one green planet
one green planet

Pregnancy is one of the most challenging, exciting, and (let’s face it) weirdest times in a woman’s life. A combination of joy, lack of control over the body, and sometimes utter confusion about what is supposed to be happening, pregnancy is an essential time for stellar nutrition. For plant-based eaters, it may seem daunting at first with all the questions you may receive from well-intentioned friends, family (or perfect strangers!) about dietary choices, so it is imperative to be comfortable with your decision to have a plant-powered pregnancy.

So, how do you do that?

1. Be able to answer nutritional questions knowledgeably and with confidence.

Questions based on misinformation, misunderstanding, or honest curiosity, can be equally frustrating if uncertain about the answers yourself. Below are some of the most common inquiries pregnant vegans receive.

Pregnant women need more folate, calcium, vitamin D, and protein. Don’t you need animal products to meet these requirements?

Dairy, meat, and fish certainly contain these nutrients, but you may be surprised by the amounts found in many powerhouse plant foods in comparison. A vegan diet comprised of a wide variety of foods, paired with supplementation deemed necessary by your healthcare team, makes it simple to meet needs during pregnancy.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for pregnant adults

Animal Products*

Plant Products*

Folate = 600 mcg/day

3 oz grass-fed strip steak = 11 mcg

1 oz cheddar cheese = 7 mcg

1 cup 1% milk = 12 mcg

1 cup tempeh = 40 mcg

1/2 cup raw navy beans = 379 mcg

Calcium = 1,000 mg/day

1 oz cheddar cheese = 191 mg

1 cup 1% milk = 314 mg

1 cup tempeh = 184 mg

1/2 cup raw navy beans = 153 mg

1 cup vanilla almond milk = 451 mg

Vitamin D = 600 IU/day

1 oz cheddar cheese = 7 IU

1 cup 1% milk = 98 IU

1 cup chocolate almond milk = 101 IU

1 cup diced maitake mushrooms = 789 IU

100 grams soy yogurt = 53 IU

Protein = 71 grams/day

(based on 1.1 g/kg/day pre-pregnancy weight)

3 oz grass-fed strip steak = 19.61 g

1 oz cheddar cheese = 6.82 g

1 cup 1% milk = 8.53 g

1 cup tempeh = 30.78 g

1/2 cup raw navy beans = 23.22 g

1 cup cooked quinoa = 8.14 g

* Table created using USDA National Nutrient Database

Take a closer look at animal protein versus plant protein.

Keep in mind that most pregnant women will experience some level of nausea, fatigue, and food aversion, which can make it difficult to eat as much as you might like. It is especially important during this time to supplement adequately where needed (i.e. prenatal vitamin, EPA/DHA, vitamin B12), eat smaller, more frequent meals, and listen to your body. Eat in a pattern that allows you to best care for yourself and baby. If taking supplements, make sure they are third-party tested for quality and safety.

How do you get iron without red meat?

The RDA for iron during pregnancy is 27 mg per day. Some excellent plant sources include tempeh (1 cup = 4.48 mg), lentils (1 cup cooked = 6.59mg), sesame seeds  (1/4 cup raw = 5.24 mg), molasses (1/4 cup = 4 mg), dark leafy greens like spinach (2 cups = 1.63 mg) or cooked beet greens (1 cup cooked = 2.74 mg), and 70-85% dark chocolate (2 oz = 6.75 mg). Compared to a T-bone steak (3 oz = 1.39 mg) or ground turkey (4 oz = 1.24 mg), plants are impressive iron providers, especially paired with vitamin C for optimal absorption.

Where do you get EPA and DHA without fish?

EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids, are essential nutrients for baby’s immune, neurological, and cardiovascular development during pregnancy. Unfortunately, they are not made by the human body and thus must be consumed. In the standard American diet, fish are a major source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, fish do not synthesize EPA and DHA; rather, these are derived from plankton and microalgae fish eat. Algae products made specifically for vegan DHA and EPA supplementation are available.

How will you gain a healthy pregnancy weight on a vegan diet?

In some ways, “eating for two” has become a sensationalized idea where pregnant women feel they must eat mounds of food just to meet extra caloric needs for baby. In reality, pregnancy requires an average of 300 additional calories per day. Well-planned vegan meals are highly nutritionally dense. Extra calories can easily be added with a handful of nuts or seeds, plant oils, avocado, plant-based butters, or nut milks. Paired with grains, legumes, and other plant proteins, these meals will make it surprisingly easy to gain the recommended 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. Sweet tooth? Don’t worry- there are plenty of non-dairy desserts and plant-based baked goods to be had.

Won’t you crave meat while pregnant?

It is impossible to predict what cravings any pregnant woman might experience, and it is a myth that pregnant women only crave nutrients they are lacking. It is reasonable to expect the pre-pregnancy eating pattern to change over the months. You may be pleasantly surprised that after acclimating to a vegan lifestyle, cheeseburgers, chicken fingers, and donuts may not even be on your craving radar. Instead, you may find yourself indulging in blueberries, an entire mango, homemade cookies a la vegan, or a salad with vegetables picked from your garden. Ultimately, this time is about listening to your body and making choices you feel are most beneficial for you and your baby. Period.

What if your child doesn’t want to be vegan?

Oddly enough, we’re all born a blank slate. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to teach children about all the options we have in life, and how diet can be reflective of a lifestyle we choose to lead. Seize this chance to educate your children about your family’s way of life, why you eat the way you do, and allow them the freedom to make their own informed decisions as they get older. Arming kids with the tools to make choices based on knowledge and personal experience is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give.

Pregnancy isn’t the time to experiment with diets. Why don’t you just eat like a regular person?

Take a deep breath before answering this one. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Well-designed vegetarian diets that may include fortified foods or supplements meet current nutrient recommendations and are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.” Everyone has different reasons for adopting a plant-based lifestyle and sustaining it during pregnancy. Veganism is usually not a result of one personal value. It is often based on a triad of interests: reaping the health benefits for mom and baby, practicing environmental stewardship, and showing compassion for animals- all values that can be passed on to baby after birth.

2. Do enjoyable things that remind you why a plant-based diet is important to you. These are values and pastimes you can share with your child.

Help animals

Advocate for farm animal rights or help an animal sanctuary, through organizations like Farm Sanctuary, SASHA Farm, The Humane Farming Association, Mercy for Animals, or Farm Animal Rights Movement.


Participate in a community garden. Learn from the American Community Gardening Association or the USDA People’s Garden. Or, plan and grow your own garden for a true farm-to-table family experience.

Support the local and organic food movements.

You may love plants, but do you know the history of the organic movement? Being educated about leading an organic vegan lifestyle allows parents to teach their kids the importance of environmental stewardship. This includes understanding the USDA National Organic Program. One way you can incorporate organic produce into your life is by supporting local companies like Door to Door Organics, Green Grocer,  Green Bean Delivery, Full Circle, or joining a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA).

Play with your food

Prepare for baby by experimenting in the kitchen with kid-friendly vegan recipes.

3. Be aware of the plant-based benefits for your child’s health after birth.

The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Nutrition (PCRM) reminds us of many ways a plant-based diet can benefit children:

  • Plant foods are optimal for kids, containing essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

  • Kids who grow up eating plants are more likely to continue such through adulthood.

  • Long-term advantages of plant-based eating include: lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower risk for developing cancers and heart disease, and lower risk for obesity.

Here’s to a healthy, happy, completely awesome vegan pregnancy!

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