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Nutrition is vitally important for the health and well being of the human body. Never more important than during pregnancy, proper nutrition is critical for the health of the mother and developing fetus.

Nutrition is vitally important for the health and well being of the human body.  Never more important than during pregnancy, proper nutrition is critical for the health of the mother and developing fetus.  To maintain proper nutrition during pregnancy, it is recommended that women consume an extra 300 calories per day,however, it is not only important to increase caloric intake, but to also eat the proper foods.  For women who observe a vegetarian diet, it is important to take the special needs of pregnancy into consideration and add the necessary foods to ensure proper nutrition is being met.


What is a Vegetarian?

It is important to note there are many different types of vegetarian diets and with each diet, the foods allowed are also different.  Which one is being practiced will play an important role in how the daily nutritional requirements of pregnancy are met.  Listed below are the different types of vegetarian diets:

  • Pescetarian-those who abstain from eating all meat and animal flesh, with the exception of fish.  
  • Flexitarian-is a recently coined term used to describe those who eat a mostly vegetarian diet, but occasionally eat meat.
  • Vegetarian (Lacto-ovo-vegetarian)-those who eat no beef, pork, poultry, fish, shell fish or animal flesh, but do eat eggs and dairy products.
  • Lacto-vegetarian-a vegetarian who does not eat eggs, but does eat dairy.
  • Ovo-vegetarian-those who eat eggs, but no meat or dairy products.
  • Vegan-those who do not eat meat, eggs, dairy products or processed foods that contain animal by-products such as gelatin.  Many true vegans  do not eat foods that are made from animal products or   those that may contain animal products such as wine or sugar.  
  • Raw vegan/raw food diet-those who consume unprocessed vegan foods that have not been heated to 115°F, it is believed that foods heated in this manner lose nutritional value and are harmful to the body.
  • Macrobiotic-those who eat unprocessed vegan foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables and occasionally fish.  Oil and refined sugars are completely avoided.  Special emphasis of a macrobiotic diet includes the consumption of Asian vegetables such as seaweed, sea vegetables and daikon.

Recommended Weight Gain During Pregnancy

Gaining weight during pregnancy is a factor crucial to the development and growth of a fetus.  The extra weight a woman gains during pregnancy provides the nourishment needed by the developing fetus and is also stored for breast feeding once the baby has been born.

Women often wonder how much weight to gain during pregnancy and how the extra weight is distributed throughout the body.  Here is an approximate breakdown of where the extra weight goes during pregnancy:

  • Baby: 6-8 lbs.
  • Placenta: 1-2 lbs.
  • Amniotic fluid:  2-2 ½ lbs.
  • Uterus: 2-3 lbs.
  • Maternal breast tissue: 2-3 lbs.
  • Maternal blood: 4 lbs.
  • Fluids in the tissues: 4 lbs.
  • Maternal fat stores and nutrients: 7 lbs.

The amount of weight a physician recommends will depend upon the weight of the mother prior to pregnancy.  If the mother is a healthy weight before pregnancy, a weight gain of 25-35 lbs is recommended.  If the mother is underweight a gain of 28-40 lbs is appropriate and if the mother is overweight , the recommended amount of weight gain is between 15-25 lbs.

The following table shows how weight gain is distributed during pregnancy:

  • During the first trimester: 3-5lbs. in total
  • During the second trimester: 1-2 lbs. per week
  • During the third trimester: 1-2 lbs. per week

A goal of pregnancy is to keep weight gain at healthy and consistent pace, because the developing fetus depends upon a daily supply of nutrients that comes from the mother.  It is completely normal for weight gain to fluctuate from week to week, however, any sudden weight gain or loss should be immediately reported to the health care provider.

Why it is Important to Get Enough Protein During Pregnancy?

During pregnancy and lactation, the dietary requirement for protein increases significantly.  Protein is essential for the development of all new cells and during pregnancy, it is recommended that women increase protein intake to a minimum of 60 grams daily. 

Protein is necessary for fetal growth and development and is responsible for the placenta, amniotic and maternal tissues.  Because a womans blood volume increases by 50% during pregnancy, consuming enough protein is necessary for the production of new blood cells and circulating proteins in the blood.

The human body can manufacture all but eight of the twenty amino acids, the rest must come from foods that are consumed.  Animal products have all eight of the essential proteins and considered to be complete proteins.  Vegetarian products may be lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids and are considered incomplete proteins unless correctly combined with other protein sources.

Not consuming enough protein during pregnancy puts the mother and fetus at risk and may increase the likelihood of low birth weight and may have a direct effect on fetal brain development.  Because protein intake during pregnancy is so vital, it is important to find ways to incorporate it into vegetarian diet to meet the daily recommended requirement.

Calcium and Vitamin C Requirements During Pregnancy

Receiving adequate calcium during pregnancy is as important for the developing fetus, as it is for the mother.  When a maternal diet is low in calcium, the fetus will draw from maternal sources to get all the calcium it needs.  This fact may put the mother at risk of developing osteoporosis or dental problems down the road, so getting enough calcium in the diet is essential.

Most prenatal vitamins will boost maternal calcium stores, however vitamins only raise it between 250-300 mg.  During pregnancy, it is necessary to increase daily calcium intake to 1200-1500 mg. daily or 3-5 servings of calcium rich foods, this will ensure fetal bone development and prevent calcium loss to the mother.

Vitamin C, is also known as ascorbic acid and is vital for skin repair, wound and bone healing, skin health and having a healthy immune system.  Vitamin C is the bonding agent that holds new cells together and helps the body absorb iron from other foods.

During pregnancy it is recommended that a woman receives 85 mg. of vitamin C per day.  Vitamin C requirements can be met through a daily vitamin supplement but best if received from a natural source.  Signs of a vitamin C deficiency are brittle hair and fingernails, rough, dry skin, bruising and slow healing cuts.

Iron Requirements During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman needs more dietary iron than normal because the body is manufacturing more blood.  Increased iron is necessary for the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the developing fetus. 

Keeping iron levels up during pregnancy is very important because it supports placental function, manufacturers red blood cells, acts as a buffer from blood loss during the delivery and it provides the fetus with the iron stores necessary for the first six months of life.

It is recommended that pregnant women get an average of 18 mg. of iron daily and eat at least three servings of iron rich foods per day.  While iron from meat is better than iron from a plant product, the iron from a plant product is better absorbed if taken with vitamin C.

Folate Requirements During Pregnancy

The first twenty-eight days after conception is a time most women do not even know they are pregnant. It is during this time that a developing fetus is vulnerable to neural tube defects such as spina bifida, anencephaly and encephalocele.  These birth defects can be prevented by up to 70%, if a woman gets the right amount of folic acid in the diet before and during pregnancy.

The Center for Disease Control recommends a daily folic acid intake of 400 micrograms for women of child bearing age and for those who plan on becoming pregnant.  In addition to prenatal vitamins, vegetarians can also get the extra folic acid required from enriched grain products.

Vitamin B12 Requirements During Pregnancy

Vitamin B12 is necessary for healthy nerve cells and red blood cells, maintaining a healthy nervous system and forming DNA.  A scientific study found that women who did not get enough vitamin B12 before and during pregnancy, had a greater chance of having a baby born with neural tube defects.

The National Academy of Sciences recommends a dietary requirement of 2.2 g. of vitamin B12 during pregnancy.  A developing fetus requires approximately 0.3 g. of vitamin B12 per day.  The Academy also reports that insufficient levels of vitamin B12 during pregnancy can result in maternal pernicious anemia with resulting infertility, and poor pregnancy outcome as a result.

Zinc Requirements During Pregnancy

Zinc is a very important nutrient to have during pregnancy and is involved in several important functions.  A marginal zinc deficiency during pregnancy can result in miscarriage, pregnancy-related toxemia, premature birth and prolonged labor.  Zinc is also integral to all growth phases of the developing fetus and not having enough can result in certain birth defects.

The average American females dietary intake of zinc is approximately 9 mg per day.  The recommended daily allowance for zinc during pregnancy is approximately 13 mg. for females aged 18 years of age and younger, and 11 mg. for females 19 years of age and older.

Which Foods Contain the Right Vitamins and Nutrients

Below is a sample list of foods that are a good source for maintaining the necessary levels of proteins, vitamins and nutrients in the diet of a vegetarian (and non-vegetarian) mother-to-be:


  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Meat (chicken, tuna, pork, beef, etc.)
  • Cheese
  • Ice Cream
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Beans (black beans, navy beans, hummus, etc.)
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut Butter
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Pistachios


  • Almonds
  • Blackstrap Molasses
  • Broccoli
  • Enriched Ricemilk and Soymilk
  • Figs
  • Leafy Green Vegetables
  • Salmon, with bones
  • Soybeans
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Bok Choy
  • Tofu
  • Sardines
  • Cottage Cheese

Vitamin C:

  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus Fruits
  • Papayas
  • Potatoes
  • Peppers
  • Mango
  • Kohlrabi
  • Kale
  • Kiwi
  • Jicama


  • Liver
  • Mussels
  • Venison
  • Canned shrimp, sardines and anchovies
  • Beef
  • Ground thyme
  • Curry powder
  • Oat & Wheat bran
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Paprika
  • Bran flakes
  • Sesame seeds
  • Wheatgerm
  • Dried figs
  • Boiled lentils
  • Apricots
  • Hazelnuts
  • Almonds
  • Watercress
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Hummus
  • Dried dates
  • Cooked garbanzo beans
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Spinach
  • Eggs


  • Breakfast cereal
  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Dry-roasted sunflower seeds
  • Orange juice
  • Okra
  • Raw spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Cooked pinto beans or chickpeas
  • Cooked, dried black beans
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Grapefruit
  • Pineapple
  • Avocado
  • Lettuce
  • Green peas
  • Leafy green vegetables

Vitamin B12:

  • Mollusks
  • Clams
  • Lamb
  • Fish 
  • Beef
  • Goose
  • Duck
  • Turkey 
  • Chicken
  • Yogurt
  • Sea plants (kelp)
  • Algae
  • Fermented plant foods (tempeh, miso or tofu)
  • Yeasts (brewers yeast)


  • Oysters
  • Shellfish
  • Wheat germ
  • Brewers yeast
  • Bran cereals
  • Pine nuts
  • Pecans
  • Cashews
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Liver
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Peanuts
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Cheese
  • Milk


For women who normally adhere to a vegetarian diet, becoming pregnant does not have to present added dietary challenges.  If special attention is paid to the nutritional requirements needed, a woman can easily adapt a vegetarian diet to accommodate the needs of pregnancy.