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Having a healthy pregnancy on a vegetarian or vegan diet

Being pregnant brings a plethora of questions regarding what women should eat or how much they should eat. There are many many guidelines on nutrition during pregnancy and it can be quite overwhelming for women to know what’s best for them. It’s even more true for vegetarian or vegan women. Even the most committed and knowledgeable may face doubts when pregnant as they may face tough questions from birth professionals. Let’s have a look at what each group need to be aware of to go through a healthy and happy pregnancy both for mother and baby.

A healthy vegetarian diet during pregnancy

If you eat a variety of healthy vegetarian foods, you should be able to get all the vitamins, minerals, protein and other nutrients that you and your baby need. Have something from each of these three main food groups every day:

Fruit and vegetables - which can be a combination of fresh and frozen - try to have five portions a day. A glass of fresh fruit or vegetable juice is one portion.

Starchy, filling foods (carbohydrates), such as wholegrain bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. Wholemeal and wholegrain options will fill you up and will help to prevent constipation.

Protein-rich foods, such as eggs, pulses and nuts are also good sources of iron.Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, if you are not lactose intolerant

It's especially important to include enough protein, iron and calcium in your diet. Try to eat one or more of these sources of iron every day - green vegetables and pulses.

Avoid having tea and coffee with your meals, as these drinks contain tannins and polyphenols, which make it harder for your body to absorb iron from vegetables. However, if you have food or drink that is rich in vitamin C with your meals, such as orange juice or broccoli, it helps your body to absorb iron.

What to be aware of when vegan and pregnant?

One of the most common question asked if you are vegan is “do you get enough proteins in your diet?” During pregnancy, you should you get around 75 g of proteins daily. Proteins are essential to the growth of your cells, so it’s no wonder they are an important part of your pregnancy diet. Getting enough protein is vital to your baby’s growth. The third trimester of your pregnancy is when your baby’s brain will be developing. Proteins high in omega-3 fatty acids like DHA provide the nutrients necessary for proper cognitive activity and growth. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to get an adequate amount of protein during those last few months of pregnancy. Good sources include chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts, and try to use rapeseed oil for cooking.

The other question vegans get asked often is about calcium and vit D. Most people think the only good source of calcium are dairy products but the best bioavailable forms of calcium – are from dark leafy vegetables like kale and also from almonds & sesame seed. Calcium also works with other vitamins like Vitamin D, so make sure you are also benefitting from some sun exposure and eat vitamin D rich foods (fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks, sesame seeds and tahini, pulses) brown and white bread (in the UK, calcium is added to white and brown flour by law) dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots

Vitamin B12

The regular use of vitamin B12 supplements or fortified foods is recommended for all pregnant vegans as vitamin B12 plays an important role in the developing foetus. Fortified cereals are a good source and of course you can take specially formulated food supplements for vegans.

A vegetarian or vegan diet doesn’t mean your health or your baby’s health is at a higher risk of being depleted of essentials nutrients. If you choose carefully your sources of proteins and have a diet rich in dark leafy vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and good oils you are set to give your baby and yourself a very healthy start.

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