Dr Marci Bowers, an OB/GYN in Trinidad, Colorado says a vegetarian diet during pregnancy is absolutely healthy and very compatible with pregnancy. "You simply do not need a PhD in biochemistry in order to eat healthy during pregnancy," says Dr Bowers. "A bit of creativity and common sense are all that are required."
"The main precaution would be to not eliminate any food groups," says Katharine Burton, a registered dietitian at Emanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon. The vegetarian diet needs to be filled with nutritious whole foods that include adequate amounts of protein, iron, fiber, calcium and water. Burton recommends that pregnant vegetarian women fill up on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, soy and diary foods.
During pregnancy there is an increased need for nutrients such as iron, protein, calcium and folic acid. Your body requires an additional 100 calories per day during the first trimester and approximately 300 additional calories per day after that. The extra calories need to be in the form of nutrient-rich foods and not processed, high-sugar and high-fat foods, Dr Bowers says.
Getting enough protein during pregnancy is often a concern that vegetarian women have. Burton recommends that protein consumption be increased by an additional 20 percent each day. Good vegetarian sources of protein include eating a variety of beans, hummus, soy products, tofu and tempeh.
Burton says during pregnancy iron requirements are at their highest. Eating dark leafy green vegetables each day, such as spinach, kale and broccoli will provide iron, as will nuts, seeds and some cereals.
To help the body absorb iron, include citrus fruits and avoid caffeine, which will inhibit absorption. Dr Bowers suggests making your own salad dressings that will help iron absorption by using lemon juice and olive oil as a base with other seasonings (e.g., dill, garlic).
Dr Bowers says calcium requirements can be met through eating kale, broccoli, leafy greens and spinach. Burton adds that calcium can also be obtained through dairy and fortified soy products.
Good sources of folic acid are breakfast cereals fortified with the B vitamin, lentils, asparagus, spinach; black beans, peanuts, orange juice (from concentrate is best), enriched breads and pasta, Romaine lettuce and broccoli, according to The March of Dimes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends pregnant women consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
Pregnant women often have food aversions and cravings, and there are no clear cut answers as to why this happens. There are many vegetarian women that find they crave meat during their pregnancy. Some professionals suggest that one's body may be craving some a nutrient that is missing. In the case of a vegetarian craving meat, some professionals believe that it's possible the body needs more iron.
"I remember that day when I called hubby at work and told him to bring home some chicken for dinner," says Sarah Glenn of Irvine, California. She had been a vegetarian for two years before becoming pregnant. Within the first two months of her pregnancy she started craving poultry and ate chicken throughout her pregnancy. She returned to her vegetarian diet a couple of months postpartum.
Melissa Palma, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a vegan at the time of her pregnancy, never craved meat but she did crave eggs at one point. She satisfied that craving by making tofu scrambles and eggless tofu sandwiches. Along with taking prenatal vitamins she also spent a month tracking her nutrition to ensure that she was getting an adequate supply of protein.
Being vegetarian and craving something you have shunned can make you feel a bit bewildered. Some women choose to try to ignore the cravings or find a substitute for the meat item, while other women temporarily give in to the cravings and resume their normal eating pattern after giving birth. You should choose whichever option will make you feel the most comfortable and, as always, speak to your doctor about any concerns you may have.