If your diet is limited for religious, ethical or health reasons it’s important to make sure you don’t miss out on any ‘must have’ nutrients. Make sure you know what to eat during pregnancy to ensure you tick all the right food and nutrition boxes.
Vegetarians and vegan diets:
A well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet during pregnancy is totally achievable. A little extra attention however should be given to the following areas:
Make sure you get enough protein. Your body’s requirement for protein during pregnancy increases by around 13% however it’s a myth that good quality protein can only be found in animal sources. Eating a predominantly plant-based diet means you’ll be eating less saturated fat and more fibre. Simply ensure you have 3 servings a day of quinoa, soya, fish (if eaten), beans and lentils. Seed foods (such as runner beans peas, corn or broccoli), nuts and seeds are also a useful source of protein. B vitamins are found in green leafy veg, wheatgerm, brewer’s yeast , wholegrains, beansprouts, bananas, avocados, nuts and mushroom but it’s probably worth vegans considering a B12 supplement. Zinc – found in wholegrains, lentils and chick peas, brown rice, nuts, seeds and cheddar cheese Iron – there’s plenty in beans & pulses, leafy green veg, wholegrains, dried fruit, tomato paste, soya flour, wild rice Vegans need to make sure they get essential calcium from green leafy vegetables, tofu, beans and pulses, molasses, nuts, seeds and figs Vitamin D is mostly found in meat, dairy and eggs and sunshine. Whilst a little bit is present in some wholegrains it’s probably a good idea for vegans to consider a Vitamin D supplement. Gluten free:
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains. You may be following a gluten-free diet due to an allergy such a celiac disease or because of a food intolerance and if this is the case you will already be avoiding wheat, spelt, oats, rye and barley.
Even if you are not already excluding gluten you may choose to adapt your diet during your pregnancy as some experts have suggested that a gluten free diet does have some benefits for you and your baby. Gluten does not suit many people even if there are no obvious symptoms and undiagnosed celiac disease has even been linked to problem pregnancies.
Our ‘pregnancy healthy eating guidelines’ still apply if you are avoiding gluten – just leave out all the gluten-containing grains mentioned. Eat four or more portions of wholegrains such as rice, millet, gluten-free oats, corn, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat each day in the form of cereal, breads, pasta or savoury biscuits.
Gluten-free bread is now widely available in supermarkets and you can pick up gluten-free biscuits as a treat as well!
Many processed or convenience foods may contain wheat, which contains gluten – so beware of some baked beans, some chocolate, some coffee, drinking chocolate, cocoa, imitation cream, chutney, pickles, gravy powder, custard, curry powder, pie fillings, instant puddings, sausages, pates, sauces, spreads pastes, soy sauce, canned and packet soups and even some yoghurts.
If you are wheat intolerant you will probably already be following a wheat-free diet – although you may choose to eliminate wheat from your diet during your pregnancy to optimise your health. Wheat contains the highest amount of gluten out of all the gluten-containing grains and does not suit many people even if there are no obvious symptoms.
If you are avoiding wheat for whatever reason check out our ‘pregnancy healthy eating guidelines’ as they are still apply – you’ll just need to avoid all wheat-based cereal, bread, pasta and savoury crackers or biscuits. Choose other grains to eat instead such as rice, millet, gluten-free oats, corn, or quinoa.
100% rye bread or gluten-free breads are widely available and stocked in most supermarkets and health food stores
If you have a serious problem with eating wheat you’ll need to carefully check the labels of all processed or convenience foods as many of them include wheat. Try and follow a diet that includes as much food as possible that is close to its natural state.
The most common reason for following a dairy free diet is lactose intolerance which means you are lacking the enzyme (lactase) to breakdown the sugar found in milk (lactose) or because of an allergy to milk protein.
It’s important that you ensure you’re getting adequate amounts of calcium on a dairy-free diet but whilst dairy products are a great source of calcium – they’re definitely not the ONLY source. While you are pregnant your body does a great job of increasing the amount of calcium from your diet that you actually absorb. Try and include at least 3 servings each day of calcium rich foods such as green leafy veggies, small fish with bones (such as sardines), tofu, beans, nuts and seeds – almonds and pumpkin seeds are both a great source of calcium. However the amount of calcium you need when you are pregnant (around 1200mg per day) is difficult to get from diet alone so maybe consider a supplement – most pregnancy multivitamin and mineral products will contain some calcium.
Avoid all products that are likely to contain dairy products such as quiche, lasagne, batter made with milk, biscuits and cakes, tinned or packets soups – and look out for cereals that contain dried milk too.
Eating foods that are as close as possible to their natural state, organic or free-range are best for you and for your baby.
Alexandra McCabe is a founder of FittaMamma, the healthy pregnancy experts. FittaMamma is a free resource to help women enjoy an active pregnancy with workout videos, recipes and step by step yoga guides. Read here for tips on what to eat when you’re pregnant and how to enjoy a healthy prenatal diet