Vegetarian Diet during Pregnancy – Food Resources and Menu Plan

A pregnant woman making a salad

Vegetarian diets have no meat in them, and many women make this choice either as a cultural consequence or that they just don’t want to consume meat for other reasons. During pregnancy when the body’s nutritional needs are high, a variety of vegetarian foods need to be included in the diet to get the nutrients required by the baby.

Does a Vegetarian Diet have Optimal Nutrients for Pregnancy?

Yes, it’s possible to gain all the essential nutrients you need at optimal levels from vegetarian food during pregnancy. Your diet needs to be rich in a variety of food types every day, and you may even have to rely on fortified foods or take supplements to get enough nutrients on a daily basis. A diet consisting of fruits, legumes and non-dairy milk every day is what you will need during your pregnancy along with supplements for some of the critical nutrients.

Nutrients Essential in Pregnancy with their Vegetarian Food Resources

Vegetarian foods

These are the essential nutrients your body needs during pregnancy:

1. Protein

Protein is highly essential to building the cells in the body and secretion of hormones for the growing baby.

Importance

If you are okay with dairy products such as milk, curd and eggs, you can get all the protein and amino acids you need from them. Vegans will have to add vegetable-based proteins and supplement the vitamins.

Per Day Intake

75 grams.

Vegetarian Resources

Some of the protein-rich vegetarian food during pregnancy includes:

  • Chickpeas, split or green peas
  • Kidney, navy, black and pinto beans
  • Quinoa
  • Oatmeal
  • Buckwheat, bulgar, whole wheat couscous
  • Whole-grain cereals and bread
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Walnuts, pistachios, cashews, almonds, pine nuts, Brazil nuts and nut butter
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu and Miso

2. Calcium

Calcium is needed for building bones and the functioning of nervous system, heart and muscles especially during the third trimester.

Importance

Calcium is so important that when the diet is deficient, the body naturally takes calcium from the mother’s bones to nourish the fetus which puts the mother at high risk of osteoporosis.

Per Day Intake

1,000mg

Vegetarian Resources

  • Milk, Yogurt, cheese
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu
  • Calcium-fortified citrus juices

3. Iron

Iron is needed to form the red blood cells in the blood that transport oxygen.

Importance

Pregnancy increases your blood volume by about 50% to support your baby’s growth. Deficiency of Iron can lead to anaemia, and low birth weight of babies or in some cases cause preterm labour. Both vegetarians and meat eaters need plenty of Iron and should take supplements if they are found to be deficient.

Per Day Intake

27mg

Vegetarian Resources

Here are some iron-rich vegetarian foods during pregnancy:

  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Edamame
  • Soy products
  • Oat Bran
  • Barley

4. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient needed especially in the first trimester for the proper development of the brain and formation of genetic material and blood.

Importance

Deficiency of B12 can lead to neural tube defects and increased risk of preterm labour. Since Vitamin B12 is abundant in non-vegetarian foods, vegetarians and especially vegans are at a higher risk of deficiency. Vitamin B12 goes along with folic acid which is another critical nutrient can be supplemented in the prenatal vitamin prescribed by your doctor.

Per Day Intake

2.6 mcg per day.

Vegetarian Resources

  • Vitamin B12 fortified cereals, soy milk and meat substitutes
  • Nutritional yeast

5. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is critical for the absorption of calcium by the body.

Importance

Deficiency of Vitamin D leads to complications such as congenital rickets, a condition where the bones of newborn babies are improperly formed, weak and fracture easily.

Per Day Intake

5mcg per day.

Vegetarian Resources

  • Vitamin D supplements
  • Milk
  • Sunlight

6. Zinc

Zinc is essential as building blocks for DNA in the baby’s body.

Importance

It helps in the building new cells and the replication of DNA during pregnancy. It also supports tissue growth and normal development of the body in babies. Zinc is often added to the prenatal vitamins as vegetarian sources of zinc does not allow for good absorption of the mineral.

Per Day Intake

11mg

Vegetarian Resources

  • Sprouted grains and seeds
  • legumes

7. Iodine

Iodine is essential for the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system.

Importance

It also plays a role in the regulation of the thyroid gland function and the metabolic rate. Lack of iodine is linked to a risk of preterm delivery, miscarriage and stillbirth.

Per Day Intake

220mcg

Vegetarian Resources

8. DHA

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is deficient in vegetarian diets as a rich source of these comes from fish, fish oil and algae.

Importance

It is important for the development of the baby’s eyes and brain, and it has been observed that DHA is deficient in the umbilical cord and plasma of babies of vegetarian mothers.

Per Day Intake

1.4g

Vegetarian Resources

Vegetarian Food Types with Servings Requirement for Pregnant Women

To get all the essential nutrients from a vegetarian-only food source for the healthy development of the baby, pregnant women need to follow a diet consisting of these food items:

1. Vegetables

4 or more serving of vegetables is needed every day. Each serving consists of 1 cup of cooked or raw vegetables that have at least one dark green vegetable.

2. Fruits

Fruits can be taken raw or in some types, cooked. 4 or more servings every day with each serving consisting of a ½ cup cooked fruit and 1 cup raw. Also add ¼ cup dried fruits, ¾ cup of fruit juice and 1 piece of fruit.

3. Whole Grains, Bread, Cereals

9 or more servings every day. One serving consisting of a slice of bread, or half a bun. ½ cup of cooked rice or other cereal or pasta. ¾ or 1 cup of fortified ready-to-eat cereal.

4. Nuts, Seeds, Wheat Germ

1 or 2 servings a day is good enough. Each serving has 2 tablespoons of seeds or nuts, 2 tablespoons of wheat germ and 2 tablespoons of nut butter.

5. Legumes, Soy Products, Nondairy Milk

You’ll need 5-6 servings of this every day for good protein intake. One serving is ½ cup cooked beans, tempeh or tofu, 225 grams of fortified soy or other non-dairy milk and about 85 grams of meat analogue.

Sample Vegetarian Pregnancy Diet Menu Plan

Here is a vegetarian pregnancy diet plan that offers you all the nutrients your body needs in a day:

Breakfast
  • 1 Cup of ready-to-eat cereal Vit B-12 fortified, top it with ¼ cup raisins and 1 cup of fortified soymilk.
  • Whole-wheat toast 2 slices with 2 tablespoons of almond butter.
  • ¾ cup of any fruit juice that is calcium fortified.
Lunch
  • Sandwich with 2 slices of whole-grain bread, lettuce and ½ cup baked tofu.
  • 2 cups tossed salad sprinkled with herbs
  • Lemon juice and 1 piece fruit
Dinner
  • ½ cup rice with 1 cup red beans
  • ½ cup of cooked broccoli with nutritional yeast
  • Spinach salad 1 cup
  • Fortified soymilk 1 cup
Snacks
  • 2 tablespoons of nuts
  • 1 bowl of mixed fruit
  • 3-4 whole-wheat crackers

You can obtain all the essential nutrients by combining a wholesome vegetarian diet with prenatal supplements.

Also Read: Foods that can Cause Miscarriage in Early Pregnancy