Eating a Plant-Based Diet While Pregnant
Plant-based diets are becoming more popular. This type of diet excludes certain food groups. Your body need specific amounts and kinds of nutrients, and you get these by eating various food groups. Therefore, when your diet excludes a food group, you becomes more likely to lack these nutrients. Resulting in a deficiency. So, does this make plant-based diets unsafe while pregnant? Continue reading to learn more about eating a plant-based diet while pregnant!
To start, we should understand what plant-based even means.
A plant-based diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs, and spices, excluding all animal products, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products (1).
For the purpose of this blog, we are going to consider the various subgroups of vegetarian diets alongside the word “plant-based.” Vegetarian diets are similar, but each varies in which foods they can include or exclude. Below are the various sub-groups we will group into the term “plant-based” diet (2).
Lacto-vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, as well as foods that contain them but include dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter.
Ovo-vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products but allow eggs.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish, and poultry but include dairy products and eggs.
Pescatarian diets exclude meat,poultry, dairy, and eggs but allow fish.
Vegan diets exclude meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, and foods containing these products.
Risks of Deficiency With Plant-Based Eating
As said above, when we exclude a food group (vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and alternatives or meat and alternatives), there is a greater risk of nutritional deficiencies. Each diet stated above has certain nutrients they are more likely to lack when following. Common micronutrients that plant-based diets often lack are:
- Check out our blog on Vitamin B12 to learn more about it and find plant-based options.
- Check out our blog on Vitamin D to learn more about it and find plant-based options.
- Check out our blog on Omega 3 to learn more about it and find plant-based options.
Additionally, the macronutrient,Protein, is of concern with plant-based diets. During pregnancy, you need to eat more macronutrients and micronutrients, including proteins. Proteins are important during pregnancy, mainly for tissue repair and development (3). Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that the body must have to properly function. Our body can make some, but there are nine (essential) that we must get from food. Animal products contain all nine amino acids and are considered “complete proteins.” Plant-based foods often only have SOME essential amino acids and are considered “incomplete proteins.”
Are Plant-Based Diets Safe During Pregnancy?
YES! But it takes more awareness and planning.
Plant-based proteins, often considered “incomplete proteins”, can form a complementary protein. Complementary proteins contain all nine essential amino acids when eating two or more incomplete proteins together (4).
You can plan to form complementary protein through combinations such as (4):
Legumes with grains, nuts/seeds, or dairy
- Grain foods with dairy products, nuts/seeds, or legumes
- Dairy with nuts/seeds, legume or grain
- Nuts/Seeds with legumes, grains or dairy
Some examples include:
- Hummus on crackers
- Spaghetti with a lentil tomato sauce
- Yogurt with muesli
- Rice with black beans
Final Notes from The Nest
During pregnancy, a plant-based diet can be a nutritional challenge. These diets are at risk of nutritional deficiencies because they require awareness of complete nutrient intake (5). Overall, they can be successful. A plant-based diet while pregnant just requires extra planning and greater attention to eating a balanced diet that promotes a healthy you, pregnancy and baby.
Article written by Bailey McDonagh
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- Ostfeld RJ. Definition of a plant-based diet and overview of this special issue. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology : JGC [Internet]. 2017 May 1;14(5):315–315. Available from: http://resolver.scholarsportal.info.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/resolve/16715411/v14i0005/315_doapdaootsi.xml
- Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2020 [cited 2022Apr20]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/vegetarian-diet/art-20046446
- Brown JE. Chapter 4: Nutrition During Pregnancy . In: Nutrition through the life cycle. Boston, MA: Cengage; 2020. p. 109.
- Complementary proteins and how they work [Internet]. Sunshine Coast Dietetics. 2017 [cited 2022Apr20]. Available from: https://sunshinecoastdietetics.com.au/complementary-proteins-and-how-they-work/
- Sebastiani G, Herranz Barbero A, Borrás-Novell C, Alsina Casanova M, Aldecoa-Bilbao V, Andreu-Fernández V, et al. The effects of vegetarian and vegan diet during pregnancy on the health of mothers and offspring. Nutrients. 2019;11(3):557.