Is the Vegetarian Diet Safe for Pregnant Women?

When a pregnant woman wants to follow a vegetarian diet, endless doubts are generated about whether or not it will be suitable for the baby and the mother. Today we are going to find out if it is safe to follow a vegetarian diet during pregnancy.

In 2016, the American Dietetic Association in the United States stated that if a vegetarian diet is properly planned it is considered healthy and nutritionally adequate , even if we talk about a vegan diet . Furthermore, it appears to provide benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
The vegetarian diets and vegan are appropriate for all stages of life , including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence … Even for athletes. Of course, as long as the diet is supervised by a dietician nutritionist , who takes care that nutritional needs are not lacking, especially in pregnant women.

7 Essential Nutrients for a Pregnant Vegetarian

Iodine

Iodine is part of the thyroid hormones where energy metabolism is stored and regulated. Iodine is part of seaweed, fish, shellfish and some vegetables and it is important to make sure you have a good contribution before getting pregnant, even supplementation or taking iodized salt is often recommended daily .
Iodine deficiency is related to:

  • Higher incidence of spontaneous abortions .
  • Increase in cases of congenital malformations , perinatal and infant mortality.
  • Defects of psychomotor development.
  • It can cause cretinism, a disease characterized by physical and mental retardation.

Folic acid (B9)

Folic acid is an essential vitamin for pregnant women due to its basic role in cell division and DNA synthesis. In the case of a deficiency, the capacity for cell multiplication suffers and can cause megaloblastic anemia . The best sources of folic acid are:

  • Plant-based foods such as green leafy vegetables (spinach, chard, cabbage …)
  • Whole grains
  • Dried fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit (orange, banana, avocado …)
  • Brewer’s yeast and wheat germ

Different studies have shown that supplementing the diet with folic acid during pregnancy and before conception reduces the incidence of neural tube defects in the newborn . Similarly, a low intake of folates (the form in which the acid is found in food) increases the risk of premature births and can lower the weight of the baby at birth, which is why in our country its supplementation is prescribed.

Cobalamin (B12)

Vitamin B12 participates in metabolism, in the formation of red blood cells, in the maintenance of the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. The requirements of vitamin B12 increase during pregnancy , its deficit can cause anemia and neural tube defects.
If you follow a vegetarian or ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet, it is essential to supplement it , since vitamin B12 is found exclusively in foods of animal origin. In the case of being a pregnant and vegetarian woman, the needs of this vitamin are doubled.

Vitamin D and Calcium

Calcium and vitamin D stand out as essential nutrients for proper bone health . The calcium intake of pregnant vegans tends to be lower than that of ovo-lacto-vegetarians and may be below the recommended intake .
They can cover their calcium needs during pregnancy if used foods fortified with calcium or dietary supplement , but it all depends on the individual levels of each woman. It is important to take into account which are the components of the diet that hinder the absorption of calcium so as not to worsen its availability:

  • A high sodium (salt) intake can also promote urinary calcium losses.
  • A diet rich in phytates (contained in fiber) reduces the bioavailability of calcium among other nutrients, and of iron.

On the other hand, vitamin D is also involved in the absorption of minerals and the mineralization of bone. Our body obtains part of vitamin D through skin synthesis when we are exposed to the sun , the rest is obtained through food intake, especially in dairy products, or in supplements.

Vitamin C and Iron

Plant-based foods rich in iron are green leafy vegetables (spinach, chard, red cabbage, parsley) and legumes.
The iron in these foods is less absorbed and is called “non-heme” iron. To improve its absorption, you need an acid medium, so it is recommended that pregnant women take foods rich in vitamin C together with foods rich in iron . For example, season some dishes with lemon or orange juice.

Omega-3 fatty acids

They are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids that make up fat and that help maintain a healthy balance of lipids in the blood, inhibit platelet aggregation mechanisms (prevent cardiovascular diseases) and are essential for the development of the baby’s central nervous system. they even help treat depression .
While vegetarian diets are generally high in omega 6 fatty acids, they may be insufficient in omega 3 fatty acids . Omega 3 fatty acids are mainly obtained from oily fish . The vegan pregnant should consider the use of other sources of omega 3, for example seed flax, chia, nuts, flaxseed oil, and soybean, and should therefore ensure daily intake.

Proteins and amino acids

Proteins are made up of amino acids and the quality of the protein will vary depending on the number and quantity of essential amino acids it provides.

  • The proteins provided by foods of animal origin are considered to be of high biological value due to their quantity and their content of essential amino acids
  • The proteins provided by foods of plant origin are not of high biological value, and they usually have limiting amino acids , which are different depending on the food. That is why it is recommended to combine different plant sources throughout the day to guarantee the supply of all essential amino acids. Cereals do not contain the same as legumes, so they must be combined to obtain a high quality protein .

In the vegetarian diet of a pregnant woman should not be missing:

  • Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans, and soybeans and soy derivatives)
  • Nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews …)
  • Cereals (flour, oats, rice, barley, buckwheat or buckwheat, millet, quinoa, pasta, bread …)
  • Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame seeds …)
  • Seitan

We can eat a vegetarian diet during pregnancy as long as a planned and healthy diet is followed that meets the dietary needs at this stage of life. In addition to the increased needs for nutrients due to being pregnant, the needs for following a vegetarian diet will be taken into account , paying special attention to vitamin B12, since it is the nutrient that will have double the requirements.
What you should know…

  • We can also eat a vegetarian diet during pregnancy without the mother or future baby suffering any risk.
  • Always, yes, that a planned and healthy diet is followed that meets the dietary needs at this stage of life.
  • In addition to the increased needs for nutrients due to being pregnant, the needs for following a vegetarian diet must be taken into account, paying special attention to B12, since it is the nutrient that will have double the requirements.

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