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How to Be a Vegetarian During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, maintaining a healthy diet is on top of your list of priorities -- along with contemplating your navel and watching your waistline disappear! If you're a vegetarian, you might worry about getting enough of the nutrients that are abundant in meat and fish products. However, you can give your baby the best start in life by keeping your pantry stocked with varied and nutritious vegetarian staples. "It''s about getting away from junk foods and processed foods and putting simple things together that are healthy to boost brain power and the physical health of mother and fetus," says registered holistic nutritionist Rosalie Moscoe, author of "Frazzled Hurried Woman: Your Stress Relief Guide to Thriving . . . Not Merely Surviving." The staples you can keep on hand to help include nuts, beans, soy products and whole grains, as well as plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.

Vital Vitamins

Brightly colored fresh fruits and vegetables provide a range of vitamins, minerals and essential fiber. Choose orange fruits and veggies for vitamin A, citrus fruits and berries for vitamin C and cooked greens for potassium. Keep a stock of frozen and canned varieties, as these also provide vital nutrients. Vitamin B-12 and vitamin B-9, or folic acid, help process iron -- vital for energy production and prevention of maternal anemia. Vitamin B-12 and folic acid also regulate the blood chemical homocysteine, which could otherwise "accumulate in the mother's blood and the amniotic fluid, causing increased risk of neural tube defects," says Moscoe. The richest sources of vitamin B-12 are meat and fish, but vegetarians can up their intake by eating dairy products, eggs and soybeans. If you're vegan, Moscoe recommends dietary supplementation of vitamin B-12 because "just living on soybeans or their byproducts is not a balanced way to eat." Include fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, asparagus, lentils and garbanzo beans on your shopping list, as these are rich in folate.

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Essential Minerals

A calcium-rich diet promotes healthy fetal bone growth and protects against osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease. Registered dietitian Laura Cipullo of the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services website recommends eating four portions of dairy products each day. If you're vegan, maintain a stock of fortified products, such as soy milk, almond milk and rice milk. "One of the best plant sources of calcium is collard greens, and if you are eating broccoli, be sure to eat the stem, as that's where the calcium is," says Cipullo. Iron-rich foods help maintain your energy levels throughout pregnancy and beyond. While lean red meat provides a rich source of iron that is readily absorbed by the body, vegetarians should maintain a plentiful supply of tofu, beans, pumpkin seeds and cashew nuts. Combining vegetarian sources of iron with a food rich in vitamin C helps increase iron absorption, says Cipullo.

Protein Foods

Protein is vital for healthy fetal growth. Moscoe advises pregnant moms to include small amounts of protein, such as 2 to 3 ounces of protein, with every meal, depending upon the mother's body weight. A complete protein source contains all the essential amino acids needed for growth. While animal-based foods, such as meat, fish, eggs and cheese, are sources of complete protein, vegans can ensure intake of complete protein by combining different incomplete protein foods, such as grains, beans and legumes. Choose whole grains, such as quinoa, whole wheat, spelt, whole rye bread, millet and oatmeal, to stock your pantry.

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Vegetarian Meal Ideas

For breakfast, Moscoe suggests two eggs with a slice of whole grain toast and a glass of orange juice, or a "power shake" that contains soy milk or cow''s milk, protein powder, fruit and nuts or a spoon of flax oil or ground flax seed. For healthy lunches and dinners, try a bean and vegetable casserole topped with grated cheese, a vegetable omelet or a combination of baked beans with brown rice or brown bread, melted cheese and salad or vegetables. You'll be pleased to learn that a healthy diet includes some sweet and savory treats, too, such as a couple of squares of dark chocolate, a scoop of low-fat ice cream or a handful of nuts and dried fruits. Say no to salty foods, though, especially if you are at risk of preeclampsia. If pregnancy triggers a craving for salty foods, Cipullo recommends satisfying your taste buds by eating mushrooms instead.

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