February 2023

Is a Vegetarian Diet Safe During Pregnancy?

Adequate nutrient intake is an important part of any diet, but it’s especially crucial while pregnant or breast-feeding. We recently added data to our monograph highlighting specific nutrients to be mindful of while following a vegetarian diet. Here are some key points to discuss with patients.

To start, following a vegetarian diet while pregnant or breast-feeding shouldn’t pose any serious safety concerns for the baby as long as nutritional needs are met. But it’s important to encourage patients to focus on eating nutrient-rich foods. Maintaining adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acidsironzinccalcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 is the biggest concern with a vegetarian diet, which increases the risk for deficiency in these nutrients. Depending on how strict or limited the diet is, supplements might be necessary. If parents ask about whether it’s okay for their child to follow a vegetarian diet, let them know that deficiency is the main safety concern for children as well. So maintaining a well-rounded diet made up of nutrient-rich foods is crucial.

Like all diets, the benefits and risks associated with a vegetarian diet vary. Remind all patients, pregnant or not, that diets that just focus on avoiding meat rather than eating nutrient-dense, whole foods, aren’t a good option. Meat alternative products in particular are processed with high amounts of sodium, saturated fat, sugar, and preservatives. It takes a long list of ingredients to make plant protein taste like beef, and the short- or long-term effects of regularly eating these products are unclear.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.