Alia Bhatt’s baby shower to be a vegan treat. Is it healthy to remain vegan during pregnancy?

When she is not delivering a Rs 100-crore hit, superstar actor Alia Bhatt chooses to lead by example. She celebrates a conscientious lifestyle, making choices that resonate with climate-conscious times. Having turned vegan in 2020 and in the third trimester of her pregnancy, she has now opted for an all-vegan menu for her baby shower. This has obviously led to many questions as to whether a vegan diet is good and nutritious enough for would-be mommies? And for many young people making conscious choices with veganism, is it good enough to sustain during pregnancy?

“The question is about wholesome nutrition and vegan food is a medicine that has the power to change the trajectory of our health. Vegan foods can be as rich in protein and vitamins (the two components that are highlighted in every pregnancy diet). The misconception that deficits are brought on by plant-based diets is something that needs to be demolished. Instead, sufficient consumption of them provides all the vital nutrients required, including calcium, proteins, vitamins A, C, as well as B vitamins. Additionally, they are naturally high in fibre and antioxidants,” says plant-based food expert Sanjay Sethi.

“A plant-based diet’s major emphasis is on eating more seasonal fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. EATLANCET, which has described the framework of planetary healthy diets, also promotes this way of eating,” he adds.

In fact, he argues why animal-based foods frequently contain toxins that enter the human digestive system and cause arterial inflammation, which is damaging to the heart. For mothers prone to hypertension, switching from animal proteins to alternative plant proteins can considerably lower LDL levels.

“Subsequently, the inclusion of nuts like almonds and walnuts, flax seeds, and hemp powder that are rich in Omega-3 and protein can help in meeting all nutritional requirements. If you are worried that switching to a plant-based diet would harm your gut because of a lack of probiotics, our traditional household practices like eating food with chutneys and using vinegar-soaked pyaaz aid digestion,” says he.

Also, foods like bananas, papayas, raisins, and ginger are great prebiotics that encourage the formation of healthy microbes in the stomach, leading to better immunity. Many people are embracing plant-based diets and becoming flexitarians. In fact, that’s the road Ritika Samaddar, Regional head, Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Max Healthcare, advocates.

“For those who find it difficult to make the switch to veganism because of the high costs involved in procuring plant-based food or simply find it difficult to work out their ratios, they can transition through a vegetarian diet and rely on curd and milk sometimes. Otherwise, we have a great tradition of rich, plant-based food like split or green peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, quinoa, bulgur, oatmeal, whole grain cereals and breads, nut butter, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, soymilk, tofu and lentils. If calcium (an essential pre-requisite for the third trimester) worries you, then just go for milk, cheese and more of green, leafy vegetables.”

Says Pareen Sachdeva, a vegan who started Lactose-Free Goddess only to prove that veganism is not about blandness, “Veganism is the perfect antidote to food allergies. Many Indians don’t even know that their issues related to gut health, like gas and acidity, are caused by some sort of food allergies. For example, very few people know that while milk is an additional baby growth fluid, it is not required by adults. Also, any kind of animal milk brings with it hormones and chemicals that are not synched with the human body, which rejects it. We crave for milk only because lactose is addictive,” she says. She prepares bakes, pizzas, patties and even barfis that do not use milk solids or poultry, substituting them with coconut, soy or almond milk. Similarly, plant-based foods and meats are just as good in terms of satiety value and nutrients.

“Why do we consume animal meats? Because we are drawn to the flavour and texture, which can be easily replicated. Besides the animals we consume are all herbivores, feeding on plant proteins,” she argues. She uses seitan, a plant-based meat substitute. “Wheat flour and water are kneaded to make a sticky dough. It is then rinsed to remove the starch, leaving only a mass of pure gluten protein. This has a chewy texture and can absorb any meaty flavour you want.” Her potato-sprout burger patties have the same protein value as their animal meat counterpart.

The US-based National Library of Medicine in 2019 found enough evidence to show that “well planned vegetarian and vegan diets may be considered safe during pregnancy and lactation, but they require a strong awareness for a balanced intake of key nutrients. A design of pregestational nutrition intervention is required in order to avoid maternal undernutrition and consequent impaired fetal growth.”

And while many mothers take iron supplements in the normal course, they could get enough iron from beans, soy, oat bran, barley, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit, spinach and chickpeas. For any deficiency that is not met by dietary inputs, an expectant mother can always rely on doctor-recommended supplements. So there’s no need to worry.

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