Pregnancy: Vegetarian Diet - Topic Overview
A balanced vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients you need for
a healthy pregnancy. If you eat a vegetarian diet, pay special attention to
vitamin D, zinc, and iron while you are pregnant and
breast-feeding. These nutrients are vital to your fetus's cellular growth,
brain and organ development, and weight gain.
Consider working with a
registered dietitian to be sure you are eating a
balanced diet, particularly if you plan to eat a
- Protein. Protein is made of building blocks called
amino acids, which are essential to fetal cell growth and development. Dairy
products, eggs, fish, seafood, poultry, and meat are excellent sources of the
essential amino acids. While a vegetarian menu that includes eggs and dairy
provides quality protein, a plant food–only vegan diet requires careful
planning. A variety of plant-based protein sources must be included in your
- Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is found only in foods from
animal sources, such as milk, eggs, and meat. To support a vegan diet, be sure
to eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 (such as fortified soy milk) or take a
supplement that contains vitamin B12.
- Iron. Iron from plant foods is not absorbed as well
as iron from meats. Include beans, lentils, and leafy green vegetables in your
diet. Try not to rely too heavily on cheese (a very poor source of iron) for
protein. Eat foods that contain vitamin C to improve the absorption of iron
from a meal.
- Calcium. If you don't use milk or milk products, be
sure to get calcium from other sources. Soy milk fortified with calcium is a
good source. Nonmilk sources of calcium include calcium-enriched tofu,
calcium-fortified orange juice, corn tortillas made with lime (calcium
carbonate), almonds, turnip greens, broccoli, mustard greens, kale, and
- Zinc. Zinc from plant foods is poorly absorbed by the
body, so make an effort to get enough zinc in your diet. Good sources of zinc
include leavened whole grains (such as whole-wheat bread), legumes (beans and
lentils), soy foods, vegetables, and milk and yogurt.
- Vitamin D. If you don't use milk or milk products, be
sure to get enough vitamin D from other sources. Soy milk is often fortified
with vitamin D, as are some cereals. Your body can also produce vitamin D when
exposed to sunlight on a regular basis. You may need a supplement if you
don't consume a source of vitamin D and don't get adequate sunlight.
Prenatal vitamins are very important for pregnant women who are on a
Talk to your doctor about how to get all the nutrients you need with a vegetarian or vegan diet.