Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important throughout life but is particularly important during pregnancy. This will benefit not just the health, growth and development of your baby, but also your own health too.

One of the most important diet-related recommendations during pregnancy is to eat a wide variety of foods each day to ensure that you and your baby are getting all of the nutrients you need. In the UK it is also recommended that vitamin D and folic acid supplements are taken. Further information about supplements during pregnancy can be found on the NHS website.

Following a plant-based or vegetarian diet is becoming more and more popular in the UK. A recent surveyhas suggested that 2% of the population are vegetarian. The rise in its popularity is attributable to health concerns as well as ethical and environmental concerns. Some evidence suggests thatvegetarian diets may play a protective role against certain diseasessuch as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

The British Dietetic Association states that ‘well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of life’ including throughout pregnancy. However, it is important to highlight which nutrients these diets can often lack so that vegetarian mums-to-be can ensure that her and her baby are getting all the nutrients they need to achieve optimum health.

Protein

As in non-pregnant individuals, it is important to ensure that protein requirements are met when pregnant and following a vegetarian diet. There is a small additional requirement for protein during pregnancy which is needed for the growth and development of the baby.

Good vegetarian sources of protein include:

  • Pulses
  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Quorn
  • Cheese
  • Eggs (for ovo-vegetarians)

Iron

Iron is important for the synthesis of red blood cells which transport oxygen around the body. Iron also keeps your immune system healthy.

Your body’s iron requirement becomes increased during pregnancy, particularly in the second and third trimester. This is because more iron is transferred to the foetus and placenta, there is also an increase in maternal blood volume and therefore the number of red blood cells increases. However most women should be able to obtain this extra iron from their diet.

There are two types of iron found in food: haem-iron is found in animal sources and non-haem iron is found in plant sources. The non-haem version is less easily absorbed by the body, however when combined with vitamin C absorption is increased.

Good vegetarian sources of iron include:

  • Pulses
  • Beans
  • Leafy green vegetables (e.g. broccoli, spinach)
  • Dried fruit (e.g. apricots)
  • Eggs (for ovo-vegetarians)

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 has several functions in the body which include synthesis of red blood cells and keeping the nervous system healthy.

Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal products, good sources for vegetarians include:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Yeast extract (e.g. Marmite)

 

 

 

Hannah is a Final Year Nutrition student at the University of Nottingham, who aspires to go on a study a Masters in Dietetics. Her interests include nutrition education and maternal and child health. Follow her on Twitter at @hlj_jones