How to Eat a Balanced Vegetarian Diet While Pregnant

Three Parts:Consulting a Medical ProfessionalEating Nutrient-Rich Vegetarian FoodsCaring for Yourself and Your Baby

Many women who are vegetarians wonder whether their diet provides enough nutrients to sustain a healthy pregnancy. Although vegetarian diets are often lower in nutrients essential to having a healthy baby, careful planning and prenatal supplements can help vegetarians maintain a well-balanced diet throughout pregnancy. By consulting a medical professional, following daily recommendations for certain vitamins and nutrients, and increasing calorie intake, you can enjoy a vegetarian diet that is balanced and healthy and can help provide appropriate nutrition for you and your unborn baby.[1]

Part 1
Consulting a Medical Professional

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    Consult your doctor about continuing your vegetarian diet. If you discover that you are pregnant, speak with your doctor about whether or not it’s safe to continue your vegetarian diet. You and your baby can get plenty of nutrition from a vegetarian diet, but your doctor may have special suggestions on getting the right balance of nutrients from your food choices.[2]
    • If you are a pescatarian, or eat fish on occasion, you may need to limit they types of fish you eat.[3]
    • You may also need to avoid certain unpasteurized or imported cheeses or raw eggs.[4]
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    Consult a registered dietician. Women who are pregnant have special dietary needs, and if you are a pregnant vegetarian, you will need to adjust your diet even more to keep you and your unborn baby healthy. Consult a registered dietician to discuss your specific dietary needs and how you can best get all of the vitamins and nutrients necessary to maintain your health.
    • Vegetarian women may lack important vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, Vitamin B12, and essential fatty acids. This deficit can become more acute if you are a pregnant vegetarian. A registered dietician may help you develop an eating plan that ensure you and your baby get sufficient nutrients.[5]
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    Develop an eating plan and keep a food diary. With your doctor or dietician, develop a sensible vegetarian meal plan that will sustain you and your baby throughout pregnancy. Keeping a food diary can help you keep track of the types of food you’re eating and ensure that you’re getting a varied range of essential nutrients.

Part 2
Eating Nutrient-Rich Vegetarian Foods

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    Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. As a pregnant woman, you need to make sure you are eating the proper nutrients to sustain your pregnancy. By eating a healthy, well-balanced diet you can help ensure that you, and your unborn baby get the necessary vitamins and minerals from a vegetarian diet.
    • In addition to your regular calorie intake, you will need to factor in extra calories for sustaining your pregnancy. You will need up to 450 extra calories per day to support your unborn child.[6]
    • Choose healthy and nutrient dense foods such as proteins including nuts, iron rich foods like dark green leafy vegetables, and dairy products like yogurt or cheese for calcium.[7]
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    Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. As a vegetarian, fruits and vegetables are likely the cornerstone of your diet. Fruits and vegetables contain many important nutrients for you and your baby including Vitamin C and folic acid.[8]
    • Get at least 2-4 servings of fruit and 4 or more servings of vegetables daily.[9]
    • Eat vegetables such as broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes, and spinach to help you get iron, calcium, and Vitamin C.[10]
    • Eat fruits such as oranges and strawberries for Vitamin C. Prunes and dried apricots are a good source of iron.[11]
    • You also want to make sure you get Vitamin A in your diet from sources like carrots, beets, apricots, cantaloupe, or sweet potatoes.[12]
    • Fruits and vegetables will supply you fiber, which can help keep you regular during pregnancy.[13]
    • Make sure to not eat unwashed fruits or vegetables, which can expose you and your unborn baby to toxoplasmosis.[14]
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    Consume breads and grains for energy. The primary source of energy for pregnant women is found in breads and grains. Getting enough breads and grains every day will help you keep up your energy and can also provide additional nutrients such as iron.[15]
    • Eat 6-11 servings of breads and grains daily.[16]
    • Choose breads and grains that are fortified with iron, Vitamin B, fiber and protein.[17]
    • Make sure that at least half of your bread and grain consumption is from whole grains such as brown rice. Products that list whole grains, such as whole wheat flour, as their first ingredient are your best choice.[18]
    • You can get your daily servings of breads and grains from foods such as brown or wild rice, whole grain cereals or pastas, and whole grain toast or English muffins.[19]
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    Eat protein to help your baby grow. Protein is an important nutrient for any pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters.[20] While traditional sources of protein such as meat are off limits for vegetarians, you can still get enough protein to sustain your pregnancy and growing baby.
    • You should get 3-4 servings of bean or soy products and an additional 1-2 servings of nuts and seeds for protein.[21]
    • You can get protein from a wide variety of different foods including: nuts and nut butters such as almonds or peanut butter, soy products, tofu, quinoa, or legumes like lima beans.[22]
    • If you eat eggs, they are an excellent source of protein.[23]
    • If you are a pescatarian, be careful when consuming seafood or fish. Limit your cooked fish intake to 8-12 oz. per week and your canned intake to 6 oz. per week.[24] Avoid tuna steaks, swordfish, mackerel, shark or any other fish with high mercury levels.[25]
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    Ingest dairy for building strong bones and muscles. Calcium is essential for sustaining a pregnancy and helping your baby grow. Eating foods such as cheese, yogurt, and even ice cream can help ensure you get the recommend servings of dairy for a healthy pregnancy.[26]
    • You need at least four servings of calcium rich foods per day.[27] Combining calcium rich foods with those rich in Vitamin D will help your body absorb calcium best.[28]
    • You can get calcium from a wide range of foods including dairy products like cheese, milk, or yogurt; leafy green vegetables such as spinach; dried beans or peas; and tofu.[29]
    • Sources of Vitamin D are fortified milk and eggs, if you eat them.[30]
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    Get enough folic acid. Make sure to eat foods that are high in folic acid. Deficiencies in this nutrient can cause neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.[31]
    • You can get folic acid from foods such as dark leafy-green vegetables and legumes including lima beans, black beans, and chickpeas.[32]
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    Write daily meal plans. Consider writing daily meal plans to help ensure that you’re getting enough nutrients. Having this overview of your eating plans can help you and your doctor identify any deficiencies in your diet.
    • For example, for breakfast one day you might have a steel cut oatmeal cooked in one cup of milk. You can top the oatmeal with 2 cups of fresh strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. You could add two pieces of whole wheat toast topped with mashed avocado instead of butter for added nutrition.
    • For a mid-morning snack, have a cup of Greek yogurt with one cup of fresh fruit and some high-protein nuts such as almonds.
    • For lunch, you can have a large salad with a variety of vegetables such as kale, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, beets, steamed broccoli, and yellow or red peppers. Add some tofu or kidney beans for protein and some feta cheese for protein and calcium.
    • For a mid-afternoon snack, have cut vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, or cocktail tomatoes and a whole wheat pita with hummus. You can add some string cheese for added calcium or a hard boiled egg for extra protein.
    • For dinner, have fish or another protein such as a tofu steak soaked in tamari sauce. Have a large salad and a mixed medley of steamed vegetables. If you want or need another grain, make yourself a small side of whole wheat pasta or some whole wheat bread topped with low sugar jam, real butter, or a half an avocado.
    • For dessert, you can “splurge” on some ice cream or a fruit tart.

Part 3
Caring for Yourself and Your Baby

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    Take prenatal vitamins. Even if you are consuming a healthy vegetarian diet, your body may additional nutrients to support your pregnancy. Taking a pre-natal vitamin every day can help you get additional nutrients you may need and not be getting through food.
    • During pregnancy, the body is designed to put your child’s nutritional needs before yours.
    • Try to get as many nutrients as possible from healthy and whole foods.
    • Make sure to speak to your doctor before taking pre-natal vitamins or ask her to prescribe some for you.
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    Drink plenty of liquids. It’s important to make sure that you’re drinking plenty of liquids while pregnant. You need enough liquid to avoid dehydration and support your pregnancy, and drinking enough every day will help you stay healthy.
    • You should drink around 13 cups of water a day to stay hydrated and sustain your pregnancy.[33]
    • Water is the best choice for your needs, but you can also drink non-caffeinated tea, and juices. Clear, non-caffeinated soft drinks such as ginger ale may help with nausea.
    • You may consume coffee or caffeinated teas and soft drinks in limited quantities. The recommended level of caffeine that is safe is equal to less than 750ml of coffee.[34] Consult with your doctor to make sure it’s safe to consume any of these beverages.
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    Avoid empty calories and foods that can cause digestive issues. You want to make sure that you and your unborn baby get plenty of nutrients and don’t feel sick. Avoiding empty calories such as junk food or foods that can cause digestive issues such as heartburn can help both your and your unborn baby.
    • Try to avoid unhealthy calories such as those found in sweets and junk food including potato chips, cookies, cakes, or fried foods.
    • You might want to avoid any foods that can cause digestive issues for you or your unborn baby, including spicy foods, eggs, wheat, corn, or peanuts.[35]
    • You may recognize foods that cause digestive issues for you because you feel unwell, have bloating or gas, indigestion, and heartburn after eating certain foods.[36]
    • You may recognize foods that cause digestive issues for your unborn baby because it may react to certain foods with increased activity in your stomach.[37]
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    Avoid alcoholic beverages and tobacco. It’s advisable to avoid all alcohol and tobacco while you’re pregnant. Using these substances can be potentially harmful to you and your unborn baby.
    • There is plenty of evidence about the risk of alcohol consumption for pregnant women, so consider avoiding alcohol altogether while you’re pregnant.[38]
    • Tobacco use can put unborn child at risk for conditions such as low-birth weight and respiratory diseases.[39]
    • If you smoke while pregnant, speak to your doctor about possible treatment options to help you quit and keep yourself and baby healthy.[40]


  • Most prenatal supplements contain folic acid in its necessary dose because of its importance in preventing neural tube defects, so it is unlikely you will need 600 µg/day from food if you are taking a prenatal supplement or folate supplement. Do not avoid foods high in folic acid, however, as additional dietary folate does not harm you or your baby during pregnancy.
  • Pregnant women, vegetarian or otherwise, should avoid overly salty, fatty, or artificially sweetened foods to receive the most nutritional value from their diet.


  • Do not switch from a meat-eating diet to a vegetarian diet once you become pregnant unless instructed by your healthcare provider.
  • If changes in your diet lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, or a pallid complexion, consult a healthcare professional to discuss whether your diet is missing an essential nutrient.
  • Certain herbal and dietary supplements can be dangerous during pregnancy; do not take such supplements without the guidance of your healthcare provider.

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Categories: Vegetarian Health