There is no medical basis to the advice put out by the AYUSH ministry for pregnant women, asking them to avoid eating meat, leading doctors have said.
Union minister for Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) Shripad Naik recently released a booklet called Mother and Child Care brought out by the government-funded Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN) under the AYUSH ministry. The booklet, among other advice, suggests that pregnant women avoid eating eggs and non-vegetarian food, the Hindustan Times reported.
With eggs and meat being rich sources of iron and protein, doctors have reiterated their value to pregnant women. Over 40% of women in India begin their pregnancies underweight and gain just half the recommended weight during their pregnancies, a Princeton study found in 2015. Half of all pregnant women were anaemic, the 2015-16 round of the National Family Health Survey found. Nine out of ten Indians are protein-deficient, a 2015 survey found.
"The consumption of meat during pregnancy can actually enable women to acquire necessary proteins, which are absorbed better by the body from animal sources," Dr. Jayshree Sundar, Senior Consultant, Max Multi Speciality Centre, Panchsheel Park and Max Smart Super Specialty Hospital, Saket said.
"The only advice is to consume meat that is cooked in a healthy manner – too rich or spicy preparations can be discomfiting. Sometimes, due to high arsenic content in harvested fish, we recommend patients to consume fish in moderate amounts only. While moderation is suggested, there is no need to change the dietary habits of a person during pregnancy," she said.
"The consumption of meat during pregnancy can actually enable women to acquire necessary proteins, which are absorbed better by the body from animal sources."
"I would not support this advice given to pregnant women to avoid meat," Dr Kamini Rao, Chairperson of The International Institute For Training and Research in Reproductive Health and Medical Director of the Bengaluru-based Milann - Centre for Reproductive Medicine, said. "Meat and eggs are a rich source of iron and protein, particularly in a protein-deficient population like ours," she said. Only women with high cholesterol might be advised to limit the consumption of red meat, she said. For vegetarians, sprouted grains and green leafy vegetables can be alternative sources of protein and iron.
"This is ridiculous; I would not encourage this at all," Dr Vishakha Munjal, gynaecologist at Apollo Cradle, Delhi said. "Indian women enter pregnancy deficient in iron, calcium, protein and we have to supplement it. We actually advise an increase of protein intake during pregnancy and eggs and meat are an excellent source of protein," she said.
According to some media outlets, the booklet also advised pregnant women to "detach themselves from desire, anger, attachment, hatred and lust." However, Naik maintained that it contained no "advice on abstaining from sex."