What to eat when you're vegetarian and pregnant

No matter how long you’ve been vegetarian, becoming pregnant is likely to give you pause for thought.

Is a vegetarian diet healthy in pregnancy? Should I eat meat now I’m pregnant? Will my baby get all the nutrients they need if I’m vegetarian?

Luckily, there’s no need to worry, veggie mum-to-be. Providing you eat a balanced diet during pregnancy, your growing baby will get everything they need from their meat-free mum.

Read on for our top ten tips on nutrition, health and happiness as a pregnant vegetarian.

With celebs like Hollywood A-lister Natalie Portman, sports superstars Venus and Serena Williams, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, and Big Bang star Mayim Bialik all championing a plant-based diet, you’re in good company.

In fact, 375 million people in the world are vegetarian and it’s estimated that 10% of Brits have ditched meat from their diet.

With around 650,000 babies born in the UK each year, that’s equates to around 65,000 little veggies. So you’re not alone in being a meat-free mum-to-be.

Here are some tips to make your plant-based pregnancy diet work for you and your beautiful bump.

1. Tell your doctor

Being vegetarian isn’t unusual or unhealthy, but it is still worth letting your doctor and midwife know.

Don’t worry, your doctor won’t try to make you start eating steak just because you’re pregnant. Medical professionals know it is perfectly healthy to keep meat off the menu when you’re expecting.

But they will give you tips on healthy eating, advise on suitable supplements, and keep a special eye on you and your precious cargo.

2. Listen to your body, not the busy bodies

If you’ve ever told anyone you’re a vegetarian mum-to-be, you’ll know people sometimes react as if you've said you're a whiskey-drinking chain-smoker.

Even with vegetarianism being so common, you'll have to be prepared for people to have an opinion.

From the well-meaning but silly suggestions like ‘couldn’t you just eat a little bit of meat’ to the downright judgemental and misinformed warnings that you’re putting the baby at risk.

In actual fact, following a vegetarian diet in pregnancy is perfectly healthy. If you’re in any doubt, trust your medical team, not someone down the supermarket who says you’re selfish.

But most importantly, trust yourself.

You know your body:

  • eat when you’re hungry

  • rest when you’re tired

  • keep moving

  • relax, knowing you can balance your diet to meet your baby’s needs

3. Pack a protein punch

You’re making a whole new human in there, so protein is really important. Protein is the main building block for bodies, making the pudgy cheeks and lovely legs you’re going to want to chew.

As a veggie, it can be tricky to get enough protein, as meat is the most common source. But there are plenty of protein-rich foods that aren’t animal-based, such as:

  • dairy products

  • eggs

  • beans and legumes

  • soy-based food such as tofu and meat replacements

  • nuts and seeds

Read on for advice on how to easily include these into your diet.

4. Up your iron intake

Iron is essential for energy, something you might find in short supply in your first and third trimesters!

Most mums-to-be feel worn out at some point during their pregnancy. But if you are abnormally tired or washed out, it could be anaemia, which is when you haven’t got enough iron to make enough red blood cells.

Pregnant women make extra blood to carry nutrients over the placenta to baby, which is why it’s really important to keep an eye on your iron levels.

If you want to up your iron intake, here’s some places to find it:

· wholegrain foods like brown rice

· leafy greens like cabbage and spinach

· fortified breakfast cereals

· beans and legumes

· soy-based foods

So if you’re already upping your protein through foods like beans and tofu, you’re increasing your iron at the same time. Winner-winner, chicken-free dinner.

5. Top up with a tablet

If you’re still running low on iron, over-the-counter tablets can make up the shortfall.

Careful what you wash them down with though. Tannins in tea and coffee make it harder for the body to absorb iron. However, vitamin C is known to boost absorption, so taking your iron with a glass of orange juice is extra effective.

Can’t face the thought of OJ now you’re pregnant? You can buy Iron & Vitamin C tablets that deliver the winning combo without that queasy feeling.

Oh, and if you do take an iron supplement, don’t get a surprise when you see one of the side poo!

6. Build baby’s bones

Calcium helps your baby develop strong bones and teeth, as well as a healthy heart. And because we can’t make calcium, we have to get it entirely from our diet.

When you’re pregnant, health experts recommend eating four servings of calcium-rich foods a day.

If you’re not a fan of dairy, you’ll be pleased to know this doesn’t just mean milk, cheese and yoghurt. Other sources of calcium include leafy greens, soy products and fortified non-dairy milks (eg soy milk, nut milks).

And what’s good for baby is good for you too, as having a calcium-rich diet can reduce your risk of hypertension and pre-eclampsia. So grab a Babybel and get building!

7. Stock up on sunshine

To absorb calcium, your body needs Vitamin D, which is produced when we get direct sunlight on our skin. Between April and late September, most people can get enough vitamin D from sunlight and a balanced diet. So roll up those sleeves and enjoy a stroll as often as you can. (Don’t forget the sun cream!)

Walking is great for both mental health and physical fitness during pregnancy; busting stress, stretching your muscles, and getting extra blood pumping round your beautiful baby-making body.

From October to late March, when sunshine is in short supply, the NHS suggest everyone takes a vitamin D supplement. That’s no excuse to stop enjoying the benefits of exercising outdoors though. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!

Check out our range of super stretchy sportswear for active mums-to-be

8. Boost your B12 (and baby’s brain)

Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products and, since it plays an important role in your baby’s brain development, you should definitely aim to increase your intake during pregnancy.

Dairy products are a great source – cheese, yoghurt, milk - but if you’re vegan or just aren’t a fan of the white stuff, you may struggle to get your fill.

Breakfast is a good time to boost your B12 as it is found in fortified cereals and that famous love-it-or-hate-it savoury spread.

Our old friend soy is also a good source, so don’t forget to toss a little tofu into the mix.

9. Use your extra calories wisely – putting it all together

Most pregnant ladies will tell you they feel hungry. A lot! So it is a blessing that expectant mums are advised to eat an extra 300 calories a day in the second and third trimester.

If you’re a vegetarian, this is a good opportunity to add healthy extras that will boost your wellbeing and give baby everything they need to grow happily and healthily.

Wondering how to incorporate everything into your diet? Here are some ideas:

Boost your breakfast:

  • add a handful of nuts and seeds to your porridge

  • swap your usual toast topping for peanut butter or yeast extract

  • tuck into a fortified breakfast cereal

  • enjoy a cooked breakfast with baked beans, eggs and vegetarian sausages

Working lunch?

  • Add tofu and beans to your usual salad

  • Make protein-packed mini omelettes using a muffin tin – add spinach for a boost of iron

  • Have a baby-building veggie BLT using facon, spinach and tomato

Delicious dinner

  • Make a Mexican feast with bean chilli and brown rice, topped with avocado and cheese

  • Fake a tasty spag bol with soy mince and wholegrain spaghetti

  • Swap your usual veg for leafy greens

And don’t forget the guilty pleasure of eating more cheese! So long as you avoid blue, unpasteurised or soft cheese, feel free to snack on Cheddar, Cheshire or whatever else tops your cracker.

10. Finally...Relax

When you’re pregnant, advice comes at you from all angles. As you read our top tips, remember that women have been having babies long before internet advice, baby gurus and pregnancy classes. So whilst it’s great to be informed, don’t get stressed and obsessed.

A happy mum is a healthy mum, so make sure you make time for you and do what makes you happy. Your free time should be me time! See your friends and enjoy a yoga class, put your feet up with a fruit tea, or catch up over a caffeine-free coffee and a slice of cake.

And there you have it. Our top tips for a healthy vegetarian pregnancy. Eat your greens, add some beans, stick to your guns and enjoy the sun :-) Good luck, meat-free mum-to-be - we know you’re going to smash it out of the park.

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