Is a Vegetarian Diet Safe for Pregnant Women?
Jessica Patrick, RD, LDN has been a dietitian with Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital for five years and works with medical surgical patients, oncology and gastrointestinal disorders.
As a vegetarian, she knows first-hand the challenges of eating carefully. Learn how Jessica got enough protein and created a healthy, well-balanced diet while she was pregnant with her daughter, Eden Grace, who was born September 19 at 9 pounds 6 ounces and 19 1/2 inches.
Jessica Patrick, RD, LDN
Then there are all the “rules” to try and remember: no sprouts, no unpasteurized cheese, no alcohol, limited caffeine and sugar substitutes, no fish high in mercury, among others. Being a vegetarian on top of all this can leave vegetarian moms-to-be with a challenge when it comes to eating a healthy well-balanced diet.
Being a dietitian, I think about food and pairing the “right” foods together more than the average person. I also happen to be a pregnant vegetarian. During pregnancy especially, people want to know how I get enough protein.
Most people do not realize that the average American far exceeds their daily protein needs. Getting adequate protein in a vegetarian diet is not hard as long as you’re mindful about what you’re eating.
Pregnant or lactating moms need about 70 grams of protein daily. This is most important during the second and third trimesters when the baby is growing at its fastest rate.
In my first trimester, protein intake was the last of my concerns; I was having enough trouble eating anything. I knew I had to get serious about protein when my body started to cooperate. I became intentional about adding diary, beans, soy products, eggs, peanut butter, or nuts to my meals/snacks. I didn’t start having larger servings of these foods—I just made sure they were part of my meals.
One of my favorite and easiest high-protein foods is Greek yogurt. One cup provides almost 1/3 of the daily protein need. By comparison, one cup of milk has eight grams of protein, one cup of beans or lentils has around 15 grams and one egg has six grams of protein. The great thing about all these high protein foods is that they carry many other benefits. For instance, dairy is rich in calcium and vitamin D, while beans and lentils are high in fiber (to help with pregnancy-induced constipation), vitamin B6 and iron.
A growing baby needs lots of different vitamins and minerals. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains will help provide both mom and baby with multiple vital nutrients. Healthcare providers are careful to make sure pregnant women are on a multivitamin with iron and folic acid.
However, our bodies use most of the nutrients found in food better those found in supplements. Supplements are good to cover any deficiencies, but it does not give us an excuse to slack on eating a healthy, balanced diet. Research has shown that babies can taste the foods mom eats during pregnancy when they intake amniotic fluid. So pregnancy can be a great time to get your baby introduced and used to nutritious foods!
Thanks to Sheila Galloro for the original article on the Northwestern Memorial News Blog.