Vegan Pregnancy Nutrition: 5 Food Groups to Work Into Your Diet

Reed Mangels, dietitian and author of Your Complete Vegan Pregnancy, shares easy tips to have a healthy vegan pregnancy. 

Whether you’ve been vegan for many years, are a relative newcomer to veganism, or are simply contemplating being vegan, adding pregnancy to the equation may raise some questions for you. Rest assured, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) has said that well-planned vegan diets are “appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy…[and] lactation.”

Pregnancy (or prepregnancy) is a great time to learn more about vegan nutrition so that you can be sure you are making the best possible food choices!

You’ve heard it before—whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are the basis for a healthy vegan diet. But maybe that’s not enough. How many servings of vegetables should you be eating now that you’re pregnant? Are there foods that you should avoid? A simple vegan food guide for pregnancy can help. And if you’d like even more support, a session with a knowledgeable RD is a very worthwhile undertaking.

Vegan Food Guide for Pregnancy

Many food guides don’t work for vegans. Food guides often include a meat group and a dairy group. Even if you replace meat with vegetable protein sources, you’re still left with a food group that recommends eating cheese and drinking cow’s milk.

This Vegan Food Guide for Pregnancy is based on five food groups. All servings listed are the minimum number of servings from each food group. If you are not gaining weight at the recommended rate, you’ll need to eat a larger number of servings from the food groups. Be sure to choose a variety of foods from each food group.

Food Group and Daily Servings

  • Grains
    Daily servings: 6
     
  • Dried Beans, Nuts, Milks, and Other Protein-Rich Foods
    Daily servings: 7
     
  • Vegetables
    Daily servings: 4
     
  • Fruits
    Daily servings: 2
     
  • Fats
    Daily servings: 2

In addition to making food choices based on this food guide, you should also be taking a prenatal supplement that supplies vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Supplemental DHA is also recommended in pregnancy.

In addition to making food choices based on this food guide, you should also be taking a prenatal supplement that supplies vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Supplemental DHA is also recommended in pregnancy.

Grains Group

This group includes breads, tortillas, crackers, bagels, rolls, pastas, rices, cereals, quinoa, and other foods made from grains. Choose whole grains as often as possible. A serving from this group is a slice of bread; a tortilla or roll; 1⁄2 cup of cooked cereal, grain, or pasta; or 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal. This food group provides carbohydrates, calories, fiber, B vitamins, iron, and some protein. Fortified cereals can supply other vitamins and minerals.

Dried Beans, Nuts, Milks, and Other Protein-Rich Foods Group

This food group includes a variety of foods that are good sources of protein for vegans. Many foods in this group also supply iron and zinc, and some foods are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. A serving from this group is 1⁄2 cup of cooked dried beans or peas; 1⁄2 cup of tofu, TVP, or tempeh; 1 ounce of veggie “meat”; 2 tablespoons of nut or seed butters; 1⁄4 cup of nuts or soy nuts; or 1 cup of fortified soy milk.

The Vegan Food Guide for Pregnancy can also be used when you are breastfeeding. For most food groups, eat the same amounts as you did when you were pregnant. Choose one more serving of protein-rich foods, continue to use prenatal vitamins, and add foods as needed to prevent excess weight loss.

Vegetables Group

This food group includes all vegetables, from asparagus to zucchini. Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked. A serving from this group is 1⁄2 cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw vegetables. Be sure to include some nutrient-rich dark-green vegetables and deep-orange vegetables often. This food group is an especially good source of fiber and vitamins A and C; it supplies some iron and zinc.

Fruits Group

Fruits are especially good sources of vitamins C and A; they also provide fiber and B vitamins. This group includes fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruits and fruit juices. A serving from this group is a piece of medium fruit; 1⁄2 cup of cut-up or canned fruit; 1⁄4 cup of dried fruit; or 1⁄2 cup of fruit juice.

Fats Group

This group provides calories, vitamin E, and essential fatty acids. Foods in this group include oils, vegan salad dressings and mayonnaise, vegan margarine, and vegan cream cheese. A serving of any of these foods is 1 teaspoon.

Meeting Calcium Needs with the Vegan Food Guide for Pregnancy

Vegans get calcium from different food groups. Green leafy vegetables, fortified soy milk, and almonds are examples of some vegan calcium sources. The following table lists amounts of vegan foods that provide approximately 150 milligrams of calcium. By choosing at least six servings (6 × 150 = 900 milligrams) from this list and getting the rest of the calcium you need from other foods, you can meet the RDA of 1,000 milligrams of calcium. If you are taking a supplement that contains calcium, you will need fewer servings of calcium-rich foods.

Foods Supplying Approximately 150 Milligrams of Calcium

  • Cooked collards or turnip greens
    Serving size: 3⁄4 cup
     
  • Cooked kale or broccoli rabe
    Serving size: 1 cup
     
  • Cooked bok choy, okra, or mustard greens
    Serving size: 1 cup
     
  • Cooked broccoli
    Serving size: 21⁄2 cups
     
  • Calcium-fortified juice (orange or vegetable) or milk (soy, almond, etc.)
    Serving size: 4 ounces
     
  • Calcium-fortified vegan yogurt
    Serving size: 3 ounces
     
  • Calcium-fortified vegan cheese
    Serving size: 3⁄4 ounce
     
  • Tofu
    Serving size: 2 ounces
     
  • Tempeh
    Serving size: 3⁄4 cup
     
  • Almonds
    Serving size: 6 tablespoons
     
  • Almond butter or tahini
    Serving size: 21⁄2 tablespoons
     
  • Cooked dried beans
    Serving size: 11⁄2 cups (1 cup soybeans)
     
  • Dried figs
    Serving size: 10
     
  • English muffin made with calcium propionate
    Serving size: 11/2
     
  • Blackstrap molasses
    Serving size: 2 teaspoons
     
  • Calcium-fortified energy bar
    Serving size: 1⁄2

    Excerpted from Your Complete Vegan Pregnancy by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD. Copyright © 2019 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Used with permission of the publisher, Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. All rights reserved.


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