Pregnant women like to eat – and they often like to eat a lot. I always like to remind myself that I am eating for 1.1, not two. I’ve marveled at how my appetite has actually stayed in check (but yet my belly keeps growing and growing as if I’m feeding her 3,000 calories per day).
As if eating healthy wasn’t hard enough, when you compound it with the extra needs for pregnancy, it can seem overwhelming. Tack a vegan pregnancy on top of that and your doctor’s eyes might bug out of her head. “Oh, you’ll never get the nutrition you need!” she might exclaim. “You need dairy for calcium, meat for protein and to take plenty of supplements.”
This is definitely not the case. While it’s important to know what nutrients to get (and to be as healthy as possible before you conceive) if you understand what vegetarian sources are available to you in plant form, it makes the job of proper nutrition a whole lot easier.
So, what exactly do you need? While every individual is different, there are some basic nutritional needs that all pregnant women need to adhere to:
- First trimester: 0 extra calories (unless you are underweight)
- Second trimester: 250-350 extra calories
- Third trimester: 450 extra calories
Make sure these extra calories come from good sources and not processed foods, like muffins or pizza. For example, a medium sized apple with 2 Tbs. of almond butter more than covers that 250-350 calorie range. Be smart about what you put in your body, so you can make room for your growing baby. The baby truly eats what you eat – you can set him/her up for proper nutrition by monitoring what you eat during pregnancy.
Protein: An additional 10-15 grams of protein per day should be supplied to the diet. If you are a vegetarian, these can come from sources like hemp, legumes, nuts and whole grains (other sources include enriched non-dairy milk, tofu, tempeh, nut butters, seeds, and higher protein pseudograins such as quinoa). To figure out your protein needs, use the following equation:
Your weight X .36 + 10 grams = daily protein needs
Vitamin B12: This vitamin is used for tissue synthesis. It is essential for a healthy nervous system and smooth muscle movement. B12 is not always plentiful in plant foods. Good sources include: chlorella, miso, nutritional yeast, fortified soymilk and tofu, and fortified ready-to-eat cereals. There is a wonderful product called Vegetarian Support Formula Nutritional Yeast, which provides the daily requirement for B12 in a little more than a tablespoon.
Iron: Many women suffer from anemia, even during pregnancy. Iron is tantamount to facilitate red blood cell health. Enough iron ensures the body is able to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the extremities. Make sure to eat plenty of leafy green veggies, such as spinach or kale, dried beans and legumes (especially split peas), pumpkin seeds, and dried fruits. If necessary, an iron supplement may be recommended if you can’t keep your iron levels up. (However, it’s always best to get iron from food as supplements can back you up and be harsh on your system.)
Calcium/Vitamin D: These vitamins help bones and teeth, which are important to a child’s development. 95% of the body’s calcium is stored in the skeleton. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. A little exposure to sunlight per day is good for Vitamin D as well as fortified non-dairy milk. Despite what the billion dollar dairy industry would like you to believe, you don’t have to ingest dairy to get enough calcium (as dairy is incredibly acidic and actually leaches calcium from our bones!). Eat plenty of leafy greens like spinach and collards, unhulled sesame seeds, tahini, calcium fortified tofu, soymilk or hemp milk, broccoli raab, figs, blackstrap molasses and sea vegetables. If you take a calcium supplement, make sure it’s vegetarian.
Zinc: Necessary for growth and development, zinc allows the body to use dietary protein as building blocks to regenerate muscles. It also helps in proper immune function. You can find this mineral in pseudograins (such as buckwheat, quinoa, wild rice, and amaranth), pumpkin seeds, nutritional yeast, peas, beans, brown rice, spinach, nuts, tofu and tempeh.
Folate: Folate is a B vitamin that is found naturally in foods. In supplement form, it is referred to as folic acid. You can up your intake of folate even before you become pregnant (around 400mcg per day), and around 600 mcg if you are pregnant. Eating plenty of dark, leafy greens, legumes, pseudograins, whole grains, and nutritional yeast provides plenty of folate.
The good news? Most of these plant-based foods supply a host of vitamins and minerals – they are good for you on all levels and should cover your pregnancy nutrition needs. Do your homework about what your body needs. If you are a vegetarian who is on the small side, discuss a caloric plan with your doctor to ensure you are staying on track and gaining enough weight. It’s important to get plenty of exercise as well. Take care of your body and pay attention to what you feed it. You are laying the foundation for a healthy, happy child.
So, what’s a day in my vegan life like? Lately, it varies but here’s a typical one (and yes, I am eating way too much fruit, but it seems I am on a fruit kick lately):
Banana or dates
Protein shake (1 banana, soy or hemp milk, superfood blend, superfruit blend, superseed blend, 1 scoop VEGA whole food health optimizer, 1 tbs. raw cocoa, 1 giant handful power greens)
Oatmeal pancakes (made with oats, water, and blueberries) smeared with 1 tsp. sunflower butter and fresh strawberries
2 slices Rudy’s spelt bread (a rare occasion for me, as I’m not much of a bread person, but as of late, I am tired of salads)
mock tuna pate (made from almonds, onions, celery, tomato, garlic, coconut aminos, dulse, cayenne, mustard and sea salt)
lettuce, avocado, organic stone ground mustard
coconut poppers (recipe to come in a few days)
handful of walnuts
tofu, quinoa, and veggies cooked in coconut oil (red cabbage, broccoli, portobellos, red pepper, bok choy, zucchini)
no-bake energy bar