The first concern people have about vegetarianism during pregnancy is the “P” word – protein.
In fact, getting enough protein with a well-balanced vegetarian diet is not a problem at all. If a vegetarian diet contains sufficient B vitamins and calcium, it will almost certainly contain adequate amounts of protein as well. This is because the foods that contain these nutrients are also good sources of protein. Cereals, for example, which are vital sources of the B group of vitamins also contain a significant amount of protein. The same applies to legumes, milk, yogurt and cheese.
The American Dietetic Association released a statement in 1993 saying: “Plant sources of protein alone can provide adequate amounts of the essential and non-essential amino acids, assuming that dietary protein sources from plants are reasonably varied and that caloric intake is sufficient to meet energy needs. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds, and nuts all contain essential and non-essential amino acids. Conscious combining of these foods within a given meal, as the complementary protein dictum suggests, is unnecessary. Additionally, soya protein has been shown to be nutritionally equivalent in protein value to proteins of animal origin and thus can serve as the sole source of protein intake if desired.”
So there you have it. The long standing Japanese, Chinese and Indian cultures with their tofu, miso, rice, lentils, yogurt and milk curd etc. knew what they were doing all along!
There are fifteen minerals that are essential for the mother and child’s body and the four listed below are the most important.
When a woman who is vegetarian becomes pregnant, all of a sudden her family doctor and well-meaning old aunty are convinced that she will become anemic and produce an underweight baby who will become a sickly toddler! With each pregnancy I have had, the doctors always insisted on a test for anemia and were always surprised my count was at a very healthy level.
My sister, who has also been a vegetarian her entire adulthood and has had six healthy children, spent her childhood years regularly being taken to the doctors for tests, taking iron tablets, and being fed meat by a worried mother. All to little avail. After becoming vegetarian, she started to feel stronger and during the following six pregnancies always tested extremely well with her anemia tests – much to the amazement of our mother. So, clearly, eating meat is not an insurance against developing anemia.
For a vegetarian, iron is easily obtained from dried fruits (especially prunes), whole grains (millet – which contains the most iron of the grains, whole wheat, oats, corn, rice, etc.), nuts, seeds, legumes (soya beans and lentils are excellent), brewers yeast, spirulina, and of course dark green leafy vegetables.
Normally a woman needs about 18 mgs. per day of iron, but during pregnancy this requirement is almost doubled. Iron is necessary for the formation of red blood cells, which contain hemoglobin. If you don’t have enough hemoglobin in your blood, you run the risk of insufficient oxygen being carried to your developing baby, and you may feel lethargic and sometimes dizzy when you stand up.
Throughout my pregnancies I drank a couple of glasses a day of orange or apple juice with either brewers yeast or spirulina mixed in or as compressed tablets. This was sufficient for my body to obtain the extra iron needed. I also drank this while breast feeding as the brewers yeast also helps to produce lots of breast milk. (Editor’s note: If you know or believe you have a sensitivity to yeast products, spirulina may be the superior choice.)
The amount of iron-rich foods each woman needs to consume varies according to how efficient the individual is at absorbing iron from the intestine into her blood stream.
Also many iron rich foods such as nuts, wheat, and beans contain a substance called phytic acid which combines with iron and prevents full absorption. This effect is decreased when these foods are eaten with vitamin C rich foods. For the first couple of pregnancies I never knew technically why I felt better having orange juice and brewers yeast drinks but now I do – they were perfect partners for my body to derive the extra needed iron!
To help break down the phytic acid in some foods you can: soak and sprout your legumes, or soak your oatmeal overnight in the refrigerator before cooking for breakfast. Soaking and cooking helps break down the phytic acid. Blanch your almonds before eating as the phytic acid is contained in the skin, and don’t add extra bran to your food unless under medical supervision. Bran contains a lot of phytic acid.
All this may sound complicated but a well balanced vegetarian diet containing lots of vegetables, fruits, grains, and some dairy, produces healthy, intelligent, lively babies.
This mineral is needed not only for the health of your bones, skin, teeth and functioning of the heart, but it is also involved in blood clotting. Lacto vegetarians have no trouble deriving calcium from yogurt, cheeses (try soft ricotta and feta instead of the hard cheeses), milk, broccoli, dried figs and sesame seeds (tahini).
Calcium is better absorbed during pregnancy than at any other time so your baby is unlikely to go short. But remember your calcium requirements grow as the baby develops. So if you experience any cramping in your legs at night during the last months of pregnancy, it may be your body calling out: I need some more calcium.
While pregnant I loved to eat a plate of cooked broccoli with some fresh ricotta cheese and sliced tomatoes for lunch, quick, simple, yummy and full of calcium, iron and vitamin C.
Try some Mediterranean style meals of vegetarian feta, semi-dried tomatoes, olives, hummus and slices of Greek bread drizzled with tahini. No cooking involved and served with a fresh lettuce salad and a yogurt drink, it is delicious.
Vegetarians have no trouble at all getting enough of this mineral either. Phosphorus is needed for the formation of healthy teeth and bones and is found in milk, cereals, nuts, fruits and vegetables – the foundation of a vegetarian diet.
This mineral is essential for the baby’s bone formation, an inadequate supply may lead to a small baby. Zinc-rich foods include wheat germ, brewers yeast (there it is again), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, molasses, onions, nuts, peas and beans.