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Yes. As long as you eat a variety of healthy vegan foods and plan your diet to include key nutrients, you can get all the nourishment you and your baby need without eating animal products. (Vegans do not eat any animal products, including meat, fish, fowl, eggs, dairy, and honey.)
If you're a vegetarian, see our article on eating a vegetarian diet during pregnancy.
In some cases, you'll need to rely on fortified foods or supplements to make sure you're getting enough of what you need. Let your healthcare provider know about your diet at your preconception visit or your first prenatal visit. And always consult your doctor, midwife, or a dietitian before taking any supplements while you're pregnant.
In addition to a variety of fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned) and whole grain products, you'll want to make sure you eat foods or take supplements that provide the following nutrients important for a healthy pregnancy.
Eat several servings of protein-rich foods each day. Good sources of vegan protein include legumes, soy foods, nuts, seeds, and nut butters.
Your prenatal vitamin will likely provide some iron. But you'll also need to eat several servings of a variety of iron-rich foods every day. Good sources include fortified breakfast cereal, whole-grain or enriched bread, enriched pasta, legumes, tofu and other soy foods, and leafy greens (such as spinach, kale, and chard).
Avoid having tea or coffee with your meals because these drinks contain tannins and polyphenols, which make it harder for your body to absorb iron from plant foods. Instead, have something that's rich in vitamin C, such as orange juice, tomato sauce, or broccoli, to help your body absorb the iron.
You'll have a blood test early in your pregnancy to check your iron level. If yours is low, your healthcare provider may recommend that you take an iron supplement.
Try to get several servings of zinc-rich foods every day. Many foods that provide iron – such as beans, soy foods, fortified breakfast cereals, and whole grains – also provide zinc. Other good sources of zinc for vegans include nuts, seeds, and wheat germ.
Have several servings of calcium-rich foods every day. Good sources include:
- Calcium-fortified almond or soy milk, fruit juice, and breakfast cereals
- White beans, blackstrap molasses, tahini, and calcium-set tofu. (To see if the tofu is calcium-set, check the list of ingredients for a calcium salt, such as calcium chloride or calcium sulfate.)
- Almonds or sesame seeds
- Certain green vegetables, including kale, collards, turnip greens, napa cabbage, broccoli, and bok choy. (Others, such as spinach, beet greens, and chard, contain calcium, but your body doesn't absorb the calcium from these vegetables as well.)
This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium. Some types of plant milk, orange juice, and cereal are fortified with vitamin D. Many prenatal supplements also include vitamin D. If yours doesn't, you may want to consider taking a supplement.
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in your baby's brain development and is primarily found in animal products, so vegans need a reliable alternative source of vitamin B12 daily. Vegan sources of this vitamin include supplements and fortified foods and beverages, such soy milk and other plant milks, breakfast cereal, and nutritional yeast. (Check for fortification on the product label.)
If you don't eat fortified foods every day, and your prenatal supplement does not contain B12, you'll need to take a separate vitamin B12 supplement.
Iodine is also important for your baby's brain development. Iodized salt and dried seaweed are good vegan sources of iodine. If you don't get a lot of these, check to make sure your prenatal vitamin contains iodine.
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that promotes the development of your unborn baby's eyes and brain. It's found in fish, fish oil, and algae. Because it can be very difficult to obtain DHA from nonfish sources, you may want to take an omega-3 supplement derived from algae and suitable for vegans.