Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vegeterianism, protein, and pregnancy

A day after we told my mother we're expecting, Mom called me, sounding panicky. "You can't continue being vegetarian now that you are pregnant!" - she said - "Meat is a source of protein, and you need protein!"

To many, hearing that you are pregnant and vegetarian sounds as though you are terribly irresponsible towards your unborn child, depriving the little one of essential nutrients - even if you have been a thriving vegetarian for years and years. I, personally, am of the opinion that during pregnancy, the best thing you can do is carry on with a familiar, balanced diet.

Protein is one thing people tend to get especially worked up about - unnecessarily. Yes, of course we need protein. However, keep in mind that protein deficiency is very rare in our affluent culture. In fact, many traditional diets - even if not exclusively vegetarian - don't count on getting a significant part of the protein from animal sources. They are based on a wide variety of combined beans and grains, with a bit of meat or poultry here and there.

When my husband was growing up, chicken was served in their house once a week - on Shabbat. On other days, dinner was usually a bowl of thick soup with beans and vegetables, and plenty of bread on the side. All children grew up wonderfully fit and healthy. To me, eating meat every day looks unncesessary, unless you do particularly vigorous exercise.

Aside from that, a pregnant woman - vegetarian or not - might consider taking a gentle supplement. For myself, I found this especially crucial in the first trimester, when I often couldn't force much food down because of nausea. Nausea still hits me once in a while, and then I feel as though I'm not up to eating anything but a light salad.

To be entirely truthful, I will confess I ate salmon a couple of times since I became pregnant. Not because I think fish is indispensable - in fact I believe we must be very very careful about mercury when choosing our fish - but simply because I got an irresistible craving for salmon, and decided to go with what my body desired at the moment.

By the way, my blood work came back a couple of days ago - perfect. I have been vegetarian for many years, and I feel wonderful. I don't think there is any need for me to make a change now.


Beth said...

Anna, I experienced 2 pregnancies as an ovo-lacto vegetarian. The pregnancies were uneventful, homebirths wonderful and today those boys are 12 and 9, strapping, healthy vigorous country boys.

If one is a vegan, they would perhaps have to be a little more concientious about balancing their nutrition, yet this can still be a perfectly healthy choice for pregnancy.

Anonymous said...

Great post Anna! :) You are absolutely right about meat traditionally not being a huge part of various people's diets in other parts of the world. This also was the case here in the United States years ago too. For example, my mother's family of (5 boys and 5 girls) was raised on a vegetarian diet as you described and they all turned out extremely healthy. Not to mention, all of my uncles are over 6 feet tall too! :) This is something that my mother and I've discussed too. She's close to 60 years old told me that in her own family people only started having health issues when they started eating a large amount of meat/animal products and were eating less beans, green/multi-colored vegetables, rice, oatmeal, and bread.

I definitely support people eating less meat for a variety of reasons. I also feel at the same time eating some animal products (moderation is key) isn't a bad thing either though. Every person's body/genetics are different so what's a lot to one person may actually not be enough to someone else though. Finally, I had no doubt in my mind that your blood work would not be less than perfect! :)

Sheri said...

Anna, I must agree with you about eating and protein while you are pregnant. Although I have never been a vegetarian; meat is not top on my list. Throughout all three of my pregnancies I’ve eaten “what I normally would eat” along with a supplement and herbs. And, I haven’t ignored my cravings. Especially with this pregnancy I’ve been a great deal hungrier than normal, but haven’t gained more weight than with my last pregnancies…

Also, regarding your last post about “low-budget babies,” you’ve really hit the nail on the head. I’m the first to say that I have always greatly enjoyed decorating our baby’s nurseries (I’m having fun picking out “blue” things for our baby boy right now!), but it was “for me,” not something our baby needed. And, my husband and I have consistently set an exact budget, opting for used or clearance items most of the time… babies need a family; not more things! I pray that more moms and dads would be convicted in this area.

Thank you again for sharing your heart and keep enjoying every minute of your first pregnancy! It goes by so quickly and is such a special, special time.

Mrs W said...

As long as you are getting enough protein it shouldn't matter if it is from meat or not. Although I wouldn't be giving up my meat, I do understand why people would.

Kacie said...

Any ideas on nutritious, calorie-dense foods? I'm having a hard time gaining weight during my pregnancy and I'd really like to see the scale go up!

Mrs. Maybrook said...

I was a vegetarian for several years before conceiving and during most of my first trimester. I do remember the first time I craved meat again. I was in the throes of all-day morning sickness and my body was calling out for an Arby's roast beef sandwich. I felt so good after eating that sandwich. I continued craving meat and ate it throughout pregnancy. I never went back to vegetarianism after giving birth though. I felt so much more energetic with a small amount of meat in my diet.

Glad you are feeling well with your vegetarian diet and pregnancy.

Milena said...

I am not pregnant yet, but my mother-in-law gave me great advice, she said that the mother knows best and not to fear listening to your instincts, even when others want to offer "advice."

I also saw on a tv show yesterday, that a pediatrician being interviewed said a similar thing. Often parents will rush their kids to see her because of something they read on the internet or their aunt told them - most of the time it was for naught and she said parents need to trust themselves more. If they are happy and secure, that will translate to a happy baby!

Sarah K said...

I am a great believer in eating a balanced diet, but also going with what your body craves, especially when pregnant. Vegetarian diets can be increadibly healthy. I haven't eaten meat since I was ten (although I do eat fish), and am very rarely ill.

It is wonderful that you are sharing this exciting and special time with us!

Q said...

Protein is over rated - especially here in the U.S. Is it important? Of course! But goodness, there are other things to attend to, as well as better sources for protein than meat. When I was a vegetarian, the baby I delivered during that time was the biggest, healthiest and most perfect of all, and I had very few post-partum recovery problems.

Listen to your body, you know what it needs!

Blessings in Abundance!

EllaJac said...

As long as you're getting complete proteins, I imagine you should be fine. I have had friends, though, who have ended up with pre-eclampsia/toxemia issues towards the end of their pregnancies... Later I heard that low protein can cause this. In each case, my friends had had an aversion to touching and cooking with meat (and perhaps didn't go for the legumes and such either) while pregnant. Interesting to note!

Heather said...


So glad that your blood work came back good. Keep doing whatever works the best for you.

God Bless

Mrs.KAOS said...

I have a family friend who went vegetarian because she got pregnant. She was eating a lot of cold cut meats before. Her child was born uneventfully and is thriving.


Anonymous said...

I've been following along now for a while. I am also a vegetarian and have been for over a year. I don't eat red meat and RARELY will partake in lean, grilled chicken or turkey (about once every few months). I do eat some white, lean fish, but only about once or twice a month.
Anyway, I also stay away from dairy for the most part (I used to follow a vegan diet) and this is due to many nutritional reasons.

I, also, recently found out I was pregnant. I am just past my 8 week mark, so still in the first trimester. My doctor had no concern whatsoever with my diet and was almost relieved that I didn't eat meat because of all the bacteria that can be found in addition to the danger of consuming undercooked products.

I just wanted to say that you are probably ahead of the game and shouldn't have anything to worry about. You may want to discuss extra vitamins with your doctor - especially when breastfeeding comes, but for the most part, good for you! Also, do an internet search of the benefits vegetarianism can have to your babies health when you begin breastfeeding - very interesting stuff!

Vicky said...

Hi Anna~

So happy to hear of your baby news! That is so exciting - congratulations. :)

You're right: just because a woman is pregnant doesn't mean she needs to change her vegetarian ways. My friend had been a vegetarian for years before her first pregnancy nearly 2 years ago (she is now expecting #2). Since she had been eating this way for so long, she was knowledgeable about how to nourish her body appropriately, especially during a time like pregnancy. She had a superb pregnancy and her baby was quite large for her tiny frame - just goes to show you! :)

I'm glad you are taking your body's cues - salmon or not, sometimes it pays to listen to what we are hungry for. (Although that can go sour as we may think we crave sweets but we don't always crave broccoli, hmmmm? :) )

Enjoy this special time of nourishing and caring for your unborn baby - it goes very quickly! Blessings to you! :)

Kelly said...

So true Anna, you don't NEED protein so badly that you should eat meant all of a sudden just because you are pregnant. Imagine what suddenly eating meat would do to your delicate system now, since you don't eat it.
When I was pregnant I confused everyone because, while I don't eat meat often anyway, I went totally off of meat for the first, well most of my pregnancy. I was sick the entire time and the smell of it was too much.
I craved fruit and seafood. I ate as much fish as was allowed. I also totally went off salty foods. Though the latter half I changed to spicy foods lots of Italian and Chinese dishes with lots of veggies.
Now at the very end of my pregnancy literally the last three weeks I got this incredibily strong craving for a particular burger from a local diner. I ate two per week the last three weeks of my pregnancy.
I agree with the other posters you want to listen to your cravings. Sometimes I think our bodies know best, and of course everything in moderation. Maybe I was different I craved healthy foods. I think my MIL was annoyed that I wasn't pounding down pints of ice cream instead I made fresh fruit yogurt smoothies everyday for breakfast.

Thia said...

You said people tend to get overly worked up about protien during pregnancy and I will disagree with you about that. From my readings, it seems high protien is really needed during pregnancy. For many reasons. I will agree that the protien doesn't usually have to come from meat though. I will also agree that you were smart to listen to your body in regards to the fish. Often, when we need something, our bodies will tell us. I tend to do a lot of dairy when pg, cheese and yogurt especially. (Yogurt with the acidopholus is also good to ward off the yeasties which love pregnant women). Hope you continue to find food that is good for you and appealing! It's so strange, b/c what is good today, tastes yuck tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

Sounds like you are taking things seriously and eating well. I found that my cravings and aversions were almost sent from God. I had an extreme aversion to green leafy vegetables with my last baby (last year) and I used to eat spinach all the time. This happened to be during the time they had several people die from eating the brand of spinach and salad I ate. I actually had a bag in my hand at the store and was going to force myself to eat it because it was "healthy" and became so sick looking at it I almost ran. A few days later those very same bags were recalled and it was all over the news that people had died. God is so Good! I also developed an extreme craving for avocados. Couldn't get enough. Did some research and they are excellent for brain development. Funny thing is, I still have some aversions and cravings while nursing that are the same and I notice my two year old LOVES the things I craved when pregnant with her. God is a genius at design and gives Mothers wisdom and I have found that everytime I listened to my body and the baby...things worked out ok.

Many Blessings :)

lady jane said...

I am not a vegetarian but know many who do follow such a food plan. A number of us were pregnant at the same time. They were very healthy throughout their pregnancy and the babies thrived. :o)

Melinda B said...

I do agree that a woman needs to feed her body what she feels is right for her and her baby. I usually lean toward a vegatarian diet, but during pregnancy I follow the Bradley Method of childbirth, and it's recommended that a woman pregnant with a singleton get 80-100 grams of protein a day. I am currently pregnant with twins, and my it is suggested I shoot for 160 grams a day. I eat meat to try to get as close to this number as I can, if I could think of a way to do this without meat, I'd do it. But with the nausea and inability to eat as much as I used to in a sitting, I need to do the best I can each meal.
Glad to hear your levels are where they should be! I know how comforting it is to get those results.

Andrea said...


another great post! I remember reading a post about a week ago where a blogger innocently mentioned she was trying to cut red meat from her diet, replacing it with other protein sources (legumes, etc.) and the backlash was astonishing! She's a very mainstream blogger and has attracted many foul and judgmental comments over the years but even she was not prepared for the outrage that people demonstrated at the mention of a vegetarian diet!

The conversation that this backlash generated was fascinating. Many commenters shared their own experiences when making similar decisions and their own surprise that people seemed to take it so PERSONALLY! A recurring idea put forward was that for some reason people seem to take differing views as being judgments on their own lifestyle when very often no judgment was ever intended (of course many people WILL judge those who have different lifestyles, but I have found that very few vegetarians feel the need to aggressively convert everyone to their own views on diet and nutrition).

As the busiest part of the discussion died down, the blogger said quite frankly that she didn't care who ate what because it was none of her business-- but that she supposed she had been a little naive to expect others would think the same way as she did, that they could eat as they pleased but it was none of their business what she was eating!

Anonymous said...

Anna, you do a wonderful job of educating your readers while sharing reflections on the events of your life. Your writing is lovely and accessible.

I had a feeling you would do a post on vegetarianism during pregnancy. Great post. I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts re. health and the very low risk of protein deficiency in women living in developed nations.

We eat very few animal products and really don't feel very well when we eat red meat in particular, a rare occurance that is usually regretted! I can't imagine that would be good for a vegetarian pregnant tummy. But, going with what you want in moderation sounds like the best idea. And Anna, you're trained in nutrition, so you are already well-informed - very cool! I look forward to more nutritionally-sound veggie recipes from you, hint, hint ;-) I'm sure you will amass an amazing repertoire as your family grows!

Congratulations to you and Mr. T. and good luck with your first pregnancy!

Liz the Fem

P.S. Sorry for the 'anonymous,' I still haven't gotten around to creating an account.

Samara said...

Kacie, some good nutrient-dense veggies are avocado, sweet potato and winter squash. Sauteeing veggies in oil rather than steaming them also adds some tasty fats.

These three are recommended for babies who are slow to gain weight, too.

Anna, I'm certain that the fact that you're nutritionally conscious gives you a good boost for prenatal health.

Kate said...


Do you know what blood type you have?

I follow Dr. Peter D'adamo's Genotype diet...based on Genetics/Blood Type.

My blood type is O+ (Hunter) and I get horribly ill when I don't eat beef. My children are A+, and they get ill when they eat Beef--do much better with a lacto-ovarian diet.

So happy you are feeling well!!



Anonymous said...

You'll be fine, Anna. All your previous food-related posts are proof enough that you are thoughtful & serious about good nutrition...whether one is pregnant or not. Why would that change for you now? I also think there's nothing odd about going "with" your cravings, instead of fighting them.

I'm happy you're feeling more like eating lately!


Mrs. Anna T said...

Thia: to be truthful, I don't see where we disagree. :-) Protein *is* important, and especially during pregnancy. My point was that many people don't realize it's *not* that easy to become protein-deficient if you eat a good, balanced diet. Of course if a woman is malnourished because she literally can't keep anything down, that's another thing!!

By the way, I'd be cautious about overloading kidneys with protein. Our kidneys need to work extra hard during pregnancy anyway, to filter the additional blood volume.

My point: get enough, not too much, not too little. It shouldn't be very difficult.

Kate: I don't know my blood type yet, but it will be checked soon. I haven't researched into the blood type diets. While I was in university, all our professors referred to this theory as a pile of old rubbish. However I know some things may work even if they aren't scientifically proven.

Anonymous said...

unfortunately a large portion of "vegetarians" aren't as well balanced so many of the people I know just have things like vegetarian "hotdogs"...not that the real thing is much better and all that is in them is processed junk and waaaay too much sodium. and the they never even touch a good green vegetable!

I wish they understood their bodies needs as well as you do.

Anonymous said...


Iam reading your blog for past weeks and i really enjoy, I am not crazy to eat meat,but my body a least once a week is craving for a piece of meat.
I think you can eat a lot beans,nuts vegetables,milk and cheese.i love my milk,chese and butter.Your potate salad i love -it,i make a lot this salad,in the summer time i put some celery,olives,green onion and instead mayonese i put olive oil.
Have a good day and enjoy your pregancy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,
My mother always said to me (mother of 4) that you have to give into your pregnancy cravings ..and she gave birth to 6 healthy children....all by the time she was 27!

Karen said...

Have you tried whey protein powder?? If you get the kind with a high biologic value your body uses is more efficiently than the protein in meat. It was SUCH a helpful find for me when I was nauseous too. I could just drink a little mixed in milk or a smotthie and get a good amount of protein without having to look at meat when I really didn't want to.

I always crave fish like crazy during early pregnancy, too. I think it is the fatty acids that your body craves, they are so good for the baby. But it unfortunately passes and now I hate fish again lol.

Anonymous said...

I think its funny that your mother is giving a nutritionist (you) advice on healthy eating! Grandmas are so funny!

Anonymous said...

Since this was a post on nutrition and pregnancy I wanted to pass this along to you FYI only. There is no need to post this, unless you fell the need to. I wanted to share a link with you for making your own prenatal vitamins

This blogger is currently pregnant with twins and she has some very interesting posts about nutrition and a twin pregnancy, which you may no need now, but you may in the future!

I am so excited for you and your husband and your little blessing.
~Evelyn Mae

MarkyMark said...


If you're looking for good, vegetarian nutrition information, examining the typical Indian's (those from the subcontinent of India) diet, since many of them are vegetarians. Their religious beliefs frown on or outright prohibit eating meat, so they are experts on this issue. Perhaps there are websites devoted to Indian food, diets, nutrition, etc.? I'm sure that they've ironed out any protein deficiency issues as a result. Hope this helps...

Oh, did you ever find a source for natural honey over there? I've told some guys at work about the farmer where I buy mine, since he's close to our company. Many of them are now customers... :)


Laura said...

I just wanted to say that the Blood Type Diet has been discredited. There was no scientific backing to it. No one is going to get sick if they don't eat beef.