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Eating well during pregnancy is a given. But that doesn’t mean you have to ditch your vegetarian or vegan diet. Medical experts, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, have given you the green light to continue your current way of eating.
A vegetarian (meat-free) or vegan (no animal products) diet can help prevent obesity and decrease the risk of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
It’s also more Earth-friendly than the typical American carnivore’s diet.
“You can have a healthy pregnancy on such a diet,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., who sees pregnant vegetarians in her private practice. “You just have to do some planning to ensure you are getting everything you and your baby need.”
In addition to taking a high-quality prenatal vitamin, here’s how you can make up for any nutritional weak links if you do decide to stay meat-free during your pregnancy.
This nutrient is vital for cell growth and development—yours as well as your developing baby’s—and you need about 71 grams every day right now. Beans can provide much of what you need. “Beans are the magic bullet for vegetarians and vegans,” says Blatner, who is also the author of The Flexitarian Diet (McGraw-Hill). “Along with lots of protein, beans provide iron and zinc.” Zinc is also necessary for cell growth and normal fetal development.
To get the protein you need, simply replace animal products with any type of beans; in recipes, substitute ¼ cup of beans (any variety) for every 1 ounce of meat. A mom-to-be bonus? Beans are high in protein—and low in calories: 1 cup of soybeans has 298 calories and 29 grams of protein; 1 cup of lentils has 226 calories and 18 grams of protein; and 1 cup of firm tofu has 176 calories and 20 grams of protein—just keep in mind that experts advise choosing whole soybean foods (such as tempeh and tofu) instead of soy protein isolates (faux meats, shakes and bars).
Nuts are also rich sources of protein (and healthy fats), as are low-fat dairy foods—milk, yogurt and cheese. But don’t rely too heavily on cheese or faux burgers to replace meat in your diet; veggie “meats” are usually laden with sodium, and cheese is very high in saturated fat.