Try this healthy pregnancy diet, especially if you're vegetarian
A nutritionist verifies the pros and cons of going green
An Olympian wading through frozen waters is only a shade more hardcore than a pregnant woman. Three-month-long bouts of nausea, unforeseen mood swings, and eating, breathing and expelling for a whole other being also feature as part of the “magical” experience that is pregnancy. But on rare occasions, the clouds of acute fatigue and unreasonable food cravings part and warriors like Chef Vanika Choudhary emerge unscathed (with a little help from her plant-based healthy pregnancy diet).
Choudhary claims to have had no binge food cravings at all. Her lifestyle and food habits remained relatively unchanged (she just added organic eggs to her diet). “Being plant-based is less of a diet and more of a lifestyle. The more you categorise it as a diet, the more you fall into this trap of losing weight and end up creating a negative relationship with food,” says Choudhary, who is also the founder of one of Mumbai’s most popular organic restaurants, Sequel. Along with being a certified yoga instructor, Choudhary has also managed to make healthy taste good for all of Mumbai.
Here is Vanika Chaudhary’s guide for all pregnant women who want to flush the toxins out and scrub their diets clean.
Healthy pregnancy diet, especially for vegetarians
Keep toxins at bay
It’s never easy to transform your eating habits. And when you’re pregnant, your body is changing and there’s a baby pressing down on your bladder, all you really want is a bowl of ice-cream with hot fudge. How then do you make sure your transition to a healthy pregnancy diet is smooth and doesn’t turn your world upside down? Eating tons of fruits and vegetables is the most common answer but it comes with the risk of pesticide exposure.“For pregnant women in their first trimester, considerable effort should be taken to avoid or limit exposure to pesticides. During this early stage of pregnancy, a baby’s major organs are developing and thus, are susceptible to chemicals that can lead to permanent defects,” says medical doctor and lifestyle and weight management specialist, Dr Vishakha Shivdasani. Choudhary gives us the cheat sheets to eating healthy with minimum pesticide exposure – the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.
The Dirty Dozen list features fruits and vegetables (usually thin-skinned) that absorb the maximum amount of toxins and pesticides, and should be substituted with organic alternatives. “For those starting off or those who find it difficult to adopt an organic lifestyle overnight, doing away with the Dirty Dozen is an easy transition. It also makes for a really effective first step towards eating healthy,” says Choudhary.
Strawberries top the The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen edition for 2019. The list also features spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes. Hot peppers too have managed to bag a special mention.
The Clean Fifteen lie on the other end of the spectrum and absorb the least number of toxins. Good news for all avo-toast lovers, the vegetable tops EWG’s Clean Fifteen list for 2019. It is followed by sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, cauliflower, cantaloupe, broccoli, mushroom and honeydew melons.
As widely acclaimed as these lists are, Dr. Shivdasani still advises women to take simple cautionary measures when creating a healthy pregnancy diet, “Recent research has found that rinsing under plain tap water for at least 30 seconds significantly reduces residues of nine out of the 12 identified pesticides.”
Animal products – what to eat and what to avoid
“Poultry and dairy are usually the most common triggers for allergies, and this is because of the hormones the animals are injected with to increase the quantity of produce,” says Choudhary. Minimising dairy could be your first step towards weaning off animal products. Nut milk, oat milk and rice milk are some alternatives to milk. “I don’t recommend soya milk in pregnancy because of its oestrogen effect,” explains Dr. Shivdasani.
Choosing sustainable and ethical sources of both, dairy and meat, and hormone-free produce is another way to ease yourself into an organic diet. “Organic doesn’t always mean hormone free,” explains the chef.
However, cutting out all forms of poultry might not be the best idea. “Eggs are the best natural source of protein,” says Dr. Shivdasani. Choudhary too confesses to introducing eggs into her diet after she conceived – “I didn’t eat eggs before, but do now—the organic kind to avoid ingesting toxins.”
Choudhury also recommends staying away from mercury-rich varieties of fish. These include swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish among others.
Strike off processed food from your grocery list
Pregnant or not, it is always a good idea to avoid refined or processed food items. “Processed carbs and refined sugar induces an insulin surge in your body, and because of that you are perpetually hungry and always overeating,” explains Choudhary.
Begin with striking off artificial sweetening agents including refined sugar from your shopping list. Choudhary suggests switching to natural forms of sugar like honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar. “However, this is not the best idea if you’re diabetic,” she adds. But what about midnight chocolate cravings? Identify an organic dark chocolate brand with no emulsifiers and preservatives into your healthy pregnancy diet, and you’re good to go.
Another excessively used ingredient that must be avoided is refined flour. Incorporate buckwheat, indigenous millets, ragi, nachni, chestnut flour, quinoa, and unpolished rice as alternatives to refined flour. A2 ghee that is rich in antioxidants, coconut oil, olive oil, hemp see oil and avocado oil are good substitutes for vegetable oil, which no one should really be using.
Alternatives to overcome deficiencies caused by a plant-based diet
“There is no denying that a plant-based diet leads to deficiencies,” says Choudhary. “A plant-based diet can lead to Vitamin B and protein deficiency if not incorporated carefully,” concurs Dr. Shivdasani. “As a medical professional, I would not recommend a plant-based diet to my patients. Most of them show up with fatigue and hair fall due to low iron and (vitamin) B12 and need to be supplemented with these for life,” she adds. Eating lots of green leafy veggies, nuts and seeds and whole grains can prevent these deficiencies.
Folic acid deficiencies are also common when it comes to those following a plant-based diet. “But there are food groups that can be introduced into your diet to improve folic acid levels,” says Choudhary. Green leafy vegetables, beans, and citrus fruits are recommended.
Choudhary also mentions how important it is to eat compatible food groups together when planning your healthy pregnancy diet. “For example, calcium and iron if eaten together negate iron absorption,” she explains.
Calcium deficiencies can be made up for by including sesame seeds, almonds, sustainable dairy, and tofu in your diet.
Make reading labels second nature
“If there is just one thing that I would tell people, it would be please read the back of the food before buying anything. Be aware of what you’re putting in your body – from emulsifiers and preservatives to different kinds of sugar,” says Choudhary.
Farm oil or vegetable oil, unnatural forms of sugar, artificial colours, preservatives, emulsifiers, artificial flavours, MSG, alcohols, unpasteurised milk and eggs are some red flags to look out for. “Be wary of hidden sugars in all its forms – there are 56 different names for the same. These might lead to gestational diabetes, which is a very common phenomenon. The same goes for salt. Be careful with high sodium foods as they can cause hypertension during pregnancy,” cautions Dr. Shivdasani.