Pregnancy without meat - it can be done. Find out what you need to include in a vegetarian diet for a healthy pregnancy.
Everybody knows how important it is to eat a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy so that you and your developing baby get all the nutrients you need. However, many people believe that a nutritionally balanced pregnancy diet cannot be achieved without the inclusion of meat.
As approximately 10% of women in the UK are vegetarian, this means that many women are disapproved of for 'not doing whats best for their baby' simply because they don't start wolfing down bacon sarnies as soon as they get a positive test. However, provided a vegetarian mother-to-be makes sure she eats a nutrient rich diet (just as any meat eater should), pregnancy without meat shouldn't pose a risk at all. Many vegetarians follow a healthy diet by including lots of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and non-meat proteins in their meals. However as an expectant mothers' nutritional needs doubles and calorific needs only increase by about 15% during pregnancy it is especially important to make sure that every food eaten counts.
Obviously for many meat and fish provide the main source of protein, however there are also a varied number of alternative options. Eating plenty of protein is important as it plays an essential role in the development of the foetus and the placenta. The vast majority of foods contain a protein component however foods that are particularly good sources include dairy products, cereals, nuts, seeds, lentils, pulses and beans, as well as soya products. Additionally, there is an increasing range of meat-substitutes on the market which are excellent sources of protein too.
Calcium plays an especially important role during the third trimester although it is also essential throughout pregnancy to support the growth and development of baby's bones. Your body actually becomes more efficient at absorbing calcium during pregnancy however it is still important to ensure you consume a sufficient amount of calcium rich foods. Dairy products are excellent sources of calcium as are leafy green vegetables, almonds, pulses and wholegrain cereals, Fortified soya milks can be a good alternative for those who don't eat dairy.
Calcium cannot be properly absorbed by the body without sufficient levels of vitamin D. We get this vitamin from sunlight, however if you do not spend a great deal of time outdoors each day you should try to include fortified margarine and dairy products in your diet.
It is important to eat iron rich foods during pregnancy as levels of iron in the blood decrease as the maternal supply is shared with baby. Iron plays an essential role in the formation of red blood cells that deliver oxygen to cells around the body. While those with low levels of iron may suffer from anaemia, unless recommended by your Doctor you needn't take iron supplements but instead focus on eating plenty of iron rich foods such as green vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, dried apricots and other dried fruits.
Vitamin C enhances iron absorption so combining fruit, vegetables or juice as part of a meal and avoiding tea and coffee for an hour before or after you have eaten (as they contain tannin which affects absorption) will help to ensure your body has enough.
The often overlooked mineral zinc is especially important in pregnancy as it plays a role in cell division and helps to form baby's immune system. Good sources of zinc include wholegrains, cereals and seeds (these make a handy and healthy snack).
Vitamin B12 plays a key role in the development of the nervous system. However, consuming a sufficient amount of this vitamin can be tricky for those who don't eat meat as it is mainly found in animal products. If you don't eat dairy or eggs it may be that you need to supplement your diet, however this should only be done at the consult of your GP.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
As has been widely publicised omega-3 fatty acids are essential for healthy development of a baby's eyes and brain. While the source focus tends to placed on fish, they can also be found in soya products, walnuts, peanuts, peas, leafy greens and berries.
This is a B vitamin that is essential in the development of the spine, skull and brain. While leafy greens and wholegrain cereals are good sources, it is currently recommended that expectant mothers should take folic acid supplements throughout pregnancy so as to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Current guidelines suggest that a 400mg supplement of folic acid should be consumed daily at least until the 12th week of pregnancy.
By carefully combining the foods you eat so that a well balanced, nutrient rich diet is achieved, pregnancy without meat is just as healthy an alternative for you and your baby.
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