If you’re pregnant, or trying for a baby, and eat a vegetarian diet, make sure you read this post on how to have a healthy vegetarian pregnancy.
It includes advice on what vegetarians should eat and avoid eating during pregnancy, and where you can source the vitamins and minerals you might be deficient in when you’re expecting a baby and eat a meat-free diet.
What Is A Vegetarian Diet And How Many Vegetarians Are There In The UK?
- Vegetarians eat a diet that excludes meat and meat by-products.
- There are several different types of vegetarian diets that might also exclude all of, or a combination of, fish or shellfish, dairy products and eggs.
- It is estimated that around 6% of the UK population is vegetarian, which is more than 3.1 million people.
- A vegetarian diet is becoming increasingly popular. Almost 500,000 people gave up eating meat in 2020, which is double the figures for 2019.
Is A Vegetarian Diet Safe During Pregnancy?
It is important for all women to eat a healthy diet during pregnancy. Eating a healthy diet during pregnancy can help support your own health and the development and growth of your baby.
It is safe to continue eating a vegetarian diet during pregnancy, as long as your diet contains the right building blocks such as protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates, from which you should get the vital vitamins and minerals that all women need for a healthy pregnancy to support their baby. For women following a vegetarian diet, these vitamins and minerals will need to be sourced from food other than meat.
You can read more about a healthy diet when you’re expecting a baby and what to eat and avoid eating in our post on pregnancy foods.
What Should Vegetarians Eat During Pregnancy?
Here Are The Vitamins And Minerals You Might Be Deficient In During Pregnancy If You Are A Vegetarian
If you’re a vegetarian, you need to make sure you consume enough iron and vitamin B12 - which are mainly found in meat and fish – as well as vitamin D.
You also need to check you are eating enough protein, calcium, folate, and iodine, as well as the types of and levels of vitamins recommended for all women trying for a baby or who are pregnant. This includes folic acid.
How Do I Get Enough Iron In My Pregnancy Diet If I’m A Vegetarian?
Iron is commonly found in meat and fish, so vegetarians will need to make sure they are getting this from other sources, especially during pregnancy.
Alternative sources of iron for vegetarians are:
- Dark Green Vegetables Such As Spinach And Broccoli
- Wholemeal Bread
- Fortified Breakfast Cereals (With Added Iron)
- Dried Fruit, Such As Apricots
How Do I Get Enough Vitamin B12 In My Pregnancy Diet If I’m A Vegetarian?
Good sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians are:
- Milk And Cheese
- Fortified Breakfast Cereals
- Fortified Unsweetened Soya Drinks
- Yeast Extract, such As Marmite
How Do I Get Enough Vitamin D During Pregnancy In My Vegetarian Diet?
Although we source vitamin D from sunlight, it is found in egg yolk and foods specially fortified with vitamin D, including some breads, breakfast cereals and most fat spreads.
However, it is difficult to get enough from foods that naturally contain vitamin D and/or fortified foods alone.
For this reason, the UK Department of Health recommend that everyone consider taking a daily supplement of 10μg of vitamin D between September and March, this includes pregnant women, and breastfeeding mums.
You may be at particular risk of not having enough vitamin D if you have dark skin (for example, if you're of African, African Caribbean or south Asian origin). If you cover your skin when outside or spend lots of time indoors you might also not have enough vitamin D. You may need to consider taking a daily supplement of vitamin D all year. Talk to a midwife or doctor for advice.
Pregnacare supplements for during pregnancy include the recommended 10μg of vitamin D. Read more about vitamins and the reason to consider taking a combined pregnancy supplement.
How Do I Get Enough Folic Acid During Pregnancy In My Vegetarian Diet?
The UK Department of Health recommends that all women take a daily supplement containing 400μg of folic acid when trying for a baby, and for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, to help reduce the risk of Neutral Tube Defects (NTDs) such as Spina Bifida, in your baby. Supplemental folic acid intake increases maternal folate status. Low maternal folate status is a risk factor in the development of neural tube defects in the developing foetus. Folic Acid is also beneficial beyond 12 weeks as it contributes to maternal tissue growth during pregnancy.
There are natural sources of folic acid in food, including:
- Wholemeal Bread
- Leafy Green Vegetables
- Brussels Sprouts
Although it is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet, including these foods, before and during pregnancy, it would be incredibly difficult to eat enough to get the right amount of extra folic acid for this time purely from food. This is why it is so important to take supplements containing the recommended level of folic acid if you're thinking about getting pregnant and during pregnancy.
The UK government announced in September 2021 the good news that folic acid will be added to UK white flour in the future (the new rules will exclude gluten-free and wholemeal flour). This is to help increase the amount of folic acid in maternal diets, as low folic acid status is a risk factor in the development of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida. This will, however, not replace the need for mums-to-be to take a folic acid supplement, as the UK Department of Health continues to recommend that all women trying to conceive until the 12th week of pregnancy should take a daily supplement containing 400µg folic acid. You will still need to take a supplement containing folic acid as fortification is only to improve the folic acid contribution from the normal diet.
Make sure you read our post on why folic is so important before and during pregnancy.
Protein - How Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein During Pregnancy?
Protein is essential for the growth and development of your baby’s muscles, tissues, and cells. While protein is found in meats including turkey and chicken, there are plenty of high protein vegetarian options available.
Good sources of protein for vegetarians include:
- Lentils And Beans
- Meat Alternatives Such As Quorn (which is safe to eat during pregnancy)
- Well-Cooked Eggs And Dairy
Try to include a protein-rich food at every meal.
Calcium – How Do Vegetarians Get Enough Calcium During Pregnancy?
- Calcium is vital for the development of your baby’s bones, teeth, and cells, so it’s important to ensure your diet is high in calcium.
- If you eat dairy products, then animal milks, cheese and yogurts are excellent high calcium foods.
- If not, vegetarian options are also good – just make sure your milk is enriched with added calcium (as some non-animal milks e.g., rice and oat milk are naturally lower in calcium).
- Pulses, tofu, nuts and sesame seeds, tahini and dried fruit are all good sources of calcium.
Iodine – How Do Vegetarians Get Enough Iodine During Pregnancy?
Iodine intake is a consideration during pregnancy and breastfeeding, when the body naturally needs more iodine as pregnant women must produce more thyroid hormone for her own and her baby’s needs, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy when the baby’s thyroid function has not yet developed. Iodine contributes to the normal production of thyroid hormones and normal thyroid function.
Natural sources of iodine include milk, sea fish and shellfish but for vegetarians, it can also be found in plant foods, such as cereals and grains, but the levels vary depending on the amount of iodine in the soil where the plants are grown.
Iodine is also included in the Pregnacare range.
What Should Vegetarians Not Eat During Pregnancy?
You can read more about what food to avoid during pregnancy in our post on pregnancy foods.
Do I Need To Tell My Doctor And Midwife That I’m A Vegetarian?
It’s likely that you will be asked about your diet during your booking-in appointment with your midwife. If not, you should mention it to your doctor or midwife so they can answer any questions you might have about having a healthy vegetarian pregnancy.
Which Of The Pregnacare Supplements Are Suitable For Vegetarians?
In terms of the Pregnacare range, the prenatal vitamin supplements that are suitable for women following a vegetarian diet are:
- Pregnacare Conception
- Pregnacare Original
- Pregnacare Liquid
- Pregnacare Gummies
Find out more about the benefits of taking a combined pregnancy supplement here.
UK Diet Trends: https://www.finder.com/uk/uk-diet-trends