Yes, You Can Stay Vegetarian While Pregnant

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
No matter your reasons for giving up meat, there are certain instances in which that decision can make your life a little more complicated. (Unless you happen to absolutely love steakhouse mashed potatoes.) But pregnancy — even though it turns your body into home for a parasite who sucks up your nutrients — does not have to be one of those tricky situations. You just have to be prepared.
“When you’re pregnant, your blood volume is growing,” and the fetus is drawing on your iron supply, says Lisa Young, PhD, RD, adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU Steinhardt. That means, in addition to the nutrients essential to keeping you healthy, you have to make sure you’re getting enough for the fetus, as well. In particular, pregnant people have to up their intake of iron (to keep red blood cells happy), vitamin B12 (to grow new cells), and folate (which helps B12), Dr. Young explains.
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The good news is that it’s not that much more complicated for pregnant vegetarians to get all those nutrients than it is for omnivores. That’s thanks in large part to the fact that so much of the added nutritional requirements that come with being pregnant are easily taken care of with prenatal vitamins.
Of course, you should still aim to get a hefty amount of iron from leafy greens, tofu, and lentils, for instance. And you can help your body absorb the iron in your food by having something rich in vitamin C at the same time (try a glass of orange juice with your morning spinach scramble). But supplements are essential for getting the amount of B12 a pregnant body needs. “You’re not going to get it any other way,” Dr. Young says.
Vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy (lacto-ovo vegetarians) can get some B12 and protein from those foods and, therefore, may have an overall easier time managing their meals, Dr. Young says. However, getting all your nutrients does become a bit more challenging the more foods you cut out of your diet. Even if you’re not eating any animal-based products, though, you can still make it work by leaning heavily on filling and nutritious legumes, beans, nuts, and nut butters (which you are probably already very used to doing).
If there’s any ambiguity, check in with your doctor or a registered dietician to make sure you and your baby are both getting adequate vitamins and minerals. Your doc may prescribe extra supplements or help you put together a well-rounded meal plan that keeps you both on target up to and beyond the big day. So, no, you don’t need to give up your chosen diet because you’re pregnant, you’ll just have to put in a little extra planning — say, enough for two.
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