Who needs meat for a healthy pregnancy? Not you! It is entirely possible to enjoy a healthy vegetarian pregnancy. In fact, many cultures around the world embrace meat-light or meat-free diets and have perfectly healthy babies. However, it is a fact that some nutrients are harder to find in the plant kingdom. Such nutrients do exist, but will need to be consumed at higher amounts. Supplementation is also a must during vegetarian pregnancies. What are these pregnancy foods anyway? Let’s take a look at a few vital nutrients your baby needs while he or she is developing.
Protein exists as an essential building block of life, and your baby will need a lot of it. Fortunately, there are many sources of protein beyond just meat. Greek yogurt, soy milk, beans and legumes, tofu, and whole grains are great pregnancy foods, and all offer excellent sources of protein. Just be sure you’re monitoring your daily intake to ensure you’re meeting not only your body’s needs, but you’re growing baby’s needs as well. And don’t forget to be creative: a well-planned morning smoothie can be packed with delicious protein to start your day.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These are one of the healthy fats our bodies need to function properly; they play a vital role in brain and vision development in utero, and continue to help the brain process information throughout our lives. Interestingly, the human body can’t synthesize this compound. This means that we must eat it in order to maintain our health. The highest sources of omega-3s exist in cold water fish. However it can also be found in lower levels in dark, leafy green veggies, flax seed, broccoli, and walnuts. Vegetarian supplements sourced from algae are also highly recommended for women eliminating fish from their diets. Omega-3 is such an important nutrient that many food manufacturers now fortify products including milk, eggs, yogurt, and cereal with DHA. However, such manufacturers may not list the source of their omega-3 DHA on the label.
B12 is an essential vitamin that aids your baby’s developing brain and nervous systems. This vitamin can be found in milk, egg yolks, and a variety of soy products including fortified soy milk and fermented foods such as tempeh. Vegetarians should include at least one serving of such products into their diet on a daily basis. A diet rich in B12 may reduce the severity and/or the duration of morning sickness in expectant mothers as well.
A mama can only drink so much cow milk. When you’ve had enough dairy, consider adding a rotation of soybeans to your daily diet. This bean is kind of like a wonder bean: it provides high amounts of protein (the highest of any bean) and is equally rich in calcium and iron. Enjoy them raw, steamed, or in fermented soy products such as miso. It’s better to skip products with soy protein isolates, such as soy burgers, because much of the nutrition is lost.
Most of today’s grocery stores carry a wide variety of vegetarian-friendly products and you can easily find good pregnancy foods on their shelves. Vegetarians can enjoy a tasty selection of beans and legumes; they no longer need to rely on canned versions that are typically high in sodium. And many stores now carry meat substitutes—and if they don’t, online ordering can deliver whatever you’d like to your door within a week or less. Another benefit to online shopping is your ability to purchase items such as flax seed, nuts, and algal-sourced DHA in bulk at a discount. Following a vegetarian life choice can certainly result in a healthy pregnancy and baby—as long as you monitor the intake of vital nutrients.