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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Vegan MoFo: Protein While Pregnant

My first prenatal appointment, I broached the subject of food with my provider. She cut me off immediately, before I could  mention anything about veganism, and said "Eat everything in sight! That's what I did." And that was the end of the conversation.

Needless to say, my knowledge of pregnancy nutrition, especially plant-based pregnancy nutrition, was got through my own research online and with books. One of my first and long-lasting concerns has been getting adequate protein. Normally, as a vegan, I am certain that I get enough protein, but I have read that during pregnancy one should ingest 80 grams a day. Unfortunately, there is no protein pill to take just in case you aren't getting enough, and it does not stay in your body, so it is important to ensure you are getting enough every day (pregnant or not!)

Here is my advice for getting enough protein while a pregnant vegan, just based on my experiences.

1. Try tracking your protein intake for a day or two to see where you stand. When I first found out I was pregnant, I typed everything I ate into just to check where my calories fell. You can manually add nutrients or find many foods pre-loaded and the page will show your protein in grams and how much of your diet is protein. I would not recommend doing this every day because at least for me it would be more stressful than beneficial.

2. Don't worry! If you eat a healthy balanced diet you are likely getting enough protein. Consciously make a few protein-heavy food choices every day, but do not obsess over it. Every little gram adds up- two from a granola bar here, one from almond milk there. For me, I got all the reassurance that I needed at our 20 week anatomy sonogram. I learned that Baby Squiggles is growing directly on target so I am definitely getting all the protein that we both need.

3. Protein Powder
I start every morning with a smoothie that is chocked full of nutrients, including protein from powder and nut or seed butter. I have experimented with a few powders- there a tons of varieties such as brown rice, pea, sprouts, just avoid whey!- but my favorite is hemp protein powder. One serving is four tablespoons and equates to 13 grams. Starting this way ensures that no matter how else my eating goes that day, I have a good base of protein (and potassium, leafy greens, and so on).

Previous Post on Raw Protein Powder
Preview Post on Morning Smoothies: Pregnancy-Safe, How-To, Recipe 

4. Nuts and Seeds
Nom these up! Almonds or sunflower seeds make great snacks for protein as well as healthy fat. I like to spread almond or sunflower seed butter on bagels or bananas if I feel like I've had a low-protein day.

5. Grain + Legume = Complete Protein
This is what I always had heard, because they together provide the necessary amino acids. However, lately I have been reading that it is not necessary to pair them up. As long as you are eating a good variety of each, you are more than likely getting the protein you need. You can find this combination, however, in so many kinds of food! Mexican beans and rice! Curried lentils with rice! And I have recently started using beans as snacks, as roasted chickpeas. Mmmm.

6. EVERY plant contains protein. If you are eating vegetables and fruits, you are ingesting protein! So don't worry, my pregnant vegan friend! Eat a wide variety of all plants and you will put into your body what you and your growing baby need. 

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