Vegetarian Diets for Pregnancy

During Pregnancy your need for all nutrients increases. For example, you will need more calcium,
more protein, and more folic acid. But calorie needs increase only modestly during pregnancy. In fact, you
will need to pack all of that extra nutrition into just 300 extra calories a day. For that reason, all pregnant
women need to choose their meals wisely. It is important to eat foods that are rich in nutrients, but not high
in fat or sugar or excessive in calories.

Vegetarian diets, based on nutritious whole foods are healthful choices for pregnant women. Use the chart
below to plan your meals.

Whole Grains, Breads, Cereals

6 or more servings

Serving = 1 slice of bread, « bun or bagel, « cup cooked cereal, rice, pasta, 1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal.

Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

1 to 2 servings

A serving is « cup cooked or 1 cup raw kale, collards, mustard or turnip greens, or spinach or broccoli.

Other Vegetables and Fruits

4 to 5 servings

Serving = « cup cooked, 1 cup raw, 1 piece of fruit, _ cups fruit juice, ¬ cup dried fruit.

Beans and Soy Products

3 to 4 servings

« cup cooked beans; 4 ounces tofu or tempeh; 8 ounces soymilk.

Nuts, Seeds, Wheat Germ

1 to 2 servings

Serving = 2 tablespoons nuts or seed, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons wheat germ.

Guidelines for Good Health During Pregnancy

Begin a healthful diet before you become pregnant. The early growth and development of your baby is
supported by your body stores of nutrients.

Maintain a steady rate of weighs gain. Aim for about 3 to 4 pounds total during the first trimester and then
about 3 to 4 pounds each month during the second and third trimesters.

See your health care provider regularly.

Limit empty calories found in highly processed foods and sweets. Make your calories count!


To make certain that you are getting adequate nutrition, pay particular attention to these nutrients:

Calcium: All of the groups above include foods that are rich in calcium. Be certain to include at least four
servings of calcium-rich foods in your diet every day. These include tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, bok
choy, broccoli, beans, figs, sunflower seeds, tahini, almond butter, calcium-fortified soymilk (try Westsoy
Plus or Better Than Milk brands), and calcium-fortified cereals and juices.

Vitamin D: This nutrient is poorly supplied in all diets unless people use foods that are fortified with it.
Many brands of ready-to-eat cereals are fortified with vitamin D. However, the body can make its own
vitamin D when skin is exposed to the sun. Pregnant women who don’t use fortified foods should be certain
to get at least 20 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight on their hands and faces two to three times weekly.

Vitamin Bl2: Vitamin B12 is not found in most plant foods. To get enough of this important nutrient, be
certain to consume one serving every day of a food that is fortified with vitamin B12. These foods include
many breakfast cereals, some meat substitute products, and some brands of soy milk. Certain brands of
nutritional yeast are good sources of vitamin Bl2. Be certain to read the label to find out which foods are
fortified. Seaweed and products like tempeh are generally not reliable sources of vitamin Bl2. Vitamin Bl2
is also in all standard multivitamins and in vegetarian supplements.

Iron: Iron is abundant in plant-based diets. Beans, dark green vegetables, dried fruits, blackstrap molasses,
nuts and seeds, and whole grain or fortified breads and cereals all contain plenty of iron. However, women
in the second half of pregnancy have very high iron needs and may need to take a supplement regardless of
the type of diet they follow. Your health care provider will discuss iron supplements with you.

A word about protein… Protein needs increase by about 30 percent during pregnancy. However, since
most people consume abundant amounts of protein anyway, the average woman consumes more protein than
is needed by a pregnant woman. Whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds are all protein-rich
foods. The preceding meal planning chart provides plenty of protein for pregnancy.

Menu Ideas

Plan meals around nutritious whole grains, beans and vegetables. Add sesame seeds, wheat germ, or
nutritional yeast for flavor and nutrition.

Cooked leafy green vegetables are a powerhouse of nutrition. Add them to soups and casseroles.

Snack on dried fruits and nuts to boost your intake of iron and other important trace nutrients.


The guidelines for breastfeeding mothers are similar to those for pregnant women. Milk production requires
more calories so you will need to boost your food intake a little bit.

Sample Menu for Pregnant Woman


Cold cereal topped with fruit and fortified soymilk

Toast with peanut butter



Tofu spread on whole grain bread with lettuce

Tossed salad with herbs and lemon juice



Lentil and Rice Casserole flavored with nutritional yeast and chopped tomatoes

Cooked Broccoli

Spinach salad

Fortified soymilk


Trail mix with almond and raisins


Tofu and fruit shakes

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Written by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021