Protein is a critical component of the diet during pregnancy, necessary for the proper growth and development of the baby, as well as for the amniotic tissues, placenta, and the mother’s increased blood volume. Insufficient protein during pregnancy can increase the risk of having a low birth weight baby. The recommended daily amount of protein for pregnant women is at least 60 grams per day, and up to 70 grams per day during the second and third trimesters. The protein requirement can easily be met by eating a variety of foods.
Ovo-lactovegetarians, those who eat eggs and dairy products, can satisfy more than half of their daily protein requirement with a boiled egg (6 grams), a cup of cottage cheese (24 grams), and a cup of yogurt (10 grams).
It is possible for vegans who don’t include any animal products in their diet to meet the protein requirements for a healthy pregnancy without eating dairy products or eggs by increasing their daily intake of other protein-rich foods. Beans, legumes, many varieties of nuts, and soy products including tofu and soy milk all contain high amounts of protein. Most plant-derived foods do not contain complete protein with a full range of essential amino acids, but combining complementary foods such as beans with rice, or grains with legumes will meet the requirement for complete protein. It is not necessary to eat the complementary foods together at the same meal.
Vitamins and Minerals
Most of the necessary vitamins required for a healthy pregnancy can be met by eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, including green leafy vegetables, carrots, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, berries, oranges, kiwis, bananas and melon.
Iron requirements can be fulfilled by adding iron-rich foods to the diet, including soybeans, molasses, lentils, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, chard and turnip greens, quinoa, and a variety of different beans, including lima, black, pinto kidney, and chickpeas.
The requirement for calcium is easily met with dairy products. For vegans, good sources of calcium are leafy green vegetables, especially kale, bok choi and turnip greens, beans, soy products, grains and seaweed.
Vitamin D is found in some types of fish, including tuna and salmon, cod liver oil, egg yolks, beef liver and cheese. The body can also make its own vitamin D by exposing the skin to sunlight. The requirement for vitamin D may be met by getting 10 minutes or more of sun exposure daily.
Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, is a critical nutrient during pregnancy, and deficiency can lead to a risk of neural tube defects. A minimum of 400 micrograms of folic acid daily is recommended during pregnancy. Foods rich in folic acid include legumes, sweet potatoes, whole grains, broccoli, spinach, beets, asparagus, bananas and oranges.
Vitamin B12 is not found in dairy, fruits or vegetables, but vegetarians may be able to meet the requirement for vitamin B12 by taking nutritional yeast (this is not the same as brewer’s yeast), and with eggs, fortified soy milk and fortified cereal. Vegans should consult their health care provider, who may recommend vitamin supplements.