Many expectant mothers and birthing people often think they need to eat more animal products in order to make sure that they get the nutrients they need. But a plant-based diet can be an excellent source of all the protein, iron, and choline required for a healthy pregnancy.
Prenatal nutrition starts with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Plant-based foods are high in fiber, which can help stabilize blood sugar and alleviate constipation that often comes with pregnancy. Plants are also a good source of antioxidants, which help protect both mom and baby’s cells from damage caused by stress, sun, and environmental toxins.
Plant-based eating may do everything from making you feel better, keeping you healthier, and maybe even helping you live longer. But pregnant women do need extra protein, iron, and choline, nutrients found in higher quantities in red meat and poultry.
Here’s how to make sure you’re giving your body (and baby) the nutrients it needs while following a plant-based diet:
During pregnancy, the average woman needs around 70g of protein, 20% more than when not pregnant. Fortunately, there are many protein-rich plant foods. Legumes like beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and soy foods like tofu, tempeh, and edamame are good sources. Pumpkin, hemp, sunflower, and flax seeds are high in protein as are many nuts like almonds, peanuts, and pistachios. Whole grains, such as quinoa and wild rice, also contain protein. And unlike meat, these foods also come with fiber, complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, and healthy fats.
Women also need to double their iron intake during pregnancy. Iron helps produce blood that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the womb. While beef is an excellent source of iron, it’s not the only one. Kidney beans, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and fortified whole grains are also good sources of iron. Try pairing them with ingredients like bell peppers, oranges, and broccoli, which are rich in Vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron, especially the non-heme iron found in plants.
Choline is an essential nutrient that supports a baby’s brain development. It’s recommended that women increase their intake of choline by 30%. Nuts, legumes, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, and bok choy are excellent plant sources of choline.
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