of an individual depends on his nutrition. It is
this well-known fact that has led man to be more
aware of the food he consumes. A large number of
diseases are known to be diet related. A certain
diet may itself be the cause of disease or alter
the course of a known disorder such as diabetes
or kidney disease.
The food consumed by any
individual or a community is determined by a
number of factors viz. socio-economic status,
religion, food availability and family
traditions. Medical factors like food allergy,
intolerance, diabetes and heart disease sometimes
force a change in diet.
patterns may be classified broadly as vegetarian
or nonvegetarian. Vegetarians can be further
classified, depending on the food consumed, into
fruitarians, vegans, lacto-vegetarians and
lacto-ovo-vegetarians. The term vegetarian is
generally used to refer to the lactovegetarian.
The basic difference between the vegetarian and
the non-vegetarian diet is the exclusion or
inclusion of eggs, fish, meat and poultry.
difference in the nutritive value of the diets is
dependent on the nutritive value of these foods.
In general, the foods considered as
non-vegetarian are high in protein and fat, low
in fibre and are poor sources of carbohydrates,
whereas vegetarian foods are rich in fibre,
carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals and can be
adequate in fat and protein as well. These
differences in the nutritive value have given
rise to the question - which diet is superior?
of animal origin are said to contain proteins of
high biological value, viz. proteins that may be
better utilized by the body. Proteins consist of
amino acids, some of which can be synthetized by
the body while some cannot. Amino acids that are
not synthesized by the body are referred to as
essential amino acids. Non-vegetarian foods
contain all the essential amino acids unlike any
single vegetarian protein source(except milk).
However, all the essential amino acids can easily
be obtained in a vegetarian meal by the judicious
combinations of various foods.
vegetarian diet is deficient in vitamin B12 is
another bone of contention. Though most sources
of vegetarian food are low in their vitamin B12
content, there are never any manifest
deficiencies of this vitamin even in strict
vegans. It is therefore likely that vitamin B12
is required in very minute quantities. Hence B12
cannot be the justification for resorting to
foods of animal origin.
widely believed that a vegetarian diet cannot
provide adequate calories, but it is untrue.
Balanced vegetarian diet can give adequate
calories quite easily.
Food may be
divided into groups on the basis of the nutrient
(energy) e.g. rice, sugar, honey etc.
(building blocks) e.g. eggs, meat, fish,
pulses, milk, nuts etc.
and minerals e.g. fruits and vegetables.
(energy and insulation) e.g. oils, nuts,
red meats etci
difference in the vegetarian and the
non-vegetarian foods is the quantity and quality
of proteins available in both. The non-vegetarian
food is said to be rich in proteins but as
mentioned earlier, vegetarian sources can supply
the same if judiciously combined. Hence when a
vegetarian seeks protein he has to focus his
attention on pulses, nuts and milk.
seeds of the leguminosae family are the main
source of protein in a vegetarian diet. The major
portion of the pulse cultivated is consumed after
being dehusked and decorticated. This process not
only shortens cooking time but also makes them
more easily digestible. Whole pulses are best
consumed after being soaked and sprouted. These
sprouts have a high dietary fibre. Being live
foods, they have the capacity and potential to
create and generate new life.
grains, beans and even nuts can be sprouted.
Sprouted food is easily accepted, digested and
assimilated. Sprouting also gives a tremendous
boost to the vitamin and enzyme content. In fact,
in growing children, where extra proteins and
vitamins are needed, lightly steamed sprouts are
the best choice of food. A biogenic diet includes
fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, nuts,
beans and seeds which contain life-generating and
cell renewal capacities for youth and life.
(see fig. alongside) are living plant
life, easily digested and invigorating in
supplies 350 cats/ 100 gms and has a protein
content of 20 % with the exception of soyabean
(40%). To ensure the best utilization of this
protein the first criterion is to meet the energy
requirement. If the diet is deficient in calories
the protein is used to make up this deficiency.
are made up of units called amino acids. The
quality of a protein is dependent on the amount
of essential amino acids available from it. A
protein that has all the essential amino acids in
the desirable amount is said to be of the best
quality. Non-vegetarian sources of protein are
complete in their amino acid contents whereas
vegetarian sources of protein are not as
complete. However, the combination of two food
substances more than makes up for individual
deficiencies e.g. pulses are deficient in sulphur
containing aminoacids whereas cereals are rich in
sulphur containing amino acids. This makes a
cerealpulse combination a complete source of
protein. Hence it is a mistaken belief that
non-vegetarian food is essential to provide
adequate proteins for growth and development.
into any of the traditional vegetarian meals of
India we see that this is a practice that has
been followed since ages. Not only is every meal
a cereal-pulse combination, but in most cases, is
accompanied by a complete protein source (milk or
any of its products). The traditional
idli-sambar, varan-bhat, thepla-dahi are some of
the many examples of cereal-pulse, cereal-milk
a carbohydrate content of 60%, most of which is
in a complex form. Certain oligosaccharides
present in pulses escape digestion and are
responsible for flatulence in a few susceptible
individuals. Common home processing methods like
sprouting and germinating decrease the amount of
flatulence producing oligosaccharides. Garlic is
a bacteriostatic agent and aids in decreasing
present in pulses has a higher polyunsaturated
fatty acid content (1.5%). This makes pulses not
only qualitatively but also quantitatively better
minerals present in pulses are calcium,
phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium and
iron. Of the phosphorus present, 80% is bound to
phytate and is biologically unavailable. Soaking
of pulses in water before preparation decreases
some of the bound phytate, thus increasing the
amount of available minerals.
thiamine and carotene content of pulses is
similar to that of cereals. Pulses are rich in
niacin but devoid of vitamin C and poor in
riboflavin. Once sprouted, pulses are excellent
source of vitamin A, B complex, C, D and K.
dramatically increases the vitamin C content of
the food. The vitamin E content of sprouted wheat
increases 300% in four days. So much so, that
because of the excess of vitamin E content,
sprouted food administrated to patients of
submucosal fibrosis of the mouth over two to
three years, halts the progress of the disease
and in some cases can cause actual regression.
The vitamin C content also increases 600%. There
is more carotene in sprouted wheat than in a
pulses contain two thermolabile factors that have
been implicated in toxic effects. They are the
trypsin inhibitors and haemagglutinins. The
trypsin inhibitors suppress the release of amino
acids making it unavailable and may also
stimulate extra production of trypsin which leads
to a loss of pancreatic activity. Sprouting of
legumes causes a loss of this inhibitor and, if
still present, it is then more susceptible to
destruction by heat. Haemagglutinin present in
pulses may combine with haem and result in
destruction of haemoglobin. This constituent of
pulse is generally not absorbed and is destroyed
by cooking. Fermentation and sprouting help to
speed up this destruction.
utilization of pulses is thus obtained if the
diet is adequate in calories and the whole pulses
are soaked and sprouted prior to cooking. Soda,
often added to pulses while cooking, decreases
cooking time but also decreases the nutrients and
is therefore best avoided.
considered as a perfect food because it
constitutes the entire diet for the young
of all mammals. Milk has a protein of
excellent quality (second to that of an
egg). The efficiency with which it is
converted to body protein is second best
to that of an egg
quantitative composition of milk varies
with breed, season, stage of lactation
etc. Fat is the most variable
constituent, with protein following. The
composition of the milk of a mammal is
best for the young of that mammal. The
milk having the closest similarity to
that of human milk, with regards to
composition, is that of goats, followed
by that of cows (refer fig alongside)
protein of milk is casein (80%), the rest is
lactalbumin and lactaglobulin which are the whey
proteins. Most of the casein is bound to calcium.
Casein is easily coagulated by acid or by enzyme
renin while the other proteins are not. The milk
protein contains all the essential amino acids
and has a high digestibility co-efficient (97 -
Milk fat is
also called butter fat and is characterised by
the presence of short chain saturated fatty
acids. The fat content of milk is variable (3 -
5%) and is present as an emulsion making it
the carbohydrate in milk which is broken down by
the enzyme lactase. An absence or insufficiency
of lactase causes micro-organisms to act on
lactose leading to the formation of gases and
thus the cramping discomfort and diarrhoea in
'lactose intolerence'. The lactose content of the
milk can be decreased by fermenting milk to form
yogurt (curd) where the amount of lactic acid is
higher. The lactose content of milk is 5%.
minerals present in milk are sodium, phosphorus,
sulphur, magnesium, manganese, calcium and iron.
Calcium is bound to phosphate which, with casein,
forms a phosphoprotein. It is also present with
fat. The quantity of iron is low in milk, but is
of an excellent quality resulting in its ready
A - carotene present gives the milk
yellowish tinge and is obtained from plant feed.
The amount varies with the breed, the amount
present in the feed and the fat content of milk.
D, E & K - These nutrients are
present in small amounts. As they are fat
soluble, they are associated with the fat content
of the milk. The skimmed milk has an even smaller
amount of these vitamins.
- This nutrient is also dependent on the
amount present in the feed but it is also
synthetized by the lumen of the gut of the cow
and is therefore present in fair amounts in cow's
- The colour of the whey is due to the
presence of this nutrient. It is present in very
small amount (0.05 -0.1%) and is dependent on the
amount present in the feed.
- Milk is a good source of tryptophane
which is a precursor of niacin.
C - This vitamin is easily destroyed by
application of heat and exposure to air. The
small amount present in the milk is destroyed
is a food that is highly perishable.
Thus processing it will help to store it. Spray
drying of the milk to powder or condensing it are
some examples. Processing, in most cases,
involves high temperatures and this destroys some
of the nutritive value. This loss can be overcome
There are a
number of dairy products and these may be
classified into 'fermented' & 'unfermented'.
The most common in India is dahi (curd). This has
a better nutritive value, not due to an increase
in nutrients but an increase in digestibility.
Fermentation increases the vitamin content and
lactose is converted to lactic acid. The calcium
and phosphorus of curd are more easily
which are the seeds of fruits, contain
nutrients to aid in the growth of a new
plant. This is why all nuts are not only
a good source of nutrients quantitatively
but also qualitatively. Nuts are
classified, depending on their nutrient
content (protein, fats and
carbohydrates). The nuts with a high fat
content, in most cases, are also high in
protein, and this group includes most of
the nuts. Those high in carbohydrate are
few e.g. chestnut. On an average, nuts
are found to contain 50% of fat and 25%
of protein. Nuts are a rich source of
essential fatty acids. This group of food
thus supplies not only calories but also,
weight for weight, twice as much protein
as any other food crop (fig.2). Nuts are
a good source of vitamin B complex in
particular. Groundnuts are rich in
thiamine and nicotinic acid. They have a
mineral content of 2%, a large fraction
of it being phosphorus and potassium.
The most common complaint
regarding nuts is indigestion. This, in a
majority of the cases, is due to over-indulgence
and poor mastication, both of which we can easily
rectify. In order to get the maximum utilization,
nuts must be consumed in limited amount. Nuts may
also be soaked overnight. Humidity and unhygienic
storage conditions cause food to get easily
contaminated with fungi. Groundnuts are prone to
such infestation which produces aflatoxin. This
toxin causes damage to the liver and can be
avoided by proper storage.
consumed in various forms. They may be had fresh,
dried, dehydrated or roasted. Nuts are used for
left after the extraction of oil from nuts is
rich in protein. Nuts are most often considered
to be expensive and out of the common man's
reach. Comparing the cost of almonds and
cashewnuts per kg with that of eggs and meat, the
cost of 10 gms of protein is similar, if not
less, in the case of nuts.
are botanically stone fruits and not nuts as they
are termed. This stone fruit is largely used for
oil extraction and it is thus classified as an
is consumed at different stages of maturity and
its nutritive value varies accordingly.
Coconut: The most tender coconut
contains only a liquid in it and no kernel meal.
The tender coconut water is a common food in the
sick room and this drink has the advantage of
being sterile. This drink is a good source of
electrolytes. As this- fruit matures the amount
of water decreases and the amount of meal
increases. The thin initial layer of meal has a
high percentage of water and so is not a dense
source of nutrients, this is one of the reasons
that makes it an easily digestible food.
Coconut: The thick layer of kernel is
much lower in moisture and high in calories. The
coconut kernel is high in oil content and is used
for oil extraction. The coconut oil has a high
percentage of medium chain triglycerides
(M.C.T.). This M.C.T. is of great therapeutic
value when other forms of fat are not tolerated.
Another byproduct is the coconut milk which is
obtained from the endosperm. This is grated,
ground and squeezed to expel milk. The endosperm
on grating can be air dried to reduce its
moisture content to less than 2% to obtain the
dessicated coconut. This is commonly used for the
preparation of sweets and biscuits.
Value of The Coconut at Different Stages of
Maturity per 100 Grns
This is the coconut at its maximum degree of
maturity and thus with the lowest percentage of
moisture. At this stage the coconut has only 4.3%
of moisture as compared to the tender coconut
that has 90.8%. This is also the most
concentrated form of nutrients. It supplies 6.8
gms of proteins and 62.3 gms of fat per 100 gms.
above discussion on the nutritive value of
pulses, nuts, milk and coconut makes it clear
that the nutrients supplied by a non-vegetarian
diet can be obtained from a vegetarian meal. All
this calls for is an intelligent combination of
the foods permitted. The vegetarian sources of
protein are low in saturated fat and thus have an
advantage over protein obtained from meats.
vegetarian meal that is well balanced can be as
nutritious, if not more, than a non-vegetarian