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Diseases & Conditions

Nutrition During Pregnancy for Vegetarians

Types of vegetarians

  • Vegan -- This diet includes fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, seeds, and nuts. All animal sources of protein — including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, and other dairy products — are excluded from the diet.
  • Lactovegetarian -- This diet includes dairy products in addition to the foods listed above in the vegan diet. Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are excluded from the diet.
  • Lacto-ovovegetarian -- This diet includes dairy products and eggs in addition to the foods listed above in the vegan diet. Meat, poultry, and fish are excluded from the diet.
  • Pescatarian -- This diet includes dairy products and eggs in addition to the foods listed above in the vegan diet. Meat and poultry are excluded from the diet, but fish is permitted, focusing on the fattier omega-3 rich varieties.

Vegetarian nutrition

Your baby can receive the nutrition needed to grow and develop while you follow a vegetarian meal plan. During pregnancy, it is important to choose a variety of foods that provide enough protein and calories for you and your baby. Depending on the type of vegetarian meal plan you follow, you might need to adjust your eating habits. Follow the guidelines below for healthy vegetarian eating during pregnancy.

Goals for healthy eating

  • During pregnancy, you don't need extra calories for the first 3 months. During the last six months, normal weight women need an extra 300 calories from nutrient-rich foods to help your baby grow.
  • Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. The "Vegetarian Foods to Choose" chart below provides the number of servings to eat from each food group every day. If you do not eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy products, you will need to include other sources of protein in your daily diet. Other protein sources include nuts, peanut butter, legumes, soy products, quinoa, and tofu.
  • Choose foods high in starch and fiber such as whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Eat and drink at least four servings of calcium-rich foods a day to help ensure that you are getting 1200 mg. of calcium in your daily diet. Sources of calcium include dairy products, seafood, leafy green vegetables, dried beans or peas, and tofu.
  • Vitamin D will help your body use calcium. Adequate amounts of vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to the sun and in fortified milk, eggs, and fish. Vegans should receive 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight to the hands, face, or arms three times per week or take a supplement as prescribed by their health care providers.
  • Eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods per day to ensure you are getting 27 mg. of iron in your daily diet. Sources of iron include enriched grain products (rice), eggs, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, dried beans and peas, raisins, prunes, and peanuts.
  • Choose at least one source of vitamin C every day. Sources of vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, honeydew, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green peppers, tomatoes, and mustard greens.
  • Choose at least one source of folic acid every day. Sources of folic acid include dark, green, leafy vegetables, and legumes such as lima beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, and chickpeas.
  • Choose at least one source of vitamin A every other day. Sources of vitamin A include carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, spinach, squash, turnip greens, beet greens, apricots, and cantaloupe.
  • Choose at least one source of vitamin B 12 a day. Vitamin B 12 is found in animal products including fish and shellfish, eggs, and dairy products. Vegans are at risk of not consuming enough vitamin B 12. Your health care provider might recommend a vitamin B 12 supplement.
  • Avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol has been linked to premature delivery and low birth weight babies. If you think you might have a problem with alcohol use, please talk to your health care provider so he or she can help protect you and your baby.
  • Limit caffeine to no more than 300 mg. per day (two 5-ounce cups of coffee, three 5-ounce cups of tea, or two 12-ounce glasses of caffeinated soda). Remember, chocolate contains caffeine -- the amount of caffeine in a chocolate bar is equal to 1/4 cup of coffee.
  • The use of non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is acceptable during pregnancy. These FDA-approved sweeteners include aspartame and acesulfame-K. The use of saccharin is strongly discouraged during pregnancy because it can cross the placenta and might remain in fetal tissues. Talk with your health care provider about how much non-nutritive sweetener is acceptable during pregnancy.
  • Limit salty foods -- Salt causes your body to retain water. Although there is no documented risk to mother or baby, you might want to limit extra salty foods to avoid feeling overly bloated. Do not restrict salt unless prescribed by your health care provider.
  • Decrease the total amount of fat you eat to 30 percent or less of your total daily calories. For a person eating 2000 calories a day, this would be 65 grams of fat or less per day.
  • Limit cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams (mg) or less per day.
  • DO NOT DIET or try to lose weight during pregnancy. -- Both you and your baby need the proper nutrients in order to be healthy. Keep in mind that you will lose some weight the first week your baby is born.
Breads and grains

9 or more servings/day

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/2 bagel or English muffin
  • 1 rice cake
  • 6 crackers (such as matzo, bread sticks, rye crisps, saltines, or 3 graham crackers)
  • 3/4 cup ready to eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup pasta or rice
  • Small plain baked potato
  • 1 small pancake
  • 1 6-inch tortilla
Fruits and vegetables

4 or more servings/day of vegetables / 3 or more servings of fruit

  • 3/4 cup fruit juice or 1/2 cup vegetable juice
  • 1 piece fresh fruit
  • 1 melon wedge
  • 1/2 cup chopped, cooked or canned fruit
  • 1/2 cup cooked or canned vegetables
  • 1 cup chopped, uncooked vegetables

4 or more servings/day

  • 1 cup low-fat milk or soy milk
  • 1 cup low-fat yogurt
  • 1 1/2 ounces of cheese
  • 1/2 cup of cottage cheese

3 servings per day

  • 1/2 cup cooked dried beans or peas
  • 1/2 cup tofu
  • 1/4 cup nuts or seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • One egg or two egg whites
Fats and oils

In limited amounts (about 5 to 8 tsp./day)

  • Olive, canola, or peanut oils
  • Tub margarine
  • Fat-free salad dressing
Sweets and snacks

In limited amounts

  • Fat-free baked goods
  • Sherbet, sorbet, Italian ice, popsicles
  • Low-fat frozen yogurt
  • Angel food cake
  • Fig bars
  • Gingersnaps
  • Jelly beans, hard candy
  • Plain popcorn
  • Pretzels

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/22/2009…#4724