Vegetarian diets and pregnancy

We all know that maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is important for our overall wellbeing. And healthy eating becomes an even bigger priority for expectant mothers, who now have to look after their own health as well as that of their developing baby.

The focus was on vegetarian women during one of the sessions of a recent seminar hosted by the Barbados Nurses Association on the observance of International Day of the Midwife.

Acting Assistant Nutrition Officer Glencil Taylor pointed out that attention must be paid to vegetarians to ensure that they are receiving all the necessary nutrients, as they are not consuming meats and in some cases, fish and dairy products.

“For pregnant women you want to have a variety of foods in the diet because you want to be well nourished, you have a developing baby,” Taylor said.

She quoted the US-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics which states that a well planned vegetarian diet containing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds can provide adequate nutrition. Well planned vegan, lactovegetarians and lacto ovo vegetarians diets are appropriate and they satisfy the nutrient needs and promote normal growth at all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy and lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes.

“So with this understanding we can say that if you are working with an individual that’s pregnant and that individual chooses to have a vegetarian diet, we would like as health professionals, to support that individual once the diet meets the recommendations that are outlined for a healthy diet,” Taylor told the midwives present.

She also advised them to refer women to nutritionists, particularly when they are intolerant of certain foods.

According to Taylor, pregnant vegetarians need to ensure an adequate consumption of a number of nutrients, particularly protein.

“Protein is really not difficult to get in your diet. The dry peas and beans, the nuts and so forth for persons who are pregnant, it’s not hard.  Even if they don’t like one pea or one bean or one nut, there [are] so many different types out there.  And for those persons who are using milk and cheese and eggs and so on, it makes it a whole lot easier.

“Calcium, you know that the calcium is available, we push milk a lot as a source of calcium, but what about females who do not use milk if they’re very strict? Then they’ll be looking for non-dairy options, and they should be looking for those that are fortified, meaning that the calcium has been added,” she stated.

Vitamin B12 is another critical aspect of an expectant mother’s diet, and, according to Taylor, vegetarians need to ensure they receive a regular supply.

“Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal food sources, it is not present in plant foods in a form that the body can utilize.  So for the strict vegetarian they’re going to need to be looking at fortified non-dairy beverages, ready to eat cereals, as well as meat substitutes.

“The recommendation is that you need to be having a reliable source of Vitamin B12, and you need to be having it regularly.  So if a person uses cheese once a month and drinks a little bit of milk in their tea . . . that’s not enough milk,” Taylor said.

Fats and oils, should not be overlooked, she advised.

“Plant-based fats will be preferred, rather than animal types of fat.  So if you have butter some vegetarians will use butter, some would not. Definitely the bacon and so forth would be ruled out because that’s meaty.  But you find many of them preferring the plant types of oil.”

Taylor cautioned however, that vegetarian diets are not expensive but it is important that women take the time to maintain good health for themselves and their developing baby.

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