Vegetarians of every variety can have healthy babies without compromising their dietary principles—they just have to be a little more careful in planning their diets than meat-eating mothers-to-be. When choosing your meat-free menus, make sure you get all of the following:
1. Enough protein. For the ova-lacto vegetarian, who eats eggs and milk products, getting enough protein is as easy as getting enough of these dairy-case favorites. If you’re a vegan (a vegetarian who eats neither milk nor eggs), you may find you’ll need to work a little harder in the protein department, turning to ample quantities of dried beans, peas, lentils, tofu, and other soy products.2. Enough calcium. This is no tall order for the vegetarian who eats dairy products, but it can be trickier for those who don’t. Luckily, dairy products are the most obvious but not the only sources of calcium. Calcium-fortified juices offer as much calcium as milk, ounce for ounce. Other nondairy dietary sources of calcium include dark leafy green vegetables, sesame seeds, almonds, and many soy products (such as soy milk, soy cheese, tofu and tempeh). For added insurance, vegans should probably also take a calcium supplement; check with your practitioner for a recommendation.
3. Vitamin B12. Though B12 deficiencies are rare, vegetarians, particularly vegans, often don’t get enough of this vitamin because it is found only in animal foods. So be certain to take supplemental B12, as well as folic acid and iron (ask your practitioner if you need more B12 than what’s provided in your prenatal vitamin). Other dietary sources include B12-fortified soy milk, fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, and fortified meat substitutes.
4. Vitamin D. This important vitamin is produced by your skin when you’re exposed to sunlight. But since spending lots of time in the sun is no longer considered a good health or beauty bet, relying on this source of vitamin D isn’t smart (especially for women with dark skin, who can’t absorb as much from the sunlight anyway). To ensure adequate intake of vitamin D, federal law requires that milk be fortified with 400 mg of vitamin D per quart. If you don’t drink cow’s milk, be sure there is enough vitamin D added to the soy milk you drink or in the pregnancy supplement you are taking. Breads and cereals are also fortified with it.