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What to Eat When You're Pregnant and Vegetarian : Other essential vitamins and minerals (part 4) - Vitamin E, Calcium

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Vitamin E

What it’s for: Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect cells, particularly those of the nervous system, from damage. There is some evidence to suggest that eating a diet high in vitamin E during pregnancy may protect your baby from developing asthma and other allergies.

Amount needed: Requirements for vitamin E depend on the amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) you consume. Individuals with higher PUFA intakes require more vitamin E, so there are no recommended levels for the general population. However, intakes around 4–5mg per day appear to be satisfactory for the majority of women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Where it’s found: It is found in a wide variety of foods and getting enough isn’t usually a problem for those eating a varied diet.

  Vitamin E (mg) per 100g Vitamin E per portion
Spinach (raw) 1.7 1.4mg per 80g portion
Broccoli 1.2 1mg per 80g portion
Carrots 0.6 0.6mg per 80g portion
Tomatoes 1.2 1mg per tomato
Apples 0.6 0.6mg per medium apple
Almonds 24 7.2mg per 30g handful
Hazelnuts 25 7.5mg per 30g handful
Rapeseed oil 22 2.4mg per tablespoon
Olive oil 5 0.5mg per tablespoon

Calcium

What it’s for: Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth. It also regulates muscle contraction and is needed for normal blood clotting.

Amount needed: Before and during pregnancy you need 700mg of calcium per day. This increases to 1,250mg per day for breastfeeding. To help your body absorb calcium, it’s important to have enough vitamin D. Vegetarians who drink milk and have milk products such as cheese and yogurt every day usually consume plenty of calcium. However, research has shown that vegans have substantially lower intakes of calcium than other individuals. A large study, which included more than 1,000 vegans living in the UK, found that 76% of them had calcium intakes below the recommended 700mg. Far fewer meat-eaters (15%) and lacto-ovo-vegetarians (18%) had such low intakes. This same study, known as EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nutrition) found that the fracture rate was 30% higher for vegans than for meat-eaters.

Where it’s found: Calcium is found in milk and dairy products and also in a variety of leafy green vegetables. Humans absorb about 30% of the calcium they consume, and how much you get from a particular meal depends on a variety of factors. Absorption is reduced in foods containing oxalic acid (including spinach, collard greens and rhubarb) and phytic acid (wholegrain cereals, beans and seeds) as these compounds bind to the calcium, so it carries on moving through the digestive tract and out. There was speculation that phosphate, which is found in fizzy drinks, also reduces calcium absorption, but recent research suggests that the link between fizzy drinks and lower bone mineral levels is due to people drinking them instead of milk.

The best sources of calcium for vegans include almonds, sesame seeds, tofu containing calcium chloride (E509), low-oxalic-acid leafy vegetables, and fortified foods. Almond butter may be better than whole almonds, as crushing the nuts makes the calcium more accessible, otherwise pieces of nut can pass through undigested. Likewise, tahini may be better than whole sesame seeds. Fortified foods can also make a huge difference to calcium intake, including milk alternatives and some bread. But remember to read the label, as products may look almost identical but one will have added calcium and not the other. If you usually drink rice milk or organic soya milk, check the label, as it probably doesn’t have calcium added.

  Calcium (mg) per 100g Calcium per portion
Milk 120 360mg per half-pint/300ml
Yogurt (plain) 162 202mg per small pot
Cheese 720 216mg per 30g portion
Fortified soya milk, hemp milk, oat milk or coconut milk 120 360mg per half-pint/300ml
Alpro soya desserts* 120 150mg per small pot
Burgen soya and linseed bread* 275 121mg per slice
Almonds 240 72mg per 30g handful
Almond butter 240 72mg per 3 teaspoons
Brazil nuts 170 51mg per 30g handful
Tofu 100–500 100–500mg per 100g portion
Sesame seeds/tahini 670 67mg per teaspoon
Broccoli 56 45mg per 80g portion
Curly kale 130 104mg per 80g portion
Chinese cabbage 54 43mg per 80g portion
Orange juice with added calcium (Tropicana)* 122 244mg per 200ml glass

*These figures are correct at the time of writing but manufacturers may change product ingredients, so it is best to check food labels.

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