What's an amino acid? (and other questions about being a vegetarian during pregnancy)
Posted on 26 December 2016
What's the dill, pickle?
Well, for one reason or another, you’ve chosen to cut meat out of your diet. You were so confident in your lifestyle change, happy with the way your body was responding and what you were putting in it. Then that little line turned blue on your pregnancy test and suddenly being a vegetarian during pregnancy might not have seemed like the right choice anymore.
Or maybe you just can’t stomach the thought of meat during certain periods of your pregnancy - this actually happens to a lot of women during their first trimester.
Regardless of why you’re a meatless mama, you’re probably wondering if your precious developing baby can get everything he or she needs when vegetarian during pregnancy. Well we’re here to tell you that both you and your baby can be completely nourished while you follow a vegetarian lifestyle, as long as you take a few things into consideration.
Women choose to become vegetarians for many different reasons. No matter your reason, it is important that your vegetarian diet while you’re pregnant is plant-based (meaning that you get a lot of fruits and veggies throughout the day), and not just based on avoiding meat alone. Because remember, even though you’re meatless, your diet may still be unhealthy if you simply switch from meats to processed foods like breads, chips, and pastas. It’s important to substitute the meat with healthy replacements (we’ll show you how below!)
The main concern for all vegetarians (for any reason) is protein! Protein is so so so important during pregnancy - we can’t stress it enough! Why is protein so important? Well, it’s made up of amino acids. And these amino acids are like the building blocks your baby needs to develop. They give the cells everything they need to build tissues, organs, bones, and everything else that makes up a tiny human.
You need a ton of protein while you grow a human. The recommended amount is around 1.1 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight - so during pregnancy this is anywhere from 75 to 100 g of protein a day. WOW! That number can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not someone who ever kept track of your protein intake before. As if that’s not a daunting task, you also need to make sure you’re getting the right KINDS of protein. (Yes, there are different kinds!) In order for amino acids and proteins to work in the right way, you have to eat complete proteins, which are proteins that have all nine of the essential amino acids.
This is where not eating meat might make it tricky. Animal proteins are perfect proteins, containing all of the essential amino acids. Plant proteins, for the most part, are not complete. BUT you can get everything you need with a few considerations and a little careful planning, by combining different plant proteins that collectively have all nine essential amino acids. That’s GOOD NEWS for our vegetarian mamas!
Here’s a list of our favorite high-protein, vegetarian friendly foods:
- Plain low-fat yogurt - one cup has 12 grams of protein
- Quinoa - one cup, cooked, has 8 grams
- Tofu - ½ cup firm tofu has 10 grams
- Soybeans - ½ cup has 34 grams
- Ezekiel bread - one slice has 4 grams
- Eggs - one large egg has 6 grams
- Dairy milk - one cup has 8 grams
- Chia seeds - one ounce has 4.7 grams
When you’re not eating meat, that list is pretty short!
But there are several incomplete proteins that can be combined to have all the essential amino acids.
Incomplete protein foods:
- Almonds - 24 almonds has 6 grams
- Chickpeas - 1 cup has 39 grams
- Oats - 1 cup has 26 grams
- Avocado - 1 large avocado has 4 grams
- Lentils - 1 cup has 18 grams
- Black beans - 1 cup has 15 grams
- Brown rice - 1 cup has 5 grams
- Whole wheat pasta - 2 oz, uncooked has 7 grams
- Sweet potato - 1 cup of cubes, roasted has a little over 2 grams
- Peanut butter - 2 Tbsp has 8 grams
- Almond butter - 2 Tbsp has 6 grams
- Broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach - 1 serving (0.8 grams) has 5 grams protein
Now, one incomplete protein + another incomplete protein = complete protein.
And despite what you might have been told, you don’t have to get them in the same meal. As long as you’re consuming a variety throughout the day, your body will absorb and use everything just fine.
Incomplete protein combinations we love:
- One cup of brown rice + black beans = 7 grams
- 1 Tbsp Peanut butter + 1 slice whole wheat toast = 8 grams
- One 5.3 oz container of nonfat Greek yogurt + ½ cup almonds = 18 grams
- 2 Tbsp hummus + 1 whole wheat pita = 8 grams
- 1 egg + mixed veggies (like spinach, broccoli, or sweet potatoes) = 8 grams
Other ways to get protein at every meal:
- Add chia seeds to smoothies and yogurt
- Add quinoa to salad or soups
- Use black beans to make brownies or add them to your salad
- Add avocado to smoothies, toast, or in baked goods
- Add tofu to scrambled eggs, or grill in place of meat dishes
- Add an egg to your oatmeal (when stirred in, you can’t taste it)
- Add broccoli to pasta or salads
- Add peas or soybeans to soups, dips and salads
- Dip fruits in yogurt mixed with peanut butter
If you pay attention to how much protein you’re eating, make a conscious effort to consume foods that offer at least a little protein, and consume a diet rich in fruits, veggies, nuts and other healthy fats, and whole grains, it is absolutely possible to give your baby what he or she needs during your vegetarian pregnancy.