Vegan Pregnancy Meal Plan ideas
  • Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Aug 12, 2023

Vegan Pregnancy Meal Plan: Nourishing Your Journey to Motherhood

During pregnancy, the mixture of excitement and anticipation can be accompanied by the challenge of maintaining a well-balanced diet with all the essential nutrients, especially for those following a vegan lifestyle and diet. Though the idea of planning meals that fulfill all nutritional requirements might seem impossible, with some understanding and preparation, you can effortlessly devise a nutritious vegan meal plan for your pregnancy.

Suggestions will be provided on adjusting diets to avoid common nutritional deficiencies linked to vegetarianism/veganism, with a particular emphasis on crucial pregnancy-related nutrients.

That’s not all! We have also created a sample 3-day vegan meal plan tailored for pregnancy to guarantee you relish delightful meals while ensuring you receive ample nourishment throughout your pregnancy journey. 

vegan pregnancy

How to build a vegan pregnancy meal plan

Understanding the essential nutrients required for a healthy vegan pregnancy is crucial in ensuring your body receives the necessary nutrition to support the growth of your baby. 

The vital nutrients needed to support a healthy pregnancy not only include those relevant during the pregnancy period but also the nutrients that raise concerns for those following vegan diets. These nutrients include: 

  • Protein  
  • Iron
  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium 
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Zinc
  • Folate
  • Choline
  • Iodine

Protein 

During pregnancy, protein plays a vital role in supporting the growth of the developing child’s tissues and organs, as well as in the formation of new red blood cells and circulating proteins. For the mother, protein is responsible for building the necessary tissues to sustain the growing baby. Low protein intake during pregnancy can pose significant health risks for the baby including less lean mass, risk of neural tube defects, and more. 

Recommended daily intake: During the first trimester, the recommended daily protein intake remains the same at roughly 0.9 g/kg (52 grams) of protein per day. However, daily requirements of protein increase in the second and third trimester of the pregnancy to 71 g per day for a single baby. 

Vegan protein-rich sources for pregnancy:

  • Chickpeas, lentils
  • Baked beans
  • Tofu, tempeh, soymilk, and edamame 
  • Seitan 
  • TVP
  • Hummus

Examples of food items containing approximately 15g of protein each:

  • 1 cup of cooked black beans, chickpeas, or edamame
  • ½ cup of tempeh
  • ¼ cup of peanut butter
  • ⅜ cup of firm tofu
  • 2 cups of cooked quinoa or cooked whole-wheat pasta
  • ½ cup of almonds or sunflower seeds

Including these protein-rich foods in your vegan meal plan can help ensure you meet the necessary nutritional requirements during pregnancy.

Iron

One of the primary roles of iron is supporting the function of hemoglobin enabling the transportation of oxygen from the lungs to body tissues. It also helps to synthesize iron-dependent enzymes for cellular energy production.

During pregnancy, the body needs more iron for three reasons

  1. The mother’s blood volume increases, and each additional gram of hemoglobin requires extra iron
  2. The growing fetus requires iron for its own development and to store for the first six months after birth
  3. The placenta, which supports the baby’s growth, also demands iron and can store some for future use

If adequate iron is not supplied, a potential iron deficiency for the mother and fetus. Mothers may experience increased illness, and there’s a higher risk of low birth weight, prematurity, and growth issues in the baby

The form of iron present in plant-based foods, known as non-heme iron, is not as readily absorbed as heme iron found in animal products. Additionally, certain compounds like oxalic acid in spinach and phytic acid in whole grains, legumes, lentils, nuts, and seeds can further impede iron absorption when consumed together. This becomes problematic for those who follow a vegan diet. 

To enhance the absorption of plant-based iron, it is beneficial to consume foods rich in vitamin C alongside iron-rich foods. Citrus fruits and dark leafy vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C.

Recommended daily intake: Typically 49 mg for pregnant women. However, for pregnant women following a vegan diet, the recommended intake can be as high as 60 mg per day. Consequently, a daily iron supplement of 30 mg is advised to ensure sufficient iron intake.

Iron-rich food sources:

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Dried fruit (e.g. apricots, prunes, raisins)
  • Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach) 
  • Beans and pulses
  • Molasses, nuts and seeds (almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds), 
  • Tofu
  • Lentils

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency is often seen among vegans, primarily due to their exclusion from all animal-based foods. Vitamin B12 is a key nutrient for DNA synthesis, cellular energy production, and crucial for fetal development of the brain, spinal cord, and the production of red blood cells.

While our bodies can store and recycle vitamin B12, pregnant women should not solely depend on these reserves. This is because the impact of vitamin B12 stores on the fetus’ status is uncertain.

In one study, it was found that low maternal vitamin B12 levels were linked to a higher risk of neural tube defects in babies. Additionally, there was an increased risk of poor fetal growth, such as low birth weight, small for gestational age, or intrauterine growth restriction.

Recommended daily intake: 2.6 mcg. However, as it might be challenging to meet this requirement solely from fortified foods, it is advisable to supplement your diet with at least 25 mcg of B12 daily or 1000 mcg twice a week to ensure adequate intake during pregnancy.

Plant-based sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Fortified Nutritional yeast
  • Fortified cereals
  • Fortified plant-based milk (e.g. soy and pea protein milk)
  • Fortified vegan “cheese” or “yogurt”

If your prenatal supplement lacks B12 and you don’t consume fortified foods daily, your plant-based dietitian may suggest taking an additional vitamin B12 supplement.

Calcium 

Calcium is vital for bone health and maintaining cell membranes. It plays roles in various biological processes such as signal transduction, muscle contraction, and nerve cell function. It is a crucial element for promoting your baby’s bone growth and ensuring the development of a healthy heart, nerves, and muscles.

While milk and dairy are common calcium sources, vegans can obtain it from leafy greens, nuts, fortified foods, and dairy alternatives like soy products. Alternatively, whole grains contain phytic acids, which can hinder calcium absorption when consumed together.

Pregnant women who consume more calcium tend to have stronger bones, and the same goes for their babies. A scientific review indicated that calcium supplementation during pregnancy may offer protection against pre-eclampsia and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Recommended daily intake: 1000 mg. Ensuring an adequate calcium intake is vital to support both your and your baby’s health during this critical time.

Plant-based Calcium Sources:

  • Fortified plant-based drink
  • Sesame seeds
  • Fortified fruit juice (e.g. orange juice)
  • Dried figs
  • Low oxalate leafy greens like kale
  • Broccoli, napa cabbage
  • Molasses
  • Beans and pulses
  • Tofu (made with calcium sulfate)
  • Soya mince
  • Almonds
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

Vitamin D

Approximately 40 to 80 percent of pregnant women may experience vitamin D deficiency. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with various negative pregnancy outcomes like pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, low birth weight, preterm labor, cesarean delivery, and infectious diseases.

Since animal-derived foods have the highest amounts of vitamin D, vegan mothers who may only consume plant-based foods are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. During pregnancy, the fetus relies entirely on the mother’s vitamin D stores for development.

If maternal deficiency occurs, this can lead to neonatal rickets and several adverse pregnancy outcomes, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm birth, and small-for-gestational-age infants.

There are two forms of vitamin D: 

  • Vitamin D3
    • Present in animal foods like fatty fish and egg yolk, and it can also be synthesized in the skin through UV-B radiation exposure
  • Vitamin D2
    • Found in mushrooms and yeast, and in smaller amounts in broccoli, beans, and green leafy vegetables
    • This form is not as readily absorbed by our bodies compared to vitamin D3

Vitamin D deficiency can be prevented by prolonged exposure to sunlight and consumption of fortified foods.

Recommended daily intake: 600 IU (15mcg). Ensuring an adequate intake of vitamin D is crucial for supporting your baby’s bone development and overall health.

Sources of Vitamin D:

  • Fortified plant-based milk
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Exposure to sunlight

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in promoting brain health and mental development. They are also crucial for the proper eye, brain, and nervous system development of a baby.

There are two types: omega-3 (ALA) and omega-6 (linoleic acid). The main health benefits come from DHA and EPA, derived from ALA.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA):

  • Associated with various positive effects, including reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, high triglycerides (fats in the blood), high blood pressure, and inflammation.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA):

  • DHA is a crucial component for nerve and retina health. It builds up in the brain and eyes during late pregnancy and early infancy. Having enough DHA is essential for proper visual and neurological development in babies.

While individuals on a vegan diet obtain ALA from plant-based sources, the body needs to convert it into EPA and DHA. However, studies suggest that only a small percentage, around 5-10%, is converted to EPA, and about 2-5% is converted to DHA in the body. As a result, vegans may be more susceptible to omega-3 fatty acid deficiency.

Research indicates that taking fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid supplements, like DHA, can significantly decrease the risk of premature births before reaching 34 weeks of pregnancy.

Recommended daily intake: 200-300 mg of DHA. Since meeting this requirement solely from foods can be challenging, it is advisable to take a daily omega-3 supplement containing 200-300 mg of DHA to ensure adequate intake during pregnancy.

Vegan Food Sources of omega-3 fatty acid ALA:

  • Flaxseed and flaxseed oil 
  • Walnuts 
  • Hempseed
  • Chia seeds
  • Algae oil
vegan pregnancy meal plan

Zinc

Zinc is a crucial element in the body, serving as a key component for numerous enzymes, proteins, and hormones. It plays essential roles in various functions like protein synthesis, wound healing, and immune function.

It’s estimated that 82% of pregnant women don’t get enough zinc, with intake falling far below the recommended amount during pregnancy. This can contribute to pregnancy complications such as prolonged labor, preterm and post-term births, intrauterine growth retardation, low birth weight and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Zinc interactions with other nutrients:

  • Phytates and oxalates limit zinc absorption
  • Iron intake can reduce zinc absorption
  • Zinc can influence copper levels by reducing its absorption in the body
  • Soaking, fermentation, and milling can enhance the bioavailability of zinc
  • Zinc absorption can be boosted by consuming fruit hydroxy acids, organic acids, and amino acids with sulfur or peptides containing cysteine

Zinc-rich foods commonly found in a vegan diet include:

  • Baked beans
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Cashews
  • Legumes
  • Soy foods
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Oatmeal

Recommended daily intake: 11 mg. Ensuring an adequate zinc intake is vital for the well-being of both the mother and the developing baby.

Folate

Taking folate or folic acid supplements before conception and during early pregnancy is crucial and can prevent 40-80% of neural tube defects, including spina bifida.

During pregnancy, folate concentrations typically decline due to increased demands. This may be necessary to support higher blood volume, hormonal changes, and the development of fetal and uteroplacental organs. Therefore, it is important for expectant mothers to maintain adequate folate intake to support healthy fetal development and prevent complications.

Insufficient levels of folate can increase the risk of potential neural tube defects, affecting the baby’s spine, spinal cord, or brain.

Folate-rich foods include:

  • Kidney beans
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

Recommended daily intake: 400 mcg Dietary Folate Equivalents (DFE) for individuals planning to become pregnant and 600 mcg DFE for pregnant women.

To ensure adequate folate intake, it is recommended that all women who are trying to conceive and during pregnancy take a daily folate supplement containing 400 mcg DFE. This helps to support the healthy development of the baby’s neural tube and reduce the risk of related defects.

A very important consideration when taking folate is that using folic acid supplements can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, meaning that even if there’s a B12 problem, the folic acid might hide the signs. Therefore it’s best to speak to a vegan registered dietitian if you have any concerns. 

Choline

Choline can be made in the body but, unfortunately, not in amounts sufficient to meet metabolic demands, therefore making it an essential nutrient. Choline is an important nutrient for various functions in the body including supporting cell membrane structure and signaling, muscle function, and neurotransmission. It also helps transport lipids from the liver and provides essential methyl groups in the diet.

It’s equally important in fetal development as it plays a crucial role in shaping the brain and spinal cord’s structure and function. It affects stem cell growth and cell death, which can impact the risk of neural tube defects and long-term memory function.

Insufficient levels of choline during pregnancy can increase the risk of neural tube defects and impact the baby’s memory function. Choline deficiency may also raise the likelihood of liver and muscle damage in the pregnant mother.

Choline-rich foods include:

  • Green vegetables such as kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli
  • Chickpeas
  • Soybeans
  • Kidney beans

Recommended daily intake: 450 mg. Ensuring an adequate intake of choline is crucial for promoting optimal brain and spinal cord development in the baby and supporting the mother’s health during pregnancy.

Iodine

Iodine is crucial for the synthesis of thyroid hormones and for supporting normal brain development in babies. Studies show dairy is a significant iodine source in pregnancy. However, vegan women may have borderline sufficient iodine levels since they do not consume dairy.

According to the World Health Organization, a significant lack of iodine in the mother’s diet during pregnancy can lead to both maternal and fetal hypothyroidism. This severe deficiency is linked to adverse obstetric outcomes, such as spontaneous abortion, premature birth, and stillbirth.

Iodine-rich sources commonly found in a vegan diet include:

  • Iodized salt
  • Seaweed
  • Edible kelp
  • Nori

Please note that iodized salt is the recommended product to ensure adequate iodine intake. All vegans should be using iodized salt, unless not recommended by their doctor.  

Recommended daily intake: 220 mcg. To ensure adequate iodine intake during pregnancy, it is advisable to choose a prenatal supplement containing 150 mcg of iodine. This can help support both the mother’s health and the proper brain development of the baby.

plant-based pregnancy meal plan

What to Include in Vegan Meal Plan for Pregnancy

  • Embrace a varied and well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet for optimal nutrient intake during pregnancy
  • Include a wide variety of foods in appropriate amounts to support both maternal and infant health
  • Remember that no single food provides all the essential nutrients, so diversity is key
  • When following a vegan diet, find suitable substitutions for meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.
  • Consider alternative protein sources like quinoa, lentils, tofu, and tempeh but be mindful of potential micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron and vitamin B12.

Prenatal supplements

Pregnant vegans are advised to consider taking a prenatal multivitamin-mineral supplement containing the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Choline
  • Folate
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Zinc

Our Total Prenatal vitamin suggestion: Pink Stork 

Our microalgae-derived DHA suggestions:

  1. Freshfield Vegan Omega 3 DHA supplement
  2. Good Earth Nutrition Vegan DHA Omega 3 Supplement

Note that the decision to include microalgae-derived DHA supplements is at the discretion of the mother, but it is strongly encouraged.

Sample vegan pregnancy meal plan

Explore our three-day sample vegan meal plan for pregnancy to find inspiration on crafting delightful and nourishing meals!

Download the Vegan Pregnancy Meal Plan pdf below and discover creative ways to achieve a well-balanced and enjoyable diet during this special time:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Also, don’t forget to take your prenatal and DHA supplements daily!

Please note, these are only examples and you must adapt the portion sizes according to your specific caloric requirements. Ensuring appropriate weight gain throughout your pregnancy is essential, so be mindful of your individual needs and make adjustments accordingly.

Vegan pregnancy meal plan – Let’s Chat!

Pregnancy is a unique and significant phase for expecting mothers, and prioritizing proper nutrition is crucial during this time.

If you seek practical advice on how to ensure you receive the right nutrition, book your complimentary discovery call with one of our vegan registered dietitians, and let’s discuss how we can tailor a personalized meal plan specifically for you!

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