Vegetarian nutrition is a nutrition model in which animal sources such as meat, chicken and fish are not consumed and the number of those who prefer it has increased significantly recently. Vegetarianism also has several subgroups. Some consume only eggs, some only fish, some only dairy products, some eggs and dairy products… The risk status in terms of health also changes according to the strictness of animal source.
Since the baby is fed from the mother during pregnancy, the nutrition should be special. Since animal foods, which are an important source of nutrients such as protein, iron, B12 and zinc, which increase in importance during pregnancy in vegetarian mothers, are consumed in a limited way, extra care should be taken in nutrition. If the nutrition in vegetarian mothers is well planned, it does not carry a high risk for the mother and the baby.
Vegetarians get high fiber because they eat plant-based diets. This helps to prevent digestive problems such as constipation, which is a common problem during pregnancy. In addition, since the amount of fat and calories taken in vegetarian nutrition is less, weight control is easier.
One of the positive aspects of a vegetarian diet is that it is a diet rich in folic acid. Low birth weight babies and neural tube defects are seen in folic acid deficiency, which is one of the most emphasized vitamins during pregnancy. Dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, eggs, cauliflower, whole grains, milk and their products are sources of folic acid that vegetarian pregnant women can choose. Requirements increase during pregnancy.
It is necessary to make a special planning in order to ensure adequate nutrient consumption in pregnant mothers on a plant-based diet. In addition to providing adequate energy and protein daily, it is also necessary to provide the necessary intake of iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
When it comes to protein, it is the meat group that comes to mind first. However, there are other good sources of protein besides the meat group. Eggs, milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans, kidney beans..), walnuts, unroasted almonds, oilseeds such as hazelnuts, peanuts, cashews, quinoa, bulgur and whole grain products also contain protein. Vegetarian pregnant women should consume these protein-rich foods regularly every day.
Iron is one of the essential minerals, the requirement of which increases during pregnancy, and its main source is meat products. There is also iron content in plant sources, but since its absorption is not as much as animal sources, its usefulness is lower. It has been observed that infants born to mothers on a plant-based diet have less iron stores, and are low-birth-weight and premature. Apart from meat products, iron is also found in foods such as eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, dried legumes, molasses, black raisins, plums, and figs. Vegetarian pregnant women should pay attention to the consumption of these foods to meet this increased need for iron. In addition, since vitamin C increases iron absorption, vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits and tomatoes should accompany main meals. Since tea and coffee reduce iron absorption, they should be drunk 1 hour after meals and should be limited to 1-2 cups per day.
Calcium is another mineral that is needed during pregnancy. It is preferable to obtain calcium from natural sources. Milk, yoghurt, cheese, cottage cheese, molasses, nuts, legumes, green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium. Vegetarians do not suffer from calcium deficiency because they consume these foods. Insufficient intake of these may cause problems for the baby and mother. Calcium is very important for tooth and bone development. Insufficient calcium intake causes deterioration of bone development in the baby. In addition, when there is not enough calcium in the diet, this requirement is met by pulling calcium from the bones. This can cause bone softening, tooth decay and loss in the mother.
The requirement for vitamin D increases during pregnancy and is necessary for the absorption of calcium. Sunlight is the best source. Its dietary sources are eggs, milk and oily fish. Vegetarians may require supplementation of vitamin D.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for cell division and protein synthesis. Its deficiency causes megaloblastic anemia, distributional anomalies and problems in the nervous system. Its nutritional sources are animal foods such as organ meats, red meat, milk, cheese, egg yolk, fish meat and are not found in plant foods. As a result, babies of vegetarian mothers may have neurological disorders. Therefore, it is even more important during pregnancy. Supplementation may be required under expert control.
Deficiency of Omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy can cause premature birth or neurological problems in the baby. The best source is oily fish. Apart from fish, it is also found in plant sources. Vegetarian pregnant women should meet this need from foods rich in Omega 3 such as purslane, walnuts, pumpkin seeds. They can take Omega 3 supplements under expert control.
Stillbirths, congenital anomalies and fetal growth retardation may occur in the deficiency of zinc, which is important for tissue development. For zinc intake, foods such as meat, seafood, milk and products, eggs, oil seeds should be included in the diet. Vegetarians can meet this requirement from sufficient milk, eggs, cheese, nuts and legumes. However, it should not be forgotten that the absorption of zinc from animal origin is better than that found in plant sources. In addition, in a grain-based diet, zinc absorption is adversely affected due to the phytate in the grains.