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Vegetarian Diets

A vegetarian diet is fine for pregnancy, as long as you're careful to get all the nutrition you and your baby need.

Protein. Protein is essential during pregnancy. If you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian (you avoid meat, fish, and poultry but do eat eggs and dairy products) or a lacto-vegetarian (you avoid meat, fish, poultry, and eggs but do eat dairy products), you can easily get the 60 grams a day recommended for a pregnant woman. In addition to dairy foods and eggs, plant foods such as beans, soy, nut butters, and whole grain bread contain protein. Even a vegan (someone who eats no animal products at all) can easily satisfy the daily protein requirement with smart food choices.

Calcium. This crucial pregnancy nutrient can come from dairy products and plant foods. Vegans and others who don't eat dairy can add calcium to their diet by eating plenty of dark leafy greens such as turnip and mustard greens, broccoli, bok choy, tahini, almonds, tofu processed with calcium, kidney beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans, calcium-fortified orange juice, and calcium-fortified soymilk.

Vitamin D. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. If you drink milk, you're getting vitamin D; if you avoid milk, you may need a vitamin D supplement. Talk with your doctor about this.

Zinc. Zinc is found in cheese, eggs, and yogurt, so only vegetarians who avoid these foods need to be concerned about getting enough. Whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes contain zinc.

Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that can be difficult for vegans to get enough of because it is found mainly in animal foods. Fortified breakfast cereals and supplements are the best way for vegetarians to get enough B12. If you're a vegan, tell your doctor--an extra B12 supplement might make sense for you. B12 is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means your body stores it for future use. It's important to get enough B12 during pregnancy so that if you breastfeed you'll have enough stored B12 available to nourish your baby.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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