Vegan and pregnant: Is it healthy?

More individuals are embracing the vegan diet, and many women are wondering whether it's safe to maintain the lifestyle during pregnancy. For those who don't know, "vegan" is a term for those who don't consume animal-based products, including meats, fish, eggs, dairy, honey and any other products produced by animal efforts. Many vegans even elect not to use materials made from animal sources, such as leather belts or shoes, wool blankets and sweaters and buttons made from bone. While the vegan lifestyle can certainly be a challenging one, it's perfectly healthy and attainable - even during pregnancy.

However, women who wish to maintain their vegan status will need to be a little more careful about the nutrients they do receive. Among the most important items pregnant women need to load up on is protein, which is often found in animal sources. Protein is an essential part of the pregnancy diet because it contains the amino acids that are responsible for helping your baby's cells develop. Amino acids are also a critical component in baby development, particularly in the brain.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women consume at least 75 grams of protein each day during pregnancy, which is almost double the amount that you'd need otherwise. Women may find it difficult to consume this much protein each day, and vegan women may feel they have it especially tough, with many of the usual recommendations (meats, fish, eggs) off limits. Fortunately, there are a number of protein-laden foods that vegans can take advantage of and still ensure a healthy pregnancy.

This Indonesian food is made by deep-frying fermented soybeans, and it's your best bet for getting almost half of your daily recommendation in one fell swoop. A 1-cup serving yields 31 grams of protein.

Even un-fried, unfermented soybeans pack a powerful protein punch. One cup of cooked soybeans yields 29 grams of healthy protein.

Seitan is a delicious dish made up of cooked wheat gluten, which also happens to be very high in protein. One 3-ounce serving will give you 21 grams of this essential nutrient. However, as seitan is a wheat-gluten product, it isn't suitable for those who have an intolerance to gluten, such as celiac disease.

Beans are a notorious high-protein food, and lentils lead the pack by offering 18 grams per 1-cup serving. Lentils are a great food to incorporate into a pregnancy diet because they are so versatile - you can make lentil soup, add cooked lentils to a salad or casserole, or even make a lentil bean sandwich as an alternative to traditional "sloppy joes."

Beans (black, chickpea, kidney, lima, pinto)
After lentils, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lima beans and pinto beans come in second on the protein scale, offering 15 grams per 1-cup serving. Try them in a burrito or a bean salad.

Black-eyed peas
These types of legumes come in just under beans for their protein count. You can get 13 grams per 1-cup serving by consuming these soup- and salad-friendly ingredients.

Tofu, which is made from mashed soybeans, will give you 11 grams of protein per cup. It can be added to a number of dishes in place of meats like chicken or beef.

Having a vegan pregnancy is perfectly possible, however, there may be other considerations you'll need to be aware of. Talk to your doctor or else a dietician to determine the best path for your vegan pregnancy.

What are some of your favorite protein-laden vegan recipes to chow down on during pregnancy? Share your favorites with us in the comments section!