Vegetarian, vegan and special diets in pregnancy
Is it safe to have a vegetarian or vegan diet during pregnancy?
It is important to eat healthily during pregnancy. If you have a varied and balanced vegetarian or vegan diet, you should have all the nutrients you and your baby need.
Vegetarians typically avoid meat and fish, but eat eggs, dairy products and all plant-based foods. Vegans typically eat only plant-based foods. Individuals may however eat different combinations of foods within these definitions.
It is important to plan your diet carefully, to make sure you are getting enough nutrients that are found in large amounts in animal or dairy products. This might mean you need to change the amount of certain foods that are included in your diet.
We have some example recipes that you can try out for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
A vegetarian diet that includes a good variety of foods will get you all the energy and nutrients you need. Meat and fish replacements that provide a good range of nutrients include:
- beans and lentils
- soya foods such as tofu
- quorn, textured vegetable protein and tempeh
- nuts and seeds.
Try not to rely on dairy products like cheese as a replacement for fish or meat and try some of the other options above. Cheese contains a lot of fat and can be replaced with healthier alternatives. There are also some types of cheese that you should avoid during pregnancy.
As a lifelong vegetarian, during my pregnancy I've been even more conscious to eat lots of fruit and veg, and base meals around ingredients like eggs, lentils and mixed beans.
Vegan and plant-based diets
If you are vegan and eat a plant-based diet, this can be a healthy choice in pregnancy. But it is important to make sure you have a variety of plant-based protein foods and taking some additional supplements is recommended.
Good sources of protein for vegans include soya products, beans, peas, nuts and seeds and grains. You should try to eat a variety of these every day.
Other key nutrients to be aware of are:
- vitamin D
- vitamin B12
You may also want to include fortified foods in your diet. These might include mineral and vitamin-enriched, unsweetened soya milk or other plant milk alternatives and cereals. Many of these include vitamin B12. Sources of vitamin B12 for vegans are limited, so you may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement. The Vegan Society have a supplement suitable for use in pregnancy called VEG 1 which provides vitamins D, B12, B6, riboflavin, folic acid, iodine and selenium.
Your midwife or GP may refer you to a dietitian, to help make sure your diet includes everything you and your baby needs.
Good sources of iron for vegans are:
- dark green vegetables
- wholemeal bread
- fortified breakfast cereals (with added iron)
- dried fruit, such as apricots.
Read more about iron in pregnancy.
Aim to eat at least 4 portions of calcium-rich foods every day. These include:
- dark green leafy vegetables
- pulses like lentils
- fortified, unsweetened plant-based milk alternatives
- brown and white bread
- calcium-set tofu
- sesame seeds and tahini
- dried fruit
Read more: www.vegsoc.org and www.vegansociety.com
Special diets and allergies
Some people need special diets, for example if you:
- have to avoid certain foods because you have coeliac disease
- have an allergy that means you cannot eat certain foods or food groups
- have a medical condition that limits your food choices.
If you have a special diet, ask your GP to be referred to a dietitian. They can advise you on how to make sure you are getting everything you and your baby need during pregnancy.
If you are diabetic, your healthcare team will help you manage your diet during pregnancy.
Sebastiani G, Herranz Barbero A, Borrás-Novell C, et al. (2019) The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diet during Pregnancy on the Health of Mothers and Offspring. Nutrients. 2019;11(3):557.
NHS Choices (accessed 30/20/10) Vegetarian and vegan diets Q&A: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-q-and-a/
NHS Choices (accessed 30/10/20) The vegetarian diet: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-vegetarian-diet/
NHS Choices (accessed 20/10/20) Vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/vegetarian-and-vegan-mums-to-be/