Special Vitamin and Mineral Considerations
If you are not careful, eliminating animal foods from your diet can cause a shortfall of several nutrients in an otherwise healthy eating plan. Nutrients that should be given special attention include calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, and zinc. You should notify your doctor of your vegetarian eating style so that she is aware of your nutrient intake and can prescribe supplements you might need.
In addition, careful meal planning and good choices can ensure the intake of all these essential nutrients each day. Keep in mind that you should never take additional supplements without first speaking to your doctor. It is possible to overdo a good thing! If you have questions about how you can combine foods to incorporate essential vitamins and minerals, speak to a registered dietitian.
Calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth for both the baby and the mother. Pregnant women need 1,000 mg per day. For vegetarian moms who consume dairy products (at least three servings of dairy foods each day), consuming enough calcium should not be a problem. For vegans, however, calcium intake can be a concern. However, calcium can be found in both plant and animal foods.
Is it OK to take a calcium supplement if I don't eat dairy foods?
If you can't get enough calcium from the foods you choose, a supplement can be a good idea. The rule of thumb should always be food before supplements, though. First, include calcium-containing foods in your diet as much as possible, and then supplement on top of that. Never let a supplement take the place of an entire food group or nutrient such as calcium.
Though it may take a bit more planning, as a pregnant vegan you can definitely find foods that fit your eating style and contain enough calcium to help you meet your daily needs.
Some of these foods include tofu processed with calcium; calcium-fortified beverages such as orange juice and soy milk; calcium-fortified breakfast cereals; broccoli; seeds, such as sunflower and sesame; tahini; nuts such as almonds; soy beans; legumes; some greens, such as kale, mustard greens, and collards; bok choy; okra; dried figs; almond butter; and some dark-green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin D is essential to help the body absorb calcium and phosphorus and then depositing them into teeth and bones. Your body can also make vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. With the exception of milk, very few foods are naturally high in vitamin D.
If you are a vegetarian who drinks milk, vitamin D should not be a concern if you consume the recommended number of servings. However, if you are a vegan, you need to be careful that you get enough vitamin D in your diet. The best way for vegans to get vitamin D is from fortified foods.
Check the nutrition facts panel on the labels of foods fortified with vitamin D, such as breakfast cereals, soy beverages, and some calcium-fortified juices. Your prenatal vitamin should also ensure that you are receiving the amount of vitamin D you need daily for a healthy pregnancy. The requirement for pregnant women is 5 mcg per day.
Regardless of whether you are a vegetarian, it is likely that you don't get enough iron. This nutrient is often lacking in women's diets. As a result, during pregnancy, women are often prescribed a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement that includes iron to meet their increased needs and to prevent iron-deficiency anemia. As a pregnant vegetarian, it can be difficult to get enough absorbable iron to meet your daily needs.
Some plant foods do contain iron. Called nonheme iron, it is not absorbed as well as the iron found in animal foods, or heme iron. The challenge for vegetarians is to improve the absorption of nonheme iron foods. You can start by consuming iron-rich plant sources every day, such as legumes, iron-fortified cereals and breads, whole-wheat and whole-grain products, tofu, some dark-green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, tempeh, prune juice, blackstrap molasses, and dried fruit.
If your vegetarian diet allows you to consume eggs, keep in mind that they too contain nonheme iron. You can increase your body's absorption of nonheme iron by including a vitamin C-rich food with these nonheme iron sources at every meal, such as orange juice and other citrus juices, citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, and green or red peppers. If you are a semi-vegetarian, eat a little meat, poultry, or fish with nonheme iron sources to help your body better absorb the iron.
Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal foods. Because plant foods are not a reliable source of vitamin B12, it can be a concern for vegetarians, especially vegans. Vitamin B12 is important for helping the body make red blood cells and use fats and amino acids. It is also part of the structure of every cell in the body.
The body only needs small amounts of vitamin B12. Because it is stored and recycled in the body, a deficiency in the short term is not likely. Over time, however, a deficiency of vitamin B12can result in anemia.
Every day, vegans need to consume at least one (preferably more) servings of foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified breakfast cereals, soy milk products, rice milk beverages, or meat substitute products such as vegetarian burgers.
Some products, such as seaweed, algae, spirulina, tempeh, and miso, are not good sources of vitamin B12 even though their packages may make a different claim. The vitamin B12 that is contained in these products is inactive and is not in a form that the body can utilize.
If you are a vegetarian who eats dairy and eggs, vitamin B12 intake should not be a problem as long as you consume the recommended number of daily food group servings. Vitamin B12 is usually a standard vitamin included in most prenatal supplements. Most prenatal vitamin supplements contain cyancobalamin, the form of vitamin B12 most easily absorbed by the body.
It is tough to get enough zinc when you do not consume meat, poultry, or seafood of any kind. Zinc can be found in eggs and milk, as well as other dairy products. You can also get zinc from plant foods, though it is not absorbed as well as the zinc from animal foods.
Zinc-containing plant foods include whole-wheat bread, whole grains, bran, wheat germ, legumes and peas, tofu, seeds, and nuts. Most well-balanced vegetarian diets supply enough zinc, but you should make sure that you consume sufficient amounts. Even mild deficiencies can have an effect on mental performance for both adults and children. Though your prenatal vitamin contains zinc, you should also be sure to get zinc from foods in your diet.