Fact: I (Jenn) am not a pregnant vegan. But we know that we have pregnant readers who are (or who like to eat vegan meals regularly), which is exactly why we’re sharing this excerpt from the book Your Complete Vegan Pregnancy. The book shows vegan moms-to-be everything they need to know regarding keeping themselves and their babies strong and healthy through all three trimesters. Read on for how much protein to eat and the best vegan sources to get it when pregnant. Really great info if you are vegan — or just looking to eat more plant-based!
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The word protein comes from the Greek word proteios, meaning “primary.” Perhaps this word was chosen because of protein’s primary role in the body. Proteins are responsible for everything from the structure of your muscles and bones to the proper function of your immune system to food digestion. Additionally, many hormones are made from protein, and adequate protein helps promote healthy skin, hair, and nails. In pregnancy, extra protein is needed to support your baby’s growth — building bones and muscles, for example. You also need extra protein as your blood volume increases and your breasts and uterus enlarge.
During pregnancy, you’ll gain a bit more than 2 pounds of protein. About a pound of this is accounted for by your baby’s muscle, hair, skin, bones, teeth, and internal organs. The other pound or so is added to your usual body protein content.
Before you were pregnant, you needed around 0.4 grams of protein for every pound that you weighed. To do the math, take your pre-pregnancy weight in pounds and multiply by 0.4 — that’s how much protein you needed before you were pregnant. For instance, if you weighed 120 pounds, you’d multiply 120 by 0.4 (calculators allowed, this is not a test!) and get 48 grams of protein.
Protein Needs in Pregnancy
Even early in your pregnancy, protein needs increase to support changes to your body and your baby’s growth. You need about 25 grams of protein a day more than you did before you were pregnant. Simply take the amount of protein recommended before pregnancy (0.4 times your pre-pregnancy weight) and add 25 grams. So for instance, if you weighed 120 pounds before pregnancy, you’d multiply 120 by 0.4 and then add 25 for a total of 73 grams of protein. That’s how much daily protein (in grams) is recommended. This amount is about 50 percent higher than protein recommendations for non-pregnant women.
If you’re lucky enough to be expecting twins, you’ll need even extra protein. After all, instead of one baby, you have two on the way. Moms of twins should add 50 grams of protein to their pre-pregnancy protein needs. So, if you calculated your protein needs before you were pregnant as 48 grams a day, you’d add 50 grams for a total of 98 grams of protein to aim for.
Some vegan nutrition experts recommend that vegans get slightly more protein than non-vegans. Their rationale is that vegan protein sources like beans and whole grains are harder to digest. They suggest about 10 percent more protein for vegans. This amount is pretty small and is nothing to be concerned about. If you want to calculate, multiply your protein recommendation by 1.1.
Vegan Protein Sources
The list of vegan foods that don’t contain protein is a much shorter list than those foods that do supply protein. Foods that provide protein include all varieties of beans from adzuki to yellow, grains, nuts and seeds, nut butters and seed butters, vegetables, potatoes, soy foods, meat analogs (products made to resemble meats), and seitan (wheat “meat”). The short list of poor sources of protein is just that: short.
Foods and ingredients that are not good sources of protein include:
- Fats and oils — margarine, olive oil, canola oil, other oils, most salad dressings
- Sugar and other sweeteners — maple syrup, molasses, agave nectar
- Soft drinks, coffee, tea
- Herbs and spices — the amounts you eat are too small to provide much protein
- Fruits — note that fruits are great foods; they’re just not good protein sources
- Alcohol — but you’re not drinking that anyway, right?
So unless you’re feasting on hard candy, fried bananas, wine coolers, and the like for every meal, every day, chances are that you’re getting a good amount of protein.
Another issue to be aware of is whether you are getting enough calories. Ideally, you’re gaining weight at the rate that you should for pregnancy. If you are, chances are that you’re getting enough calories. Not gaining weight could mean you’re eating fewer calories than you need, which means that protein is being used mainly to keep your body functions going instead of being used to build your baby’s muscles.
When you go for a routine prenatal visit to your doctor, your urine will be tested for protein. This is mainly a test for preeclampsia, urinary tract infection, and kidney function. This test does not provide information about how much protein is in your diet.
Your protein intake will naturally increase as you eat more food when you are pregnant, especially if you focus on foods that are good sources of protein. —Reed Mangels
Excerpted from Your Complete Vegan Pregnancy by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD. Copyright © 2019 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher, Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. All rights reserved.