Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat and having a plant-based diet. As the age old saying goes, “You are what you eat.” Having a healthy diet in everyday routine life is much-needed concerns of today’s time.
The earliest record of vegetarianism comes from Indus Valley Civilization as early as the 7th century BCE inculcating tolerance towards all living beings. In Indian culture, vegetarianism has been closely connected with the attitude of nonviolence towards animals was promoted by religious groups and philosophers.
In recent years, a growing trend toward vegetarianism and veganism has arisen among young people due to their increasing awareness of health, the environment and compassion for animals. According to a recent research firm Harris Interactive, the number of vegetarian youths in the United States has increased 70% in just the last few years. The most recent survey conducted in the UK found that over 542,000 people are following a vegan diet.
Different types of vegetarians
Vegans (total vegetarians): Do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or any products derived from animals, including eggs, dairy products, and gelatin.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Do not eat meat, poultry, or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy products.
Lacto vegetarians: Eat no meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, but do consume dairy products.
Ovo vegetarians: Eat no meat, poultry, fish, or dairy products, but do eat eggs.
Partial vegetarians: Avoid meat but may eat fish or poultry.
Apart from health considerations, people become vegetarian for a range of reasons. often, the focus is on health. Nowadays, plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses. According to the American Dietetic Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
As early as 1961, the Journal of the American Medical Association had commented that, “A vegetarian diet can prevent 90-97% of our coronary occlusions”. This places a great burden on the heart which has to pump harder and harder to send blood through the clogged vessels. This results in occurrence of high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks. Scientists at Harvard found that the average blood pressure of vegetarians was lower than that of a comparable group of non-vegetarians.
During the Korean War, 200 bodies of young American soldier’s age, averaging 22 years, were examined after death. Almost 80% had hardened arteries, clogged with cholesterol from eating meat. Korean soldiers of the same age group were also examined and were found to be free of this damage to their blood vessels. Why the difference? The Koreans were basically vegetarians.
Meat has been linked with processes which have a potential for cancer. It was found that in 1 Kg. of charcoal-broiled steak, there was as much benzopyrene (a carcinogen) as in the smoke from 600 cigarettes. When mice were fed benzopyrene they developed stomach tumors and leukemia.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer mortality in the United States and occurs 8 to 15 times more frequently than in countries where the population live on a largely unrefined (unprocessed) diet with greater fiber content. People in countries where there is a high colon cancer rate tend to produce more bile acids than those living in countries where colon cancers are rare. Legumes, Oats and pectin consist of fibers which help lower serum cholesterol thus reducing the potential for coronary heart disease.
Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection derived from contaminated animal food products. In the U.S. an estimated 2,000,000 cases occur annually costing the people $300,000,000.”
Trichinosis, another infection also occurs due to larvae of trichinae which originate in the pig. A meat eater also accumulates more nitrogenous wastes such as urea and uric acid. An American physician analyzed the urine of meat-eaters and vegetarians and found that the kidneys of meat-eaters have to work three times harder than those of vegetarians, to eliminate poisonous nitrogen compounds. With age, the kidneys become inefficient and the unexcreted uric acid is deposited throughout the body. There it is absorbed by the muscles like a sponge soaks up water and later it hardens to form crystals. When these collect in the nerves, neuritis and sciatica result; in the joints the painful conditions of arthritis and rheumatism result. People afflicted with these conditions are now advised by many doctors to stop meat altogether.
Recent study by researchers have concluded that our early ancestors were vegetarians who ate meat only during extreme environmental conditions such as during the Ice Age. Examining the body structures of man, wholly meat-eaters (carnivores) and herbivores can also substantiate man’s natural diet.
Carnivores such as lion, dog, cat, etc., possess a very simple, and short digestive tract. Since flesh decays very rapidly, the products of this decay quickly poison the body if they remain too long in the gut. They have stomachs which produce 10 times the amount and 20 times the concentration of hydrochloric acid than non-carnivores to facilitate digestion of tough fibrous tissue. Their saliva is acidic whilst that of herbivores and man is alkaline relatively. Herbivores have a longer digestive system since vegetable matter takes longer to digest and there is no question of decay products poisoning the body.
|Length of Digestive track relative to length of body||Nature of Saliva||Method for liquid intake|
|Carnivores: Maybe smaller||Acidic||Lapping|
|Man: 3 times or more larger||Slightly Acidic to Alkaline||Sucking|
It is also interesting to note that non-flesh eaters drink water by sucking as opposed to lapping it up with their tongues which all meat-eaters do. The latter also ‘sweat’ through their tongues and not through sweat glands in the skin as in non-carnivores.
The type of dentition present also gives an idea about the diet of animals. All meat-eaters have to kill their food using jaws and teeth. To pierce tough skin and tear flesh they are equipped with powerful jaws and long, pointed hooked canine teeth. They do not have molars – flat back teeth which vegetarian animals have – for grinding their food. Flesh, unlike vegetable matter, does not need to be chewed hence it is swallowed in small pieces. And no wonder their jaws have very limited side to side mobility, unlike herbivores which use it for grinding.
Even by instinct we humans are non-carnivorous. One scientist has stated that, “A cat will salivate with a desire for hunger at the smell of a piece of raw flesh but not at all at the smell of fruits. If man could delight in pouncing upon a bird, tear its living limbs apart with his teeth and suck the warm blood, one might conclude that nature provided him with the meat-eating instinct. On the other hand, a bunch of luscious grapes make his mouth water, and even in the absence of hunger he will eat fruit because it tastes so good.” Most people have other people kill their meat for them and would be sickened if they had to do the killing themselves. So we do not even possess the killing instinct let alone the eating which follows it.
There is sometimes unnecessary concern that a vegetarian or vegan diet will be low in the nutrients found in meat and fish such as protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D or the essential fats sometimes referred to as ‘omegas’. In fact, these nutrients are part of vegetarian and vegan diets, in some cases in abundance.
Variety of vegetarian ingredients Protein in the vegetarian diet can come from a range of different sources:
Pulses, such as peas, beans, lentils and – botanically speaking – peanuts, are excellent inexpensive sources of protein and also contain minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt as well as nuts and seeds contribute to protein and also to zinc, calcium and iron intake. Vegan options such as non-dairy soya milk and vegan ‘cheese’ are valuable sources of protein and are often additionally fortified with calcium. Iron and zinc are found in leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, fruits, dried fruit, eggs and dairy products.
Vitamin B12 is present in dairy products and in fortified yeast extract and cereals. Essential fats or ‘omegas’ are found in nuts and seeds such as walnut, linseed, hemp, rapeseed and flaxseed as well as omega enriched eggs.
Meat is grossly wasteful of natural resources. Land which is used to produce food crops for direct human consumption feeds 14 times as many people as land used to grow food for animals-used for human consumption. Plants will yield 800,000 calories per acre for direct human use, but only 200,000 when these same plant foods are first fed to animals. The remaining 600,000 are used up by the animals themselves. ‘Meat animals’ are poor converters of energy for human consumption and meat thus represents the greatest food energy loss.
Human physiological characteristics are very similar to the grass-eaters. The digestive system is twelve times the length of the body. Sweating occurs through millions of pores in the skin, liquid is taken up by suction, the tooth and jaw structure is undoubtedly a sure sign of a vegetarian and the saliva is relatively alkaline (slightly acidic).
The article has been authored by Dr Srikant Sharma, Senior Consultant Physician, Moolchand Medcity, New Delhi and Dr Nisar Patel, Moolchand Medcity, New Delhi.