By: Sarah Casciato, RD, MHSc., and Alicia Lang, MHSc(c)
Proper nutrition during pregnancy plays a key role in the health, growth, and development of mothers and their babies. While it is almost always advised that pregnant mothers take a prenatal multivitamin, it is also important to get nutrients from food. Following a plant-based diet during pregnancy may make getting enough of certain nutrients more challenging. In this blog post we will explore the key nutrients needed in pregnancy and how to get enough in a plant-based diet!
Healthy Eating in Pregnancy
Eating a balanced diet including a variety of foods is important during any stage of life, but especially during pregnancy. Aim for 3 meals and 2-3 snacks each day, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and sources of protein (nuts/seeds, legumes, tofu, etc.). Try to limit foods that are high in salt, fat, and sugar, and drink plenty of water.
Specific Nutrients of Concern
While a good balance of all nutrients is important for maintaining health, there are a few nutrients that are particularly important in pregnancy.
1) Folate/Folic Acid:
Folate and folic acid are the same nutrient, but go by different names depending on the source. Folate is the form found in the foods we eat, and folic acid is the form found in vitamins and supplements. Proper folate/folic acid is key for preventing neural tube defects in the baby, especially in the first trimester. Choose:
- A prenatal vitamin with at least 0.4mg of folic acid
- Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, collard greens, brussels sprouts, and broccoli
- Legumes such as black beans, chickpeas, and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
Iron is found in two forms - Heme and Non-heme. Heme iron is commonly found in animal products, whereas non-heme iron is found in plant foods. Non-heme iron does not absorb as well as heme iron, so the daily requirement is doubled. Non-heme iron is found in:
- Legumes such as lentils and beans
- Whole grains
- Fortified or enriched breads, pastas, and cereals
- Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and broccoli
- Nuts and seeds
Pairing sources of non-heme iron with foods that contain Vitamin C can help increase iron absorption. Try:
- Adding a fruit like oranges to your spinach salad
- Serving a lentil tomato sauce over pasta
- Adding nuts to a vegetable and tofu stir fry
Commonly found in dairy products, calcium is important for building strong bones and teeth in the baby, and maintaining bone health in the mother. Calcium is found in these plant-based foods:
- Fortified beverages such as almond, oat, or soy beverage, and orange juice with calcium
- Legumes such as soybeans, navy beans, and white beans
- Green leafy vegetables such as bok choy, okra, and collard greens
Omega-3s are important for brain and eye development, and are commonly found in fish and seafood. Getting enough Omega-3s to support a healthy pregnancy on a plant-based diet may be difficult, so consider choosing a prenatal vitamin with Omega-3s, or a separate Omega-3 supplement. Plant-based sources of Omega-3s include:
- Nuts and seeds (walnuts, ground flax and flax oil, chia seeds, etc.)
- Soy products
- Foods fortified with Omega-3s (may be written as ALA, EPA, or DHA), such as margarine, soy beverage, bread, and cereal.
Getting enough of the nutrients you need from food alone is difficult during pregnancy, especially when your diet may be limited. Talk to your health care provider about what prenatal vitamin is right for you and your diet.
Proper nutrition is a key factor in a healthy pregnancy, and there are a few nutrients that are particularly important in a plant-based pregnancy. Choose foods like green leafy vegetables, fortified plant milks, legumes, and nuts and seeds to get a variety of the important nutrients in a plant-based pregnancy. Talk to your health care provider about what prenatal vitamin is right for you.
Looking for extra support? A Registered Dietitian can help you plan your plant-based diet during pregnancy to support the health of both the mother and baby.
- Dietitians of Canada. (2014, October 16). Healthy Eating Guidelines for Vegans [PDF]. Toronto, ON: Dietitians of Canada
- Unlock Food. (2018, April 26). Food Sources of Calcium. Retrieved from https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Bone-Health/Food-Sources-of-Calcium.aspx
- Unlock Food. (2018, August 16). Eating for a Healthy Pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Pregnancy/Eating-for-a-Healthy-Pregnancy.aspx