We all know that eating adequate protein is important--not only for us but also for the growing baby. In recent years, there has been a shift towards incorporating dietary plant protein consumption versus animal protein due to the nature of our food supply and food quality.

Interestingly enough, many of us develop aversions to the more common sources of animal protein such as chicken, eggs, red meat or even low-fat dairy options such as yogurt and cheese. Also, only recently has the AAP officially advised to include 2 servings per week of (low mercury) fatty fish.

One of the biggest reasons health professionals are advocating plant protein during pregnancy and also why concepts such as #meatlessmonday are gaining popularity is due to the fact that animal protein has to be cooked and thus denatured (food safety protocol) before consumption--therefore you're not getting the total protein from the original piece of meat. Because food safety is especially important during pregnancy, it is important to cook thoroughly before consumption. In addition, it's harder on the body to digest animal protein, which could cause discomfort during pregnancy since our GI system slows down as the pregnancy progresses. Therefore, increasing plant protein during pregnancy is encouraged!

Believe it or not, plant protein sources are abundant. The most common ones are legumes, nuts and seeds. So If you've been following a vegetarian or vegan diet, have no fear! You could continue the dietary pattern healthfully during your pregnancy and here's how:

  1. Incorporate legumes into your soups or baked dishes. Consider chickpeas instead of lean ground beef or turkey for a burger patty. Use black beans as a base for your brownies. Add kidney beans or white cannelloni beans to your soups and stews. Whip up some hummus for a snack. Incorporating legumes into a variety of dishes will keep you full and provide adequate dietary protein.
  2. Consider soy based meat alternatives. This is especially beneficial when making vegetable stir-fry or substituting for chicken, pork or salmon. Adding tofu - either grilled or baked - is a healthy way to increase your protein. Snacking on edamame or adding it to an Asian-style salad will also enhance intake.
  3. Go nuts! Adding nuts to your repertoire is an excellent way to obtain protein as well as other vitamins (almonds contain Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant!). Drink nut milk instead of dairy milk on occasion. You can crush 1/4 cup nuts and sprinkle on your morning oats or yogurt bowl. Add a serving of cashews or sliced almonds to a stir-fry or salad. Whip up some nut butters to pair with a fruit, whole grain toast or celery. Brands like Justins or Nuttzo also offer protein packed combinations that include a combination of nuts and seeds.
  4. Get seedy. Toss some chia or hemp seeds to your salad, yogurt bowl, or even smoothie drink or bowl and you'll certainly feel satiated from the wholesome protein. Not only are they a good source of dietary protein but chia seeds are also a good source of healthy fat.

Photo by Eat2Shred.