(It's Not as Hard as You Might Think!)
Everyone knows that your nutrient needs go up during pregnancy, but did you know that your protein requirement practically doubles? Most sources say that a pregnant woman should be getting at least 80 grams of protein per day! Are you getting enough?
Some vegetarians find it especially difficult to meet these numbers; I know I certainly did! With patience and much time spent working with my diet (and keeping an accurate food journal), I was able to get there, and you can too. It is easier to adequately meet your protein needs if you eat eggs and dairy, but the diligent vegan can accomplish it too.
Running low on ideas? Here are some vegetarian ideas to bump up your protein intake. (And note that all of these protein counts may vary depending on what brand you buy.)
- Quinoa: Technically a seed, quinoa cooks up like a grain and has a wonderful taste that most people enjoy just fine. It's also worth noting that quinoa contains complete protein, meaning it has all of the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own. A cup of cooked quinoa usually has around 12 grams of protein.
- Beans: Yes. Eat lots of these. A cup of pinto or black beans has 14 grams of protein, a cup of garbanzo beans has 12 grams, and a cup of kidney beans has 13 grams.
- Lentils: A cup of cooked green lentils has about 18 grams of protein.
- Tofu and Tempeh: A serving of tofu, usually about 3 ounces, has 7-9 grams of protein, depending on the brand and firmness. Tempeh is even better; a 4 ounce serving has 20-24 grams of protein.
- Oatmeal: A fantastic way to start off your day; a cup cooked averages about 7 grams of protein. Better yet, you can add toppings to boost that even further! I always top mine with walnuts, ground flaxseed, and chia seed, among other things.
- Other Whole Grains: You're going to eat bread and pasta anyway; choose whole grain! Not only is it better for your blood sugar, but whole grains have a lot more protein than refined grains.
- Veggies: Wait, vegetables have protein? Of course they do! You should be trying to eat a rainbow of veggies every day, but some especially good options for protein are green peas (8 grams/1 cup), corn (4-5 grams/1 cup), spinach (5 grams/1 cup cooked), and Brussels sprouts (4 grams/cup).
- Nut and Seed Butters: Spread 'em on toast, crackers, celery, apples, or whatever you want! I buy ones that have no added sugars, salt, or oil (and definitely no hydrogenated oils!). Try peanut butter (7 grams/2 tablespoons), sunflower seed butter (9 grams/2 tablespoons), almond butter (7 grams/2 tablespoons), or cashew butter (5 grams/2 tablespoons).
- Nuts and Seeds: I prefer completely raw, but roasted are still a good option (be wary of too much added seasoning though). Try peanuts (7 grams/1 ounce), almonds (6 grams/1 ounce), pumpkin seeds (8 grams/1 ounce), cashews (5 grams/1 ounce), or sunflower seeds (6 grams/1 ounce). Or try store-bought nut mixes if you like variety!
- Greek Yogurt: Sure, regular yogurt has protein too, but Greek yogurt usually has about twice as much. It did wonders for my diet! Plain, with fresh fruit or honey mixed in, or blended into smoothies were all delicious. Most brands have 20-24 grams of protein in a cup.
- Eggs: A single egg has about 6 grams of protein.
- Cheese: Whether you snack on cubes or use it as a topping, cheese is delicious! Most cheeses have about 7 grams of protein in a 1 ounce serving.
- Dr Bill & Martha's Pregnancy Super-Smoothie appears both on their website and in The Healthy Pregnancy Book. The recipe makes 8 cups with a total of 50-70 grams protein, depending on what exact ingredients you use.
- Jumbo Chickpea Pancakes from OhSheGlows are a completely vegan option good for more than just breakfast; one large pancake contains 14-15 grams of protein, and can be topped with other goodies to increase the count further.
- Sweet Potato Dal from Happy Herbivore (also appearing in Lindsay Nixon's Book Everyday Happy Herbivore) packs 15.4 grams of protein in each serving. I absolutely love this recipe!
- Nutritious Cookies and Pancakes from MyBreechBaby don't give a specific amount of protein per serving, but both recipes contain plenty of high-protein ingredients and are a delicious and nutritious addition to your diet.
- Flax Nutmeg Pancakes from Penzey's Spices packs 13 grams of protein into 1/5 of the recipe.
- Lentil Stew, also from Penzey's Spices, is deliciously savory with 9 grams of protein per 1 cup serving.
- Smoky Split Pea Soup from Vegetarian Times Magazine has 9 grams of protein per 1 cup serving.
- Quinoa and Red Lentil Cutlets from FatFree Vegan Kitchen are delicious, and have 22 grams of protein per serving! I make these for Thanksgiving every year.
- Thanksgiving Meatless Loaf, also from FatFree Vegan Kitchen, packs 19 grams of protein per serving, and is one of the best meatless loaves I've ever made.
- Super "Meaty" Chili with TVP is featured in The Everything Vegan Cookbook. I normally don't do much with TVP, but my husband loves this chili and I enjoy its hearty texture, especially on a cold day. One serving has 20 grams of protein.
- Hummus is readily available in any grocery store, or you can try making your own with this recipe from AllRecipes. One quarter of the recipe has 8 grams of protein.
- Peanut Butter Banana Wraps are one of my favorite breakfasts on the go. Take one whole grain tortilla, spread with peanut butter (or nut butter of your choice), and wrap it around a banana. Protein count will depend on your specific ingredients; the ones I make average about 12 grams.