A Balanced Pregnancy Diet

A healthy vegetarian pregnancy diet must be balanced. In other words, it must contain all of the nutrients essential to good health and a healthy pregnancy. It may take a little work, but keep in mind that knowledge is power. The more you know about the foods you eat, the more nutritious your diet can become. The nutritional adequacy of a vegetarian diet depends more on the overall food choices made over several days than what you consume at each meal.

The Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid

The Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid is very similar to the regular Food Guide Pyramid. The vegetarian version provides recommended guidelines for the vegetarian population. The lacto-ovo vegetarian diet can be modified to meet the guidelines of the Food Guide Pyramid with only a few modifications. If you consume eggs and/or dairy products, choose lower-fat or nonfat products to limit the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol you consume each day.

The following list describes the minimum number of servings you should consume from each food group during pregnancy:

  • Use fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. This includes candy, butter, margarine, salad dressing, and cooking oil.

  • Eat 3–4 servings from the milk, yogurt, and cheese group. Examples of single servings from this group include one cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 ounces of cheese. Vegetarians who choose not to eat milk, yogurt, or cheese should select other food sources rich in calcium, such as calcium-fortified juice, cereal, dark-green leafy vegetables, and soy milk.

  • During breastfeeding, you need more calories than you do while pregnant. Vegetarian women who are breastfeeding also need to make sure they are consuming plenty of vitamin B12 sources because intake can affect levels in breast milk. While you are on prenatal vitamins, you should get all of the nutrients you need. After delivery, your doctor will most likely take you off your prenatal vitamins. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about starting a multivitamin/mineral supplement that will ensure optimal nutritional intake.

  • Eat 2 servings (6–7 ounces each) from the dry beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, and meat substitutes group. Examples of a single serving from this food group include one cup of soy milk, ½ cup of cooked dry beans or peas, one egg or two egg whites, ⅓ cup of nuts or seeds, or 2 tablespoons peanut butter. Shoot to eat at least 3–4 servings of cooked dried beans weekly. They are a good choice because they are full of zinc, iron, protein, and fiber.

  • Eat 4 servings from the vegetable group. Examples of a single serving from this group include ½ cup of cooked or chopped raw vegetables or 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables. Choose dark-green leafy vegetables often for higher calcium intake.

  • Eat 3 servings from the fruit group. Examples of a single serving from this group include ¾ cup of juice, ¼ cup of dried fruit, ½ cup of chopped raw fruit, ½ cup of canned fruit, or a medium-size piece of fruit, such as banana, apple, or orange.

  • Eat 9 servings from the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group. Examples of a single serving from this group include one slice of bread, 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal, ½ cup of cooked cereal, ½ cup of cooked brown rice, pasta, or other grains, or half a bagel. Choose whole-wheat and whole-grain breads and pastas more often, as well as fortified and enriched products.

Vegetarian Meal Planning Tips

The key to a vegetarian diet is making the right choices and eating a variety of foods. It never hurts to take an overall look at your diet to make sure it is well balanced, nutritious, and in line with your new pregnancy needs. There are all kinds of vegetarian foods out there that you may have never thought of trying. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Explore new foods at your grocery store. Instead of going with the same old foods, try new grains (such as barley, bulgur, couscous, kasha, and quinoa), vegetables, and/or legumes each week.

  • Try different meat-free or soy products from the selection located in the freezer section or the health section. Soy can boost the protein, calcium, and iron content of almost any meal.

  • Add different types of legumes or dried beans to casseroles, stews, soups, salads, and chili for a protein, iron, zinc, and fiber boost to your meal.

  • If you are a vegan, you will have a tougher time making sure you receive all the essential nutrients you need during pregnancy. You will need to make more modifications to the Food Guide Pyramid. Seek the guidance of a dietitian who can make sure you are planning your diet correctly.

  • Prepare some of your favorite dishes with a soy substitute, such as using textured vegetable protein in Sloppy Joes or spaghetti sauce or adding cubed tofu to a stir-fry along with your favorite vegetables.

  • Next time you grill out, try a marinated portabella mushroom or veggie burger marinated in teriyaki sauce or your favorite marinade.

  • Buy a vegetarian cookbook, or search out meatless recipes on the Internet for new ideas. Websites like VegKitchen.com, About.com Vegetarian Food, and Everything Vegetarian should get you started.

  • When looking for a place to dine out, suggest Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, or Italian. You can always find plenty of vegetarian entrees on these menus.

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