Alia Bhatt’s baby shower is set to be a vegan treat. Is It Healthy To Go Vegan During Pregnancy?

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When she’s not delivering a Rs 100 crore hit, superstar actress Alia Bhatt chooses to lead by example. She celebrates a conscientious lifestyle and makes choices that are in line with climate-conscious times. After turning vegan in 2020 and during the third trimester of her pregnancy, she has now decided to have an all-vegan menu for her baby shower. Naturally, this has led to many questions, is a vegan diet good and nutritious enough for moms-to-be? And for many young people who consciously choose veganism, is going through pregnancy good enough?

“The question revolves around healthy eating, and veganism is a medicine that has the power to change the trajectory of our health. Vegan foods can also be high in protein and vitamins (the two components that are emphasized in any pregnancy diet). The misconception that deficiencies are caused by plant-based diets must be dispelled. Instead, adequate consumption of them provides all the necessary vital nutrients, including calcium, protein, vitamins A, C, and B vitamins. Plus, they’re naturally high in fiber and antioxidants,” says plant-based food expert Sanjay Sethi.

“The focus of a plant-based diet is eating more seasonal fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. EATLANCET, which outlined the framework for a planetary healthy diet, also promotes this type of diet,” he adds.

In fact, he argues why animal foods often contain toxins that enter the human digestive system and cause arterial inflammation that damages the heart. For mothers prone to high blood pressure, switching from animal proteins to alternative plant-based proteins can significantly lower LDL levels.

“Consequently, the inclusion of nuts such as almonds and walnuts, flaxseed, and hemp powder, which are rich in omega-3 and protein, can help meet any dietary requirements. If you’re worried that switching to a plant-based diet might damage your gut due to a lack of probiotics, our traditional household practices like eating with chutneys and using vinegar-soaked pyaaz help digestion,” he says.

Also, foods like bananas, papayas, raisins, and ginger are great prebiotics that promote the formation of healthy microbes in the stomach and lead to better immunity. Many people adopt a plant-based diet and become flexitarians. Indeed, this is the path advocated by Ritika Samaddar, Regional Director of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics at Max Healthcare.

“Anyone who finds it difficult to switch to veganism due to the high costs of procuring plant-based foods or simply has difficulties calculating the ratios can switch to a vegetarian diet and sometimes use quark and milk. Otherwise, we have a strong tradition of rich, plant-based foods like split or green peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, quinoa, bulgur, oatmeal, whole grain cereals and breads, nut butters, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, soy milk, tofu, and lentils. If you’re concerned about calcium (an essential requirement for the third trimester), just reach for milk, cheese and more leafy greens.”

Pareen Sachdeva, a vegan who founded Lactose-Free Goddess just to prove that veganism is not about leniency, says, “Veganism is the perfect antidote to food allergies. Many Indians don’t even know that their gut health issues, like bloating and acidity, are caused by some type of food allergy. For example, very few people know that while milk is an additional growth fluid for babies, it is not needed by adults. Also, any type of animal milk brings with it hormones and chemicals that are out of sync with the human body, which rejects them. We only crave milk because lactose is addictive,” she says. She prepares casseroles, pizzas, patties and even barfis that do without milk solids or poultry and replace them with coconut, soy or almond milk. Similarly, plant foods and meat are just as good in terms of satiety and nutrients.

“Why do we consume animal meat? Because we are drawn to the taste and texture that are easy to reproduce. Aside from the animals that we consume, all are herbivores that feed on plant proteins,” she argues. She uses seitan, a plant-based meat substitute. “Wheat flour and water are kneaded into a sticky dough. It is then rinsed to remove the starch, leaving only a mass of pure gluten protein. It has a chewy texture and can hold any flavor of meat you want.” Their potato sprout burger patties have the same protein count as their animal counterparts.

In 2019, the US-based National Library of Medicine found enough evidence to show that “a well-planned vegetarian and vegan diet can be considered safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but it requires a strong awareness of a balanced intake of important nutrients . A pre-hospital nutritional intervention concept is required to avoid maternal malnutrition and consequent impairment of fetal growth.”

And while many moms take iron supplements in the normal course, they might get enough iron from beans, soy, oat bran, barley, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit, spinach, and chickpeas. In the event of a deficiency that cannot be compensated for by dietary intake, an expectant mother can always rely on doctor-recommended nutritional supplements. So you don’t need to worry.

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