Category Archives: Food

My vegan pregnancy and natural birth experience

[Note: I recently did another article on The Alternative that contains the success stories of many Indian vegan pregnancies and veganly raised babies and also debunks many misconceptions, and substantiates that vegan babies and pregnancies are not just perfectly safe, but quite beneficial health-wise. Please read it here.]

I have often been asked to share the experience of my natural and vegan pregnancy. I had been vegan over 2 years before pregnancy, so, without a doubt, my pregnancy was going to be vegan too. And, I am very glad to be yet another person to have shattered many nutritional myths created by vested interests about veganism during this period.

Here’s how awesome being vegan has been for my pregnancy and my baby’s health:

  • ImageI gained 18 kg of weight during 9 months of pregnancy.
  • My son, Shaurya, was born with 3.75 kg of weight (considered extremely healthy).
  • My calcium and protein levels were excellent throughout the pregnancy, without any supplements (except for 15-20 days), as detailed below.
  • I had a completely natural delivery with no external induction, no cut or stitches, no pain management through epidural!
  • To top it all, my postdelivery recovery was super-smooth! Since my pregnancy diet was devoid of any animal (i.e. unhealthy) fat, I could shed as much as 16kg within first 3 months itself without any kind of exercises whatsoever! Hence, I never needed to buy a new pair of jeans or any other clothes :).
  • Within a week, I was able to work my way around the house. After the first 3 months, my health had improved so much that without much help from anyone except Pulkit, I was able to do all multi-tasking in the house, start my work from home, write articles, feed Shaurya and rock him to sleep ‚Äď all this without any body pain at all!
  • I have been able to breastfeed Shaurya exclusively for 6.5 months (and along with solids thereafter).
  • Other than minor cold, my 9 month old little monster hasn’t had a single health problem, and has needed absolutely no medicine.

Calcium and protein myths!

Women are in general advised to have more unsaturated fat and very less saturated fat during pregnancy, and quite rightly so. Yet, when it comes to calcium and protein, everything is forgotten. These two components somehow manage to freak out almost everyone so much that they are ready to stuff themselves with animal foods containing saturated fats, cholesterol, artificial/natural hormones and what not! Even then, they are unable to get rid of their fear of calcium, so they also load themselves with calcium supplements for 7 months of pregnancy! One would think that now the calcium crisis should be over, but nah, I have come across many women who suffered low calcium issues even after following all the above! Almost all women get episiotomy stitches (low protein levels are primarily responsible for perineal tearing.)

There are multiple reasons why taking animal milk (for calcium and in general) is a bad idea. Besides the huge amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, animal foods are entirely fiber-less. Protein in the animal food, when absorbed as amino acids, results in an acidic reaction in the body. In order to keep body pH alkaline, minerals such as calcium and magnesium are leached out of our body! Moreover, there are plenty of plant based calcium rich foods. The picture below lists 20 of them.

calcium

If one consumes enough calories, one is bound to get enough protein, for protein is one of the basic building blocks of any food. And women are supposed to consume higher calories during pregnancy. In fact, the only protein rich food that I included in my daily routine was a bowl of sprouts or chana (cheakpea). It is said that low protein results in weak pelvic muscles, which in turn lead to vaginal tearing (during delivery) that requires stitches. Guess what – I had virtually no vaginal tearing and did not require any stitches at all, which is according to doctors is rare! So, I must have done something right! ūüôā

My pregnancy diet plan

Let me now come to the question I have been asked the most: My diet chart during 9 months of pregnancy!

I followed a healthy vegan diet overall (with some lapses on sugar), avoiding all the refined foods (such as white sugar, white rice, white flour etc), consuming mostly home-cooked food with minimal or no oil. I avoided supplements (with small exceptions). Due to loss of appetite in the 3rd and 4th month, I could hardly eat much food, and supplement myself nutritionally. Hence, I took vegan multi-vitamin supplements for 15-20 days. I also took iron supplements during last 2 months and vegan calcium supplements during the last 15 days. Although in general I am not against supplements if they come from plant based sources, I have always believed that healthy food should be the primary source for any nutritional needs. Of course, if one is not able to eat healthy food due to some reasons, supplements are the only alternatives sometimes. Here’s the detailed diet chart that I followed. In order to have anything and everything vegan, here are some excellent practical tips to follow.

My natural birth experience

DSC_0291I was also fortunate enough to find the best care provider in Healthy Mother Natural Birthing Center. Dr. Vijaya Krishan, an excellent mid-wife, provided all the support needed for the kind of natural birth that I was looking for. She was also extremely supportive of my being vegan. Her skills and commitment to natural birthing played an important role in my delivery. In the last month Shaurya decided to shift into posterior position with his skull pressing on my spine, which was the reason I ended up with 2 days of pre-labour, 2 days of active labour, one day of hard back labour and 4 hours of pushing! Had it not been for loving hubby Pulkit and Vijaya, I might have had to go with the dreaded C-section! Instead, I had a completely natural delivery without any pain induction, epidural or episiotomy! It was just the way I wanted it to be! Read more here about my natural birthing experience.

Some useful resources to explore further on veganism:

Why vegan? – a personal account

[Note: I also wrote an article for The Alternative magazines about my reasons of being vegan: 8 reasons why I choose to be a vegan. ]

Why did I turn Vegan? A question I face every time I refuse a cup of milk-tea. It has been a year now since I turned vegan completely, so I find it is a good time to publish this long pending post.

What is Veganism?

Essentially, a vegan is a set of choices stemming from a simple logic: Any being that feels pain should not be put to pain. Thus, a vegan avoids all animal products: Milk & its products, meat, eggs, honey (substituting them with their plant-based versions for taste, if desired), wool, leather, fur, pearl, silk, etc. In my view veganism is an extension of progressive movements like those against slavery, racism and gender inequity. The enslavement and exploitation of a class of sentient beings ‚Äď on the morally irrelevant basis that they do not belong to our species ‚Äď must end.

Milk and Cruelty

It was only during breast-feeding related discussions of community health fellowship I came to know that breast milk is not an endless resource and stops after a few years of pregnancy! (Believe me, I know a lot many techie friends who still don’t know this!). Somehow it din’t¬†occur¬†to me to apply same logic to the cows too. Adithya, a friend (also a medical doctor) introduced me to the concept of veganism and later I started reading and understanding more about it. And that was the starting of a year long step-by-step journey towards compassionate changes.

I never imagined that a cow would be forced into pregnancy repeatedly throughout her lifespan (either through artificial insemination or by a common bull) and injected with strong bovine growth hormones that give her painful stomach cramps. When she¬†yearns to feed her baby, the milk, that‚Äôs actually made for the calf, is stolen by us, humans. As if that’s not enough, male calves are directly sent to¬†slaughter¬†house and females are kept alive for milk. How can we justify all this torture just because we humans have¬†acquired¬†an¬†addiction¬†to ‘milk’? We are not satisfied with our share of our mother’s milk and still want more, so we steal from someone else’s mother, which happens to be a cow here, even when we grow up, and can supplement our bodies with all kinds of other foods.¬†(A must watch video). No mammalian specie, in nature, drinks milk of another specie, nor does any animal specie drink milk after the age of weaning!

Environment and Hunger

Non-vegetarians often have this misconception that they are saving food for vegetarians by eating animals! Now, did you know that for getting 1kg of beef it takes almost 10-12 kgs of grains? (3-4 kg for chicken). Almost 50% of maize in india and 80% of soy, maize in US goes to cattle feed. The whole process of feeding grain to cattle and than eating meat, seems too inefficient taking huge amount of land, water, fertilizer and other resources. Even international agencies like¬†UN produced a report in 2010 urging¬†people to move towards meat and dairy free diet.¬†¬†[Video]¬†In 2006, UN-FAO had also brought out a 400 pages of report detailing the impact of livestock on¬†environment¬†and stated that it’s¬†responsible¬†for a substantial part of total GHG emissions. [Full report¬†here]. Raising cows and buffaloes for milk also takes enormous amounts of grains and water. Milk today is consumed more in the form of cheese, paneer, ghee, butter etc.

Personal transitioning

I have always been enslaved to my sweet tooth, and have enjoyed all kinds of milk based sweets, ice creams, pastries etc.¬†¬†Hence¬†when I found out the brutality behind milk and recognized the fact that milk itself is so needless for my body, I tried to come up with many possible arguments to refute ¬†these claims. I reckon this initial reaction only came out of my own insecurities about losing those delicacies that had become an integral part of my diet.¬†It took me a while to digest the facts and internalize them. While traveling further in many rural place, I found out that all the cruelty related aspects recorded by others are not some isolated incidents. Meanwhile Pulkit too was exploring the idea of turning vegan. Both of us still believed that cow’s milk is good for us health wise. With regular pain-killer intake, Pulkit¬†felt (factually¬†incorrectly¬†in hind sight) that he should¬†continue 1 glass of milk, but he stopped all things he consumed¬†merely for taste (sweets, paneer, ice creams etc). I never had a habit of drinking raw milk, so I started cutting down other things one by one,¬†beginning¬†with cheese and paneer dishes. ¬†It took us 2-3 months to become complete vegans (Pulkit also stopped raw milk later). The first 2 months seemed difficult, but later on we never realized when it became¬†just a way of life!

It only took me a month to learn a few tricks of vegan living and thereafter it was pretty easy to find vegan alternatives of all my favourite stuff everywhere. There’s no reason to miss sweets, ice-creams, cakes, cookies, curd, cheese etc., as everything today can be made or bought in vegan version. all tips for¬†transitioning¬†to vegan diet. can be found here. I have also written many article containing numerous simple and healthy recipes. Here is a complete list of my such articles.

Please read this neatly compiled common questions in case you are planning to go Vegan. Sharan has a very helpful health booklet for the beginners (free download). For hostel students, Arun, an IISc student has devised some excellent guidelines.

Vitamin B12 and D Vegans or non-vegans, deficiency in Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D is very common today, due to our clean diet and increasing pollution (that’s blocking UV-B rays of the sun). Read all about Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D¬†(the links also have supplement information).¬†People deficient in Vitamin D should start the supplement and vitamin B12 is something that everyone would need to have as supplement.¬†

Speciesism  (discrimination based on the type of species)

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.
-Alice Walker

I recently read about human slavery in Rome and other countries in the past. It was disgusting how they treated fellow humans , but I see very little progress in the attitude today. We have simply replaced humans with animals, the rest remains the same! Some argue that¬†it’s natural for humans to¬†feel more for their own species. That’s perfectly fine as long as we don’t derive our happiness at the expense of another innocent species.¬†We may be more powerful than the other species, but then Brahmins¬†are also more¬†powerful than Dalits in¬†most of rural India, yet we don’t¬†believe¬†that Brahmins¬†have a right to dominate Dalits, do we? If a powerful specie is entitled to exploit a weaker species, by that logic a powerful gender should also be justified to dominate a weaker one. But then, why do we, educated and civilized people, stand up proudly for gender equality?

Human civilization has been going through a long process of evolution. We started off with many things right but some wrong. Sexism, racism, human slavery, hunting animals for fun, patriarchy are some of them. In time, we have recognized some of these mistakes and corrected them, yet there are many more to correct. Veganism, in my view, is just one of those pending corrections.

Vegan for good health!

It was during the time of exploration, when we were searching for nutritional replacements for Pulkit, we met Parag, a Plant based Nutritionist in Bangalore who gave me two books ‘The China Study‘ and ‘The Food Revolution‘. These books along with Sharan‘s Peas Vs Pills workshop broke so many nutrition related myths.¬† I was fully convinced that milk is not only needless for human consumption but can also be harmful for human health!

Ingredients of the cocktail called ‘Milk’!

Milk – by dictionary definition means¬†“A white liquid produced by mammary glands of female mammals for feeding their young”.¬†Right, all mammals produce milk for¬†their babies¬†(not¬†for humans! We humans seem to think everything is made for us!) Hence milk is tailor-made for that particular specie. ¬†For e.g., growth rate of a calf is 4 times higher than that of human baby, hence nutrients such as protein, calcium etc are also 4 times higher. These high-levels of protein and calcium are not suitable for humans. Besides, all the sources of animal protein are coupled with high amount of saturated fat that’s linked to rise in cholesterol level and results in various lifestyle diseases. And in fact doctors like¬†Nandita Shah, Neal Bernard, Caldwell Esselstyn and¬†John Mcdougall¬†have been reversing diebetes, heart diseases etc just by healthy vegan diet! (More¬†resources¬†are in the end of the post). Besides, isn’t the animal protein based food (milk, meat, egg) the only source, that can raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in its raw form?

What about Calcium?

This is the most frequent question I get. It’s actually a myth that milk is the best source of calcium, something that came out of advertisements by dairy industries and white revolution in the country. Almost anyone with basic nutrition training knows that protein inhibits calcium absorption, and milk is nothing but full of protein (casein which is also mucus forming). In fact below snapshot of calcium¬†comparison between plant based foods and milk¬†would tell you how much misled are we by the industry funded research and advt. campaigns. I sustained entire 9 months of my vegan pregnancy on vegan food without any calcium supplements and I never had calcium deficiency related problems!

calcium

Our anatomy and meat-eating

When I talk to some friends about eco-friendly lifestyle they rhetorically ask “so do you want us to live like caveman?” (as if avoiding plastic and cycling etc. resembles to life of a caveman!). Ironically, when I talked to same people about veganism they asked “But humans have always been eating meat since caveman’s time!” – But we are not Caveman anymore!¬†We are far more evolved ¬†and civilized and have discarded loads of things that cavemen were naive enough to adopt.

I have not found a single person who’s able to hunt and kill even a rabbit without tools and then tear it apart, and eat with all the blood without cooking! What would a 2 years old hungry child pick up when offered raw carrot, and live chicken? Our basic human instincts match mostly of that of herbivores. ¬†But we forcefully train ourselves to change those instincts when we grow out of the innocence of a child. (read¬†Comparative Anatomy of Eating¬†by¬†by Milton R. Mills, M.D.)

If slaughter-houses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian РSir Paul McCartney (detailed video)

It also makes me wonder why we love one some animals as pets and kill others to eat! After all, both have same feelings and desire to live!

Plant and pain

“So you eat plants, don’t they too feel pain?” – A question primarily non-vegetarians¬†ask (more often than not, merely to win the argument). As per dominant scientific opinions while certain¬†plants¬†certainly respond to stimuli, none can feel¬†pain¬†due to a virtually non-existent nervous system. Contrast that to animals who even feel psychological¬†pain¬†(e.g., dairy cows let out cries of anguish for days every time her calf is forcibly taken away and deprived of its righteous milk).¬†Secondly, even if we hypothetically assume plants¬†to be capable of perceiving¬†pain, non-vegans still would kill/hurt more as farm animals don’t drop from heavens, they are bred/farmed using a massive amount of plant based food and natural resources. Besides life of a plant is drastically different than that of humans or animals. For e.g, when you pluck a leave, it grows back (doesn’t happen with any animal body part). Most plant parts are needed to be eaten or used so that they can propagate by means of¬†pollination.

No deprivation what-so-ever!

Becoming vegan has never been easier. From sweets, chocolates, cakes & ice-creams to curd, paneer, cheese, pizza and tea/coffee, almost every taste you are used to can now be enjoyed without animal ingredients. Find all the where-to-find, how-to-make pointers and other practical tips on Dairy alternatives, Vegan products, Eat-out options, Recipes & more.

Vegan-cake, made by me!

Cooking vegan dishes is my new-found hobby! Find many of my recipes in articles here. Here are some of my favorite vegan culinary websites:

Good communities on the web that help with transitioning:

More resources on vegan nutrition:

Haybox Cooker

Recently I tried the Haybox that I had bought during AID India conference from Srikakulam volunteers. And I must say it works magically well!

(Left)Rice before transferring to Haybox, (Right)Rice after Haybox cooking

(Left)Rice before transferring to Haybox, (Right)Rice after Haybox cooking

These Hayboxes were basically designed to help the villagers of Srikakulam¬†¬† cook rice efficiently and save on fuel as well as time. It also serves a means to support their livelihoods.¬† ‘Hay’ being an insulator is able to¬† preserve the heat for sufficiently long time, hence when rice is transferred to Haybox after having been brought to the boiling point, it cooks on its own. I also tried this at home with the Haybox that I bought (Demonstrated in the photograph). It took around 25 minutes to cook 1 cup of rice for me. There was no access water left and it was also possible to keep it hot till lunch time.

The detailed report from AID Srikakulam can be found here.

Haybox in Srikakulam, is primarily used to cook rice, but it can be used for most of the cooking for which we use pressure cooker such as making Khichadi, boiling vegetables etc.

Here’s a video that shows a Haybox demo given by Ravi Kuchimanchi to the villagers of¬† Srikakulam.

Exploring the Art of Cooking!!

Does this title make you say ‚ÄúOh, now it seems she is really into married gals‚Äô gang!‚ÄĚ ūüėČ

I have hated this traditional art (read cooking) since my teens, when mom would poke me every now and then for learning it, reminding that I will have to do it some day, and I would go all cranky on such ‚ÄėBhashan‚Äô of hers ūüôā

Cooking was not-so-horrible initially, but sooner when I begun to handle other stuff at work and life, self-cooked food didn’t seem to be a good idea. The time I took for cooking was so long that we could only dine by 11pm. So finally we got ourselves a cook! But I have continued on my cooking experiments during Sundays.

Honestly, sometimes I do find this art interesting. It‚Äôs indeed a magic, when I find how the taste of any vegetable changes altogether when it‚Äôs cooked. How with some permutation/combination of different vegetables and spices, one can come up with a whole new sabji! Sometimes there is a pinch of suspense too; when I don‚Äôt know what would be the outcome of the dish I started with, until it‚Äôs been tasted by Pulzy! ūüėÄ

So all in all, I have begun to like cooking a bit. My mom, if by any chance she gets to read this post, would surely be delighted ūüėõ

Fasting or Starving?

This thought was born on a busy afternoon, while working with one of my team mates. We had gone far beyond a normal lunch time and seeing her lunchbox which she got from home, I really found it a good alternative rather than torturing myself with cafeteria food. And her being a good colleague of mine I obviously expected her to share food. But my dreams of getting delicious ‚Äėmom-made’ food were killed when she declared that she can’t share lunch as she was on fast ūüė¶

Later that evening, me and my roommates were having fun at shopping and ended up eating sandwich at a roadside sandwich counter. One street kid came to us asking for food or money, and Tanu asked if he’ll have sandwich. He agreed and we ordered one sandwich for him. I was really touched by this gesture. Now the other street kids saw this kid eating sandwich and we were under impression that they all will come to us asking for more. Instead they went to that kid and he happily shared each part of the sandwich! And¬† then this thought struck me – these kids do fasting almost daily, and yet they do share their food without any hesitation!!

Why people fast? These days it can be due to two reasons – one, they want to have an indirect way for dieting or second they do this for some religious purpose.

Now if it is just for dieting, then one should follow a well prescribed healthy diet. I don’t think food people take while they are on fast is healthy at all.

Say in case it is for religious purpose, then I have a serious question here – why any religion would demand fasts? Most of the time fasting is done to fulfill one’s wishes, but indirectly isn’t it a kind of emotional blackmail to God that please do ‚Äėthis-this’ for me coz I m not taking food for ‚Äėthese’ many days!! Now to my opinion for any religion God is believed to be a divine soul or a divine entity. And any divine entity will not want someone to get hurt for achieving his/her wishes. And if at all one gets something he/she wants by fasting then why do those street kids still starve? Why are they still on the streets although they do fasts daily!!

My intension is not to hurt anybody’s sentiments here or not to force somebody to stop fasting, but just to convey that – God does not want you to hurt yourself to do something good for you. Hurting oneself makes nothing good for anybody either. Instead if someone at all wants to do fasting, then it should be done in a beneficial way. A suggestion here is: Why don’t you give your one day’s meals (which are not taken by you) to any starving kid who really needs some food?

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