My sister is pregnant and she's vegetarian. She's getting almost
all her protein from soybeans and garbanzo beans. I think she
should find more sources and would like to make suggestions. Can
you help? Thank you ahead of time.
Kristen, First, to alleviate your fears. You stated that your
sister obtains most of her protein from soy products and garbanzo
beans. I would imagine, however, that she is obtaining a continuous
supply of small quantities of protein from numerous other sources,
including enriched breads and cereals, peanut butter and other
nut butters, nuts, lentils, sunflower seeds, and all sorts of
green vegetables. If you imagine your sister as a meat-eater obtaining
most protein from one meat, and the rest from the remaining of
her diet, you would not worry. Actually, you need not worry about
and soy, she is able to obtain almost all of her essential amino
acids 'lysine, methionine, and tryptophane.' Actually, if she
just ate just a few sunflower seeds or nuts, then we would be
ensured that she definitely would have obtained all she required.
Please think of all the people in Asia fulfilling all their protein
needs through soy products, and all the people in India fulfilling
all their protein needs through beans, grains, and vegetables.
If you are
still worried, please tempt your sister with a variety of Ethnic
bean dishes to encourage her to vary her bean choices. For example,
you can take her to eat Mediterranean Hummus tahini, Mexican rice
and beans, Chinese yellow bean cake, and an Indian lentil curry.
Hope you have fun doing so.
My wife hasn't eaten milk products in over five years and she's
suddenly craving cheese. Will this create any problems for her
to start eating it again now? If so, do you have any alternatives
to suggest? Does this mean she's low in calcium? She's 4 months
pregnant. Thank you.
will be quite difficult to know why your wife is suddenly craving
cheese now that she is pregnant, yet it is not surprising. The
cravings that occur during pregnancy are often beyond anyone's
comprehension. I do believe that she must be deficient in some
nutrient, or in some balance of nutrients, yet I cannot say what
that might be. It is not really possible to determine through
a blood test if she is deficient in calcium, as the body tends
to maintain a stable blood calcium level, even if an individual's
bones are deficient.
will not experience any adverse side-effects if she begins to
eat cheese. Although people who have been vegetarian for many
years often experience diarrhea if they suddenly consume meat,
a similar corollary does not usually occur when people restart
Now as to
what element in the cheese your wife might be craving, it might
be the salt, the fat, the soothing effect it may have on her intestinal
lining, the calcium, the calories, or some trace nutrient as of
yet undetermined. She can attempt to enhance her diet with additional
calcium supplements or calcium-fortified cereal, Yet I would imagine
that by the time you read this response, your wife will have fulfilled
her cravings with cheese. Neither you nor I can stop the instincts
of a pregnant woman, and I do not believe we should. We should
just observe her needs and try to learn from them.
If your wife does decide to eat cheese, she might do well to start
with a low fat variety. After years of avoiding foods with such
a high fat-content as cheese, consuming them now might cause her
to experience sudden waves of nausea, and she might revisit her
meal in reverse.
I am worried about my protein intake as I don't really like beans/lentils
on a regular basis. I am eating cheese and yogurt to help but
know it's not adequate. I cannot stand fish but will eat shrimp
but I have to limit that because of my cholesterol problem. I
have been eating soy burgers/products for the last 3 years but
since I've become pregnant, whenever I eat them I get unbearable
gas problems. My ob/gyn said I can eat a protein bar to supplement
as well but I know I'm not getting the 75-90 grams of protein
a day I should be getting. Is there something else I can eat to
help with my protein needs?
actually have a two part question. Your first concern is a general
one about getting enough protein, and your second is about the
cholesterol in shrimp.
In reference to obtaining enough protein, you really only need,
at most, 60 grams of protein daily (average over several days)
during your pregnancy, and 65 daily while you're nursing. As you
consume dairy products, I'll bet you're getting this amount without
even realizing it. For example: If you have a cup of yogurt for
breakfast (15 gms), a lettuce, tomato, and cheese sandwich for
lunch (2 slices cheese 10+ GMs) on 2 slices whole grain bread
(9 GMs), and sautéed tofu (3/4 cup - 30 GMs) with broccoli
(1 cup 6 GMs) - you will have easily surpassed your required amount
of protein. And, this is without even considering all the other
foods you will have eaten with these few staples!
Eating a protein
bar as a snack is fine, but please check to make sure your particular
protein bar has been derived from vegetarian sources and that
it is not filled with unnecessary chemicals. Its important to
remember, that you're not just looking for quantity, but also
As you are predominantly a vegetarian, yet sometimes eat fish,
your question about shrimp is a very good one. Years back, people
used to worry about the high level of cholesterol present in certain
shellfish, such as shrimp, lobster, and crabs. But then, other
researchers began to look at the whole picture and wonder why
certain North American Inuit Indians, groups who lived almost
entirely on fish, had almost no atherosclerosis deposited in their
picture is that other nutrients present within these shell fish,
specifically polyunsaturated fatty acids, actually prevent cholesterol
from being deposited in blood vessel walls - so it cannot cause
harm. And actually, they also prevent cholesterol from other foods
eaten at the same time from being deposited in blood vessel walls.
The most common of these fatty acids are the omega-3-fatty acids.
to this positive effect, eating shrimp helps to raise a persons
high density lipids (the good cholesterol that prevents heart
attacks), and lower their triglycerides - another lipid that can
contribute to atherosclerosis. So in effect, although the total
'cholesterol level' may be high after eating shrimp, much of this
is due to the presence of the good variant. Therefore, if you
are consuming fish, you need not worry that by eating shrimp you
will cause atherosclerotic heart disease - you will not.
Dear Dr. Roberts, I've been thinking of becoming Lacto-vegetarian
for awhile now. I eat fish and chicken about twice a week, no
red meat. It would be a change in my diet, of course. I'm six
weeks pregnant and am wondering if now is the time to make a dietary
change? Or should I wait?
that you are six weeks pregnant. It will not be difficult, nor
dangerous, for you to become lacto-vegetarian at this time. Actually,
during pregnancy, many women develop such a distaste for the fatty
consistency of fish, fowl, and meat, that they fully avoid these
- without even consciously trying to become vegetarian.
You will not
affect either your baby's or your health by becoming vegetarian
now, and you may actually have less of a problem with weight gain.
What you will have to watch out for is that you may not feel satiated.
As many vegetarian foods are lower in fats that are animal-derived
foods, you may not feel the same sense of appetite suppression
that you have been accustomed to on a higher fat diet. Therefore,
you may have to eat frequent small meals to feel satiated, or
as many vegetarians describe their eating patterns, you may have
to 'graze throughout the day.'
This is not
detrimental, as pregnant women often need to eat small frequent
meals anyway, not to feel nauseated. Please, just make sure your
frequent snacks are healthy ones, such as apples with nuts, carrots
with Hummus, or celery with cheese. If you keep in mind that by
avoiding many animal-derived foods you will be decreasing the
amount of hormones, mercury, pesticides, herbicides, and fats
you are giving your baby, you will know that you are making a
wise choice. Wishing you good luck during your transition.
I am 15 weeks pregnant and still nursing my 17 month-old son -
who has no intention of letting me wean him. Would you suggest
vitamin supplements in order to be sure I'm obtaining enough nutrition
for all of us?
you are 17 weeks pregnant and still nursing, I would definitely
suggest taking vitamin supplements. Vegetarian or not, it will
be difficult for you to keep up with the needs of the three of
simply double your prenatal vitamins, please look at their contents.
If they contain vitamin A, it will be prudent not to take two
a day. Although it is only the supplemental vitamin A from animal
sources that cause fetal deformities (cardiac, eye, and facial,
and brain), even if your prenatal vitamin A manufacturer states
the product contains only that obtained from plant sources - it
is better not to take a chance.
addition to your one prenatal vitamin, consider supplementing
with a 'B' complex vitamin plus iron (these function well to increase
your iron absorption). This will also be the perfect time for
you to ask your physician/midwife to check your iron levels.
please consider taking calcium supplements at another time during
the day (remembering that calcium and iron are each absorbed better
when not taken at the same time). There is no specific intake
of calcium recommended for a woman 'both pregnant and nursing.'
Yet, while working in third-world countries, I observed rickets
in children of women who repetitively conceived and nursed over
many repetitive pregnancies. Your taking one or two 250 mg calcium
citrate tablets daily will certainly cause no harm and, if nothing
else, will add peace of mind. You certainly have a very dedicated
soul - blessings.
I am currently trying to become pregnant. What foods should I
eat to make sure I get enough nutrition for me, and hopefully
for my baby-to-be?
Cera, It's reassuring to know you are thinking about your baby's
health from the very moment you conceive. As you probably know,
it's both the store of nutrients you have within your body, and
those nutrients you will give it when it will be a tiny microscopic
speck that will affect its development most.
consider starting prenatal vitamins now. This will ensure that
you obtain a foundation of nutrients even on those days that you're
on the run. These vitamins should contain a general complement
of all 'B vitamins' with specific mention of at least 400 micrograms
of folic acid (vitamin B 9). Actually, 800 to 1,000 micrograms
are desirable to decrease the chances that your baby will be born
with spina bifida. Then, eat plenty of foods rich in B vitamins--including
beans, enriched breads and cereals, and 'foliage' (greens).
sure your vitamins do not contain over 25,000 International Units
of Vitamin A (possibly referred to as Retinol). If vitamins contain
high levels of vitamin A from animal sources, such as from animal
liver and fish oils, ingestion of these can lead to birth defects
affecting a baby's heart, blood vessels, and nervous system. Presently,
there are vitamins available with their vitamin A obtained from
plant sources. They might refer such vitamin A as 'Beta-carotene
or pro-vitamin A.' Nevertheless, it will be prudent for you to
make sure the vitamin A content within any of your vitamins remains
well below 25,000 International Units. Also, you need not worry
about the vitamin A you obtain from natural vegetation such as
carrots, sweet potato, papaya, apricots, or any of the other vegetarian
Next, if you
are still eating fish, please eliminate all foods taken from larger
fish such as swordfish, shark, mackerel, and tilefish, as well
as the fish used in making sushi or tuna steaks. All of these
may contain seriously high levels of methylmercury that can increase
a child's risk of developmental delays. Also, do not eat canned
tuna daily. Although the jury is still out, I would limit intake
of canned tuna to once or twice a week.
you look at the dietary guidelines recommended by the American
College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists for pregnant women
on pages 56-57 of my book, and then follow through reading of
the many food sources that contain these vitamins, you will definitely
ensure adequate nutrition for your baby, whether you are vegetarian
Dr. Roberts, my mom told me that I should eat meat now that I'm
pregnant to protect my baby from being too small. I'm pretty happy
with my diet that doesn't include red meat. Does going vegan or
vegetarian (Mom) affect baby weight?
your mom has stated that you should eat meat to protect your baby
from being too small, such is not the case. I'm sure your mom
means well, but she probably has not reviewed medical studies,
nor has she reviewed those nutrients required to provide a baby
with adequate nutrition, and the food sources that can accomplish
Meat is a
food source that has been greatly valued, and marketed, within
our Western culture. Most of the rest of the world, however, does
not place such a high value on the 'perceived' nutrition obtained
from meat. Actually, most of the world recognizes that 'eating
muscle' does not 'create muscle.'
have shown that babies of vegetarian mothers weigh 7 ounces less
than babies of carnivorous mothers. Therefore, a baby born to
a meat eater might weigh 8 pounds 9 ounces, and yours might weigh
8 pounds 2 ounces. (Actually, this might be the deciding factor
helping you to avoid a cesarean section for an excessively large
baby). Also your baby might be 1/10th of an inch shorter in length.
There is no
reason to think your baby will be scrawny, weak, skinny, or in
any way unhealthy due to your vegetarian diet. Please rest assured
that your diet is healthy and that you might be creating a 'slight
edge' on your avoiding a cesarean from not attempting to deliver
a huge baby.
daughter is six months old and I'm trying to decide if she will
be vegetarian like me and her dad. What advice do you have? And,
where can I find more information on feeding my baby/child a healthy
vegetarian diet, when to start what foods and so forth. Thank
you ahead of time.
Summer, I must clarify my answer by stating that I am not a pediatrician,
and my knowledge rests predominantly on vegetarian health in adults
(pregnant or otherwise). We raised our children as vegetarians
basically by sharing with them the same well-rounded vegetarian
diets we were eating.
When my children
were infants, I felt peace of mind knowing that human milk contains
only 5% protein (a much lower protein content than present in
cow's milk), and that this low protein source had sustained human
life on our planet for centuries. In spite of its low protein
content, many women have successfully sustained their babies on
breast milk for years.
The best advice
I can offer you is to read about nutritional needs of infants,
and then extrapolate those needs commonly supplied by meat sources,
such as protein, iron, and vitamin B12, to plant-based foods that
can fulfill them. Once you develop a foundational template of
healthy food sources, you will find your food choices evolving
as a instinct - they will become natural to you.
As a breastfeeding mom (and hopefully, soon-to-be pregnant again
soon), I'm trying to get more of my protein from non-meat sources.
Nuts and nut butters seem like a really good way to do that, but
I've read that exposing a fetus or breastfeeding child to nuts
could make them more likely to be allergic. Is that true?
Roberts: I am not familiar with the concept that exposing
a fetus to nuts and nut-butters will increase his chances of becoming
allergic to them. If that were so, than we might observe similar
allergies occurring in newborns when their mothers had consumed
milk, strawberries, pork, or soy - other foods to which people
are often allergic.
that you can safely consume nuts, but please vary the type rather
than limiting your choice to only peanuts. That's because a mold,
aflatoxin, often grows on the surface of peanuts and can cause
cancer. Therefore, it will be prudent for you to vary your diet
to include pecan, cashew, and almond nuts and butters.
I have been a lacto ovo veggie for many years. I had a very low
pre-pregnancy weight of 100 and I'm 5 ft 3in. I am in my 8th (33
weeks) month and have gained 42 pounds! My doctor is hassling
me about the weight but I feel that my diet is healthy. She knows
very little about the vegetarian diet and seems to believe I'm
doing something wrong. I have been checked for high blood pressure,
swelling, diabetes..... nothing! Am I ok, is this bad for my baby?
Roberts: Because your pre-pregnancy weight was only 100 pounds,
your weight gain of 42 pounds by your thirty-third week of pregnancy
does not seem terrible! For women who are underweight (twenty
pounds below their desired weight) beginning pregnancy, the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that they
gain 28 to 40 pounds over the duration of their pregnancy. It
is important to remember that all of the weight is not on 'you.'
It is proportioned between your baby, placenta, amniotic fluid,
enlarged uterus, your breasts, your dilated blood vessels filled
with blood, and then finally, your baby fat stores. So you will
probably retain some weight after pregnancy, but as a vegetarian
and a health conscious woman, you'll probably lose most of it.
I am trying to create healthy eating habits for my family. I am
interested in offering more vegetarian choices in our diets, especially
for my son, age 3, who prefers carbohydrates - breads, pastas,
etc. While I am not looking to completely eliminate meats and
dairy, what would be a good way to introduce a more "vegetarian-based"
diet to a family of "picky eaters" and what are some
good vegetarian choices for children?
Roberts: To introduce vegetarian foods without totally disrupting
your family's patterns, particularly for your three year old who
prefers carbohydrates, you will simply be able to modify choices.
instead of meat burgers
Grilled portabella instead of grilled steak
Fried veggies (cauliflower & broccoli) instead of fish sticks
Caesar salad with fried tofu, instead of with chicken pieces
Tomato, alfalfa and tofu sandwich instead of ham sandwich
Best of all, you will open your family to a whole world of exciting
I am 6 weeks pregnant (for the first time) and also a vegan for
10 years and vegetarian for a total of 16 years. I found myself
craving for shrimp lately and having aversions to normal foods
I used to enjoy such as tofu, broccoli and other vegetables. I
am concerned about not getting enough nutrients (esp. protein),
as I couldn't manage to eat/finish my vegan foods, esp. during
dinner time (e.g., I eat only a couple of small bites, then I
feel nauseated and want to vomit). I am experiencing bad morning
sickness in the late afternoon and evening, feeling nauseated,
very tired and lack of energy. I also noticed that almost every
food I eat in the late afternoon and night leaves a very sour
taste in my mouth. Do you know what's causing this and what can
I do about it? In regards to my shrimp cravings, I can't imagine
myself eating meat ever gain and I know I will feel guilty if
I eat shrimp (as I don't believe and support any form of animal
cruelty, directly or indirectly), but I don't know what to do.
Please advice. Thank you!
Roberts: I'm sorry you are having such bad morning sickness.
Sometimes nothing works perfectly or consistently well for the
sour taste of morning sickness. But you may want to try meals
with ginger (ginger tea, ginger ale soda, or grated ginger on
your foods), as well as with lemon, vinegar, or dry carbohydrates
(e.g. dry crackers).
sickness is so bad, some women cannot even worry about nutrition,
because they have to worry about obtaining any caloric intake
at all. If this is your situation, you will have to ensure you're
getting all your nutrients through vitamin supplements (Preferably
in the evening, as some B vitamins if taken in the morning can
worsen morning sickness).
You may be
able to satisfy your craving for shrimp simply by putting 'shrimp
cocktail sauce' on your tofu. I believe you will find it amazing
how the tofu absorbs the taste of the sauce and will fully satiate
Thank you very much for joining us, Dr. Roberts. Your answers
will benefit our many vegetarian pregnancies on StorkNet. We highly
Vegetarian Pregnancy as a very beneficial way of having confidence
that nutritional guidelines are being met for both mother and
baby. We hope you'll be back again.
Roberts: Thank you for this opportunity to chat with StorkNet
members. I've truly enjoyed it. I wish everyone peace, love and
blessings in your journey. If I can be of help in the future,
please let me know.
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