To some people, the words “vegetarian” and “healthy” always go together. But that’s not necessarily the case. A vegetarian diet can still be very high in fat and sodium, depending on what you are selecting. This means it’s still extremely important to make good choices for a healthy vegetarian diet, especially if you’re pregnant.
You want to eat healthy and consume all of the essential vitamins and nutrients your developing baby needs. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind when choosing your meals every day during your vegetarian pregnancy.
- Calcium. You can get calcium from beans, legumes, broccoli and dark green veggies. Aim for four servings of calcium-rich foods, including nonfat or low-fat cow’s milk or calcium and vitamin D fortified soy milk.
- Protein. This is often a top concern of vegetarians, pregnant or not. But it’s really not that hard to get enough protein by drinking cow’s milk or soy milk and eating plenty of whole grains, beans, cheese, tofu and yogurt. Try to eat about four servings of cooked dried beans and peas each day. They are full of protein, in addition to zinc, iron and folic acid, all of which are very important during pregnancy as well.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. These play an important role in your baby’s brain and vision development and are much harder to find for vegetarians who don’t eat any fish. Look for flax seed, walnuts, dark leafy green vegetables, kidney and pinto beans, squash, canola oil, broccoli, cauliflower and papaya to meet your daily requirement. It might also be a good idea to ask your doctor about omega-3 supplements during pregnancy.
- Whole grains. I can’t emphasize enough how important whole grains are. They give you more protein than a processed grain product. You also get a higher fiber content, which is important since some women have issues with constipation. Whole grains also contain a lot of vitamins and essential fatty acids you don’t get with refined grains.
- Iron. There is a lot of iron in meat, so sometimes this is an issue for vegetarians. But if you go back to those legumes and dark green veggies, they have a high iron content. It’s an old school method, but try cooking in a cast iron skillet. The iron from the pan will actually leech into your food. If you do have an issue with iron anemia, try to consume your iron food sources separate from calcium food sources. For example, don’t drink milk while eating beans. Drink it separately. Calcium and iron compete for the same absorption site in the gut, so if you consume them at the same time, they are competing for that absorption.
- Fruits and vegetables. Eat as many of these as possible daily, up to eight to ten servings. They contain a huge variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are all important for your health and your baby’s health.
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