweed and
foods like tempeh are generally not good sources of vitamin
B12. To be sure of getting adequate B12, it is prudent to take a
prenatal vitamin containing vitamin B12 or to take a vitamin
B12 supplement.
Vitamin D: Although vitamin D needs during pregnancy
are the same as before pregnancy (5 μg per day),
it is important
to both mother and baby to ensure adequate intake. Vitamin D
is made in the body as the result of exposure to sunlight. For
many people, 5 to 15 minutes per day of sun between the hours
of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the arms and legs or hands, face, and
arms during the spring, the summer, and the fall is sucient
to meet vitamin D needs.
is nutrient is poorly supplied in all diets unless people
use foods that are fortied with it. Many brands of ready-to-
eat cereals and nondairy milks are fortied with vitamin D.
Pregnant women who dont regularly spend time in the sun,
live in northern latitudes, or have darker skin will want to be
sure to include fortied foods in their diet. Many prenatal
vitamins contain adequate amounts of vitamin D as well.
Zinc: Zinc needs increase during pregnancy. e DRI for
women ages 19-50 is 8 mg/day and increases to 11 mg/day
during pregnancy.
Needs for women following a vegetarian
diet may be higher, however, because of lower absorption of
zinc on a plant-based diet.
Zinc is oen included in prenatal vitamins. In addition,
zinc is found in legumes, nuts, whole grains, and cereals.
Zinc absorption from plant-based sources can be increased
by including sprouted grains, beans, or seeds and yeast-
raised breads in the diet, soaking and cooking legumes, and
combining zinc sources with acidic ingredients such as lemon
juice or tomato sauce.
A note about dietary supplements: Your doctor may
recommend a supplement to ensure you are meeting your
vitamin/mineral needs. Most prenatal vitamins will be
adequate to cover your needs. If you are interested in taking
any additional dietary supplements, including herbal or
botanical supplements, talk to your doctor. Many herbal
supplements have not been adequately tested for safety in
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