Is it bad to be vegetarian while pregnant?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is it bad to be vegetarian while pregnant?” and will discuss what nutrients are essential in a  vegetarian diet while being pregnant.

Is it bad to be vegetarian while pregnant?

Maybe, it is bad to be vegetarian while being pregnant. Pregnant women should eat a well-balanced, nutritious vegetarian diet. If it doesn’t, it’s likely to be deficient in certain vital nutrients. The risk of low birth weight or birth abnormalities is increased by vegetarian diets that are deficient in essential nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, DHA, and iron.

On the other hand, vegetarian diets have long been considered safe for the mother and the offspring, provided that they are well planned. This condition is easily reached in developed countries where access to food sources is not a problem and the woman receives specific education on the matter (1).

When You’re pregnant and vegetarian, what nutrients should you be especially mindful about obtaining?

When you’re pregnant and following a vegetarian or vegetarian diet, you should be aware of the importance of protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

Protein

Why: This crucial vitamin helps build cells and generate hormones for your developing baby, so pregnant women need more protein than ever before. Vegetarians who consume dairy and eggs may already be getting all the protein they need from other sources (are you wanting omelets and yogurt now that you’re pregnant?). Veggie-based proteins are an option if you’re concerned about your protein intake or if you’re vegetarian.

Studies showed that in a rat model, protein deficiency in pregnancy results in decreased birth weight, decreased heart weight, increased heart rate and increased systolic blood pressure. In general, animal protein is of higher quality than vegetable protein, suggesting that meat should be the main source of protein in pregnancy, but mixing different types of vegetables increases the quality of plant protein substantially (2).

Protein requirement: Per day 75 grams

Vegetarian pregnant women should consume the following protein sources: A diet rich in legumes, whole grains, soy, nuts, and seeds.

·         Peas

·         Chickpeas

·         Various types of beans such as black, navy, kidney, and pinto.

·         Quinoa

·         Whole wheat, bulgur, and buckwheat couscous

·         Oatmeal

·         Whole-grain pasta

·         Cereals and bread made with whole grains are healthier options.

·         nut butter

·         Pistachios, cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, and pine nuts are also included.

·         Soy milk

·         Tofu

·         Miso

Calcium

Why: The third trimester is critical for the development of your baby’s bones, muscles, heart, and nervous system, so make sure you get enough calcium while you’re pregnant. If you don’t provide him with enough nutrients from your diet, he’ll try to obtain them from your bones, increasing your risk of osteoporosis later in life.

The main source of calcium is milk and milk products (50%), cereals (11%) and vegetables (11%). It is crucial for bone metabolism but also related to birth weight, risk of preterm labor and appropriate blood pressure (2). 

Dairy products aren’t the only way to meet your daily calcium needs, but there are plenty of other possibilities. Taking a calcium supplement may also be recommended by your doctor as an additional layer of protection. However, Ca bioavailability in food depends on the presence of other substances that can inhibit its absorption, such as phytates, uronic acids, oxalic acid or sodium. Plant-based nutrition can provide adequate quantities of Ca and other nutrients useful for bone health. Moreover, some mineral or tap waters can consistently contribute to dietary Ca intake (1).

The recommended daily dosage is 1,000 mg

The following foods are excellent sources of calcium for vegetarians who are pregnant or breastfeeding:

·         Cheese made with yogurt milk

·         Vegetables that are rich in chlorophyll

·         Soy milk

·         Orange juice

·         Tofu

Iron

Why: Pregnancy causes a 50% rise in blood volume, which necessitates an increase in the amount of iron in your body. What’s wrong with you? Anemia, if left untreated, may lead to premature labor and low birth weight in the mother and baby.

Pregnant vegetarians alike need to be aware of their iron levels, even if they don’t eat meat. Pregnant women and meat-eaters alike find it difficult to receive the nutrition they need from their diets.

Iron is a mineral of particular concern during pregnancy because its deficiency is associated with adverse birth outcomes such as SGA (small for gestational age) fetuses, PD (preterm delivery) and delayed neurological development in infants, especially if deficiency is present during the first half of pregnancy. Due to higher iron demands from the fetus, all pregnant women are at risk of iron deficiency (with an overall prevalence of 7 to 30%) and, regardless of the type of diet, the recommended daily iron intake is nearly doubled during pregnancy (1).

After the 20th week of pregnancy, your practitioner may prescribe that you take an iron supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamin (or earlier, if routine testing shows your iron stores are low). It’s also a good idea to eat foods high in iron.

These foods are excellent sources of iron for vegetarians who are expecting a child:

·         Beans

·         Edamame

·         Plant-based foodstuffs

·         Oat flour

·         Barley

·         Quinoa

·         Bulgur

·         The seeds of a pumpkin

·         Frozen or canned fruits

·         Collard greens, kale, or spinach

·         Seaweed

Vitamin B12

Why: Vitamin B12 and folic acid work together to ensure appropriate embryonic brain development, as well as the generation of red blood cells and the construction of genetic material. Neural tube abnormalities and premature labor have been related to a deficit.

Even though B12 deficiency is very uncommon, vegetarians commonly lack this vitamin since it can only be found in animal products. To make sure you don’t receive too much of a good thing, check with your doctor or midwife to see whether you need more B12 or folic acid supplements.

Vegetarian diets are at serious risk of vitamin B12 depletion and/or deficiency, an essential micronutrient that plays a specific role in the synthesis of DNA and red blood cell division and in one carbon metabolism. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that transfers the methyl group in a methionine synthase-requiring reaction, converting homocysteine to methionine. It is essential for the synthesis of energy in mitochondria and for erythropoiesis in the bone marrow. In addition, it is also necessary for the synthesis of myelin and the maintenance of neural axons (3).

Per day, you should take 2.6 mcg.

Pregnant vegetarians should take the best sources of vitamin B12:

·         Soy milk enriched with vitamin B12

·         Cultivated grains

Vitamin D

Deficiencies in this essential vitamin may lead to tooth decay and bone fractures. Congenital rickets (a disorder that causes the bones to become soft and fragile, resulting in poor development and skeletal abnormalities) and bone fractures in neonates have been associated with severe deficiency. 

Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy can also represent a risk for birth outcomes such as reduced birth weight, preeclampsia (hypertension during pregnancy), preterm delivery, gestational diabetes and cesarean section (1). Below adequate levels of 25(OH)D3 (< 20 ng/ml) are related to adverse outcomes later in life, such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, neurological disorders and autoimmune conditions (2).

The following foods are high in vitamin D and are safe for pregnant vegetarians to consume:

Soy milk, bread, carrots, almonds, cereals, and orange juice are all good sources of vitamin D but they aren’t quite enough to meet your needs. Fortunately, a dietary supplement may provide you with the nutrients you need. A vitamin D level test and a prescription for a supplement may be obtained from your doctor.

If you become vegetarian, how will you know if there is a problem?

Having a healthy pregnancy and child is entirely possible if you:

·         Focus on the nutrients listed above for a well-balanced pregnancy diet.

·         Every day, take your prenatal vitamins. 

 ·         Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing throughout your pregnancy. Your doctor will keep a close eye on you and make sure you’re getting the nutrition you need to be healthy.

Other FAQs about Vegetarians that you may be interested in.

Can vegetarians eat gelatin?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Is it bad to be vegetarian while pregnant?” and discussed risks associated with a vegetarian diet while being pregnant.

References

  1. Baroni, Luciana, et al. Vegetarian diets during pregnancy: effects on the mother’s health. A systematic review. Food Func, 2021, 12, 466-493.
  2. Danielewicz, H., et al. Diet in pregnancy—more than food. Europe J Pediat, 2017, 176, 1573-1579.
  3. Sebastiani, Giorgia, et al. The effects of vegetarian and vegan diet during pregnancy on the health of mothers and offspring. Nutrients, 2019, 11, 557.