Are you one of the many people who question whether it’s safe for pregnant women to consume only whole plant-based food while pregnant? Put your worries to rest. Hands down, a plant-based pregnancy diet is absolutely better than the Standard American Diet for pregnant women, just as it is for everyone else when done right.
The plant-based food a fetus gets from their mother nutritionally supplies them with everything they need and gives them the healthiest start to forever health when done right.
So, if you’re pregnant, don’t let that stop you from considering adopting a whole food plant-based lifestyle. Of course, it is advised that you consult with your doctor on your health needs during this time.
9 Steps to a Balanced Plant-Based Pregnancy Diet
Calorie needs increase only modestly during pregnancy. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it works out to about 340 extra calories per day in the second trimester and about 450 extra calories during the third.
Maintain a steady rate of weight gain. How much weight should be gained depends on the prepregnancy weight status? In general, aim for about 3 to 4 pounds total during the first trimester and then about 3 to 4 pounds each month during the second and third trimesters.
During pregnancy, your nutrient needs increase. For example, you will require more calcium, more protein, and more folic acid, even though your calorie needs to increase only modestly. Limit empty calories found in highly processed foods and sweets.
Pregnant women should aim for about 70 grams of protein per day during the second and third trimesters. It’s easy to meet this requirement by eating a variety of plant-based foods, including beans, lentils, quinoa, tempeh, tofu, whole grains, and vegetables.
A day’s menu could include oatmeal with fruit, walnuts, and chia seeds for breakfast; lentil soup and a hummus sandwich for lunch; brown rice, almond, and chickpea bowl for dinner; and a slice of whole-wheat bread with peanut butter for a snack.
Include plenty of calcium-rich food in your plant-based pregnancy diet, like tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, figs, sunflower seeds, tahini, almond butter, and calcium-fortified soy milk, cereals, and juices.
The natural source of vitamin D is sunlight. If you do not get regular sunlight, vitamin D3 is also available in vitamins and in fortified foods. Many brands of cereal and plant milk are fortified with vitamin D.
Vitamin B12 is not found in plant food or animal food. Usually the only people who get enough of this important nutrient, include supplementation in their dietary regimen. Vitamin B12 is found in standard multivitamins and in prenatal vitamins, but plant-based experts suggest more than what most vitamins contain. The usual recommendation is 50mg per day or 3000mg per week.
Folate (aka folic acid or Vitamin B9)
Folate is an integral part of proper brain development in babies. The baby’s brain is rapidly developing in the first few weeks of pregnancy, and prenatal vitamins often contain sufficient amounts of folic acid. Plants like dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruit, beans, avocado, seeds, nuts, peas, and lentils contain plentiful amounts of folate.
You can easily meet folate needs on a high-level plant-based diet. For those women on a SAD, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists state that women of childbearing age should take 400 mcg of folate daily, and during pregnancy, folate intake should be increased to 600 mcg of folic acid.
Iron is abundant in plant-based diets. Beans, dark leafy green vegetables, dried fruit, blackstrap molasses, nuts and seeds, and whole-grain or fortified bread and cereals all contain iron. However, women in the second half of pregnancy sometimes need to take a supplement regardless of the type of diet they follow. Your health care provider will discuss iron supplements with you.
The guidelines for breastfeeding mothers are similar to those for pregnant women. Milk production requires even more calories than pregnancy, so you will need to boost your food intake a little bit. During the first six months of breastfeeding, you need 500 calories more than you did before you became pregnant. This drops to 400 additional calories during the second six months of breastfeeding. Protein needs are the same as during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.