How to Follow a Plant-Based Diet While Pregnant – Q & A
A plant-based diet while pregnant or breastfeeding is a great option. You will need to make sure that you are taking in adequate protein to support their growth. With a thoughtfully designed plan, it’s a great choice for you and your growing baby. In fact, it’s a healthy choice at any stage in life.
5 steps for a plant-based diet while pregnant
Let’s get one thing cleared up before we dive in. There is a misconception that plant-based means you don’t eat meat. That is not necessarily true. While vegans and vegetarians are considered to be part of the plant-based spectrum, you can also eat meat, fish and poultry and still be considered plant-based. Plant-based simply means most of your diet is rooted in plants.
1: How do I meet my nutrient needs while pregnant?
Regardless of your diet of choice, the daily 30 are foundational. During pregnancy, your nutrient needs will increase for certain vitamins and minerals. Folate is a big one that should be in your diet or vitamins prior to getting pregnant. Vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron and other nutrient requirements will also increase during pregnancy. Keep in mind that B12 is not present in most plant foods, so you’ll need to make sure your prenatal includes this vitamin.
Your calorie intake should increase only slightly in the second and third trimesters – no you are not eating for two. On average, you should try to aim for 340 additional calories for months 4-7 and 450 additional calories until you deliver, according to the CDC.
Though weight gain is slightly different from person to person, generally aim to gain 3-4 pounds in the first trimester, then 3-4 pounds each month after. Weight gain for a healthy pregnancy should fall around 25-35 pounds total for a woman of average weight. That changes slightly if you go into your pregnancy under or over weight, so you would need to adjust your calorie intake accordingly. This is not something to be overly stressed about if you don’t hit the mark exactly. Every person is different and that’s ok. Your doctor can help guide you on your specific needs.
Eating a plant-based diet while pregnant will actually help you stay on track from a calorie perspective, get in the nutrients you need, and keep you away from calorie dense foods with little nutritional value.
2: How do I get enough protein?
The RDA for protein is about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For a quick calculation, multiply your body weight times 0.36. That translates to about You will need additional protein during pregnancy. Every person is different depending on their weight. As a general rule of thumb during pregnancy, you can take your weight and divide by 2. For someone weighing 140 pounds, that’s 70 grams of protein. But check with your doctor to get your exact number.
High quality protein sources should be part of a healthy plant-based diet while pregnant, but they don’t all have to come from meat. Beans, lentils, quinoa, nuts and seeds are all good plant-based sources that offer high quality protein. Plant-based protein tends to be less bioavailable, so you may need more to meet your protein needs.
Beans · Lentils · Quinoa · Nuts · Seeds
Pasture-raised · Grass-fed · Wild Caught
3: Are fats ok for a plant-based diet while pregnant?
Yes, but only healthy fats. Healthy fats should be part of a plant-based diet while pregnant. It has been well established that healthy fats support nerve and brain development for your growing baby, and regular intake is associated with higher IQ in the child. Physicians routinely recommend DHA vitamins and other fat-based foods as part of a prenatal regimen. So, add avocado and other healthy fats on the daily, but try to stay away from the fries!
Not only that, but fats serve as a transporter for fat soluble vitamins. So, if you have trouble absorbing vitamin D, fats may boost your absorption – just make it a healthy fat.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Avocado · Olive Oils · Nuts · Salmon · DHA
4: What’s the deal with fruits and vegetables?
Fruits and vegetables should be front and center as part of a plant-based diet while pregnant. They are rich in necessary nutrients and provide all the things fiber you will need, especially as you get further along in pregnancy.
But fruit has sugar, so why is it ok? It comes down to the chemical structure of the sugar in fruit and how it is metabolized in the body. The sugar in fruit feeds the good bacteria in your gut instead of flooding your blood stream the way refined sugar from sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) and treats do. Fruits that are high in sugar should be kept in check, but otherwise you’re good to go.
Eat the rainbow, including whites
Leafy greens · Garlic, Onions · Root vegetables · Low sugar fruits like berries
5: Should I limit sugar?
One of the biggest contributors to unhealthy weight gain is SSBs and sweet treats, pregnant or not. As a general rule, try to limit these as part of your plant-based diet while pregnant. It’s a great choice anytime, but especially now. Refined sugar is quickly absorbed through the gut leading to a spike in blood sugar and causes an immune response that floods your system with inflammation.
Long term, this results in conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cognitive decline. In fact, there is substantial research that has shown an association to maternal sugar intake during pregnancy with serious health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, for the child that develops later in their life.
Limiting your intake – and this will be tough, we know – will be the first gift you ever give to your sweet bouncing baby. If you’re following a plant-based diet, then you are looking for real food. So, if it doesn’t come from mother earth, try your best to walk away.
Instead of sweet treats, try fruit [insert eye roll here]. I know, it’s not the same, but it will be worth it. Experiment with recipes and make it fun! Ask your spouse to support you by encouraging you or jumping into cook with you. Being pregnant is supposed to a joyful experience, so if it’s truly causes a tremendous amount of stress and you don’t have other conditions, then indulging occasionally is not the end of the world.
But if you do then
Make it fruit based · Make it whole fat
Plant-based diet while pregnant
What you choose to eat while pregnant is up to you. But if you are reading this, you are probably considering a plant-based diet or, at least, thinking about what you should be eating. Remember you can still eat salmon, chicken and grass-fed beef on a plant-based diet.
This is the one time that the world gives you approval to pamper yourself. But let’s be serious for a minute. You should always be doing that! Eating clean, nutrient dense foods will not only set you up for a healthy pregnancy, but it will give your child a gift that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
If you are planning to eat a plant-based diet while pregnant – or any food plan for that matter – you should understand your nutrient needs. There are certain nutrients that are only available through animal sources. It’s definitely possible to have a nutrient filled diet using this approach, and it’s encouraged for many across the lifespan if followed correctly. While pregnant, consider chatting with a nutritionist to make sure you are covering all of your bases.
You’ll need to keep your B vitamins, vitamin D and other nutrients in check and should make sure that your prenatal covers you. As you’ve probably figured out, there are so many vitamins out there. Deciding which one to choose is right for you can be overwhelming!
Our founder, a Johns Hopkins trained nutritionist and public health expert, created Vitamin & Me to help women navigate their specific nutrient needs. She didn’t want to develop just another vitamin brand. Instead, she wanted to help you solve the problem of figuring out which vitamin is right for you.
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