Question: Dear Monique, Although I am not a vegetarian I am very health conscious. I enjoy vegweb.com and try many of the interesting recipes to reduce meat consumption. My question has to do with reproductive health.
I know that research has shown that soy products reduce the prevalence of reproductive cancers, however; does soy or being a vegetarian have an influence or prepare the body better for pregnancy?
Thank you, Angela in Georgia
Answer: Yes. Being a vegetarian can positively influence and prepare the body for pregnancy. By eliminating meat and dairy from the diet, you also eliminate cholesterol and saturated fats, which clog arteries and can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Pregnant women have an increased need for vitamins like folic acid, calcium and iron. Vegetarians usually have an adequate intake of folic acid because they eat more green leafy vegetables and soy foods, both of which are high in folacin. Women of childbearing years need this nutrient to avoid birth defects.
Calcium is important for the formation of healthy bones and teeth. Soy foods, like tofu made with gypsum and fortified soymilk, are extremely high calcium that the body can more easily absorb than the calcium in dairy products. Calcium derived from soy-based products also do not have any of the growth hormones or antibiotics contained in dairy products.
Other foods high in calcium are green leafy vegetables, broccoli, sesame seeds, tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds) and fortified orange juice. Soy foods, like tempeh, are also high in iron. Additionally, since vegetarians eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, grains, etc., they increase their intake of other important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Pregnant women also need to increase their daily caloric intake by at least 300 calories a day and their double their protein intake. This can be easily achieved by eating an extra serving of beans and rice; having an extra tempeh sandwich during the day; having a between meal snack with tofu herb dip, whole-grain crackers and cut up vegetables; having a soymilk smoothie with breakfast; or snacking on soynuts throughout the day.
Taking a multi vitamin and mineral supplement would also be wise for pregnant women, vegetarian or not. Since a woman's body is building another life, it is vital that she take in more nutrients and calories to ensure the fetus grows strong and healthy.
For more information, read...
• Plant Based Nutrition and Health
by Stephen Walsh
• The New Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian Diet
by Vesanto Melina & Brenda Davis
• The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World
by John Robbins
• Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook
by Monique N. Gilbert
• Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care (8th edition)
by Benjamin Spock
You may also want to visit the Virtues of Soy website.
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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.