This post is a continuation to the first blog in the series on prenatal nutrition for vegetarian and vegans by Chelsea Fuchs MS, Dietetic Intern from Teachers College, Columbia University.
In my first post here I addressed macronutrient requirements for vegan or vegetarian expectant mothers. I now discuss important vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) to include in the diet or consume from supplements. Having a general awareness of micronutrient guidelines is vital to the development of a healthy baby.
While macronutrients supply fuel for cells, vitamins help the body function. Vitamin A is responsible for the growth and health of cells and tissues, and many of the best vitamin A sources are plant based. Pregnant women need 2,500 IU’s of Vitamin A each day. While prenatal vitamins contain Vitamin A, it’s important to limit excessive amounts from supplements. For a shot of Vitamin A, incorporate these foods into the diet: sweet potatoes, spinach, cantaloupe, eggs, and fortified cereal and milk.
Next up is vitamin D, which helps the body effectively use calcium. If following a vegetarian diet, you can provide your body with adequate amounts of vitamin D from egg yolks, and fortified milk and yogurt. While this will help fill in nutritional gaps, expectant mothers will also need a supplement. Pregnant women should aim to consume 600 IU’s of vitamin D per day, as recent studies show that women with more vitamin D in their bodies have a lower risk of preeclampsia. Vegans should also drink plenty of soymilk and fortified juices.
Another vitamin that poses a risk for nutritional deficiency is vitamin B12, found mainly in animal products. Fortunately, if you are vegetarian, you can get adequate vitamin B12 from milk products, eggs, low-fat yogurt, and cheese. Vegans should focus on incorporating fortified cereals, soymilk, veggie burgers, and nutritional yeast into the diet. The prenatal vitamin should supply at least 100% of the RDA recommendation for vitamin B12.
Now that we’ve covered vitamins, it’s onto minerals! First up is calcium, important for building strong bones. Expectant mothers should consume 1000 mg of calcium per day in the form of dairy products, leafy green vegetables, dried beans and peas, and tofu. Soymilk is a terrific non-dairy substitute—in fact, one cup contains 30% of the minimum daily requirement for calcium! Fortified almond and rice milk are also good options.
Vegetarian and vegan expectant mothers must pay attention to iron intake, and 27 mg per day is recommended. Be careful not to combine iron with caffeinated drinks, as this will interfere with absorption. Vitamin C rich foods like fruit and vegetables, on the other hand, help more iron get absorbed. Good sources of iron include enriched grain products, fortified breakfast cereals, eggs, leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes, and dried beans and peas. For some dark, leafy green inspiration, try Lentil Kale Soup from Tribeca Nutrition: https://feedingbytes.com/2013/03/lentil-soup/
The final two minerals worth discussing are choline and zinc. Choline is essential for normal cell function and proper nervous system development. Unfortunately, multivitamins and prenatal supplements provide little choline, so requirements must be met through diet. For a boost of choline, make cooked broccoli, cooked cauliflower and wheat germ staples in your diet.
Finally…z for zinc! This mineral is essential for chemical reactions and immune system function. For a boost of zinc, load up on beans, fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ, and pumpkin seeds. Aim to consume 11 mg per day, and take a multivitamin that provides 100% of the daily zinc value.
Of course, this post does not include an exhaustive list of all vitamins and minerals needed while expecting, but it should serve as a good starting point. Be sure to speak with your health care provider if you are concerned about meeting micronutrient needs. For more education on this topic, take a look at the following website: www.marchofdimes.org – pregnancy nutrition
Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During & After Pregnancy by Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.
Pregnancy: Overview and Nutrient Requirements, Lecture Notes by Dr. Lora A. Sporny