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A Vegetarian Pregnancy

If you’ve been a vegetarian for a while, you’ve probably learned what it takes to stay healthy when meat is absent from your diet. Tofu, eggs, beans: These are all perfectly acceptable protein substitutes under normal circumstances.

But what about when you’re pregnant?

We got to wondering, when you’re eating for two, do the same healthy eating rules apply for vegetarians, or does eating meat become more important? We decided to chat with the experts to find out.

Is it OK to skip meat when you’re pregnant?

Turns out it is—as long as you’re healthy about it, but always check with your doctor. “The same rules apply to vegetarianism that do when a woman isn’t pregnant,” says Dr. Vikas Sachar, a Maternal Fetal Medicine Expert and ob-gyn in Lynwood, Calif. “You need to eat a protein with every meal, but whether that protein is animal or plant derived doesn’t really matter.”

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The problem comes in when vegetarians stick to a diet of mostly carbohydrates. “Your brain doesn’t realize you’re full when you eat carbohydrate-rich food like rice, tortillas and noodles, and there are no real health benefits to those types of foods,” the doctor added. “Protein makes you feel fuller faster, and it’s healthier for you because it produces enzymes, hormones and other substances to resist disease and give you energy.”

Are all the same protein sources OK to eat when you’re pregnant?

The most important thing is to focus on a balanced diet, and as long as you’re getting a range of nutrients, including things like vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and folic acids, most vegetarian diets are fine for pregnant women as well. “Being a vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean that you are not getting the vitamins and minerals both your body and the baby’s body will need,” says Dr. Roseline Dauphin-Baptiste, an ob-gyn in Glendale, Calif. “As long as you’re substituting what you’re missing from the meat group with things like beans, fish, tofu and eggs—which are all fine to eat when you’re pregnant, as well—you should be OK.”

Will I need to take a supplement?

It wouldn’t hurt to take a supplement, as long as you OK it with your doctor ahead of time, but it might not be completely necessary, either, says Dauphin-Baptiste. “In general, if you watch what you eat and make sure you get enough protein, you could be fine without it,” she said.

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Sachar agrees. “You just have to be careful which ones you take,” he said. “There are so many options today, and during pregnancy is not the best time to go supplement crazy. Things like fish oil, and a prenatal vitamin with a minimum of iodine are good, as well as something with a low grade of vitamin D. No matter what you take, though, the most important thing is to run it by your doctor before starting any supplement routine.”

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