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Vegetarianism- Naturally Speaking

M.M. Bhamgara

Yoga per se, does not say much about diet, except that we should be 'Mitahari' (Mita-Ahar-ee), 'Mita' meaning 'proportionate' or 'enough to nourish', and 'Ahar' meaning 'food'. 'Mitahar therefore, has come to mean 'moderation in eating'. But, we know, it is not enough to be moderate in intake of pebulum. It is not enough to mind the quantity of food; quality of food ingested is of even greater importance. In Yoga shastras, Mitahar has been described as diet that is
  1. Palatable,
  2. Nutritious,
  3. Providing various 'Dhatu' (literally meaning 'Minerals'),
  4. Containing dairy produce such as milk, yogurt, butter or butter-milk,
  5. Eaten in moderation, and
  6. Eaten in a spirit of dedication to the Divine.
    The last aspect is akin to the saying of grace at the dinner table by devout Christians.

Hindu shastras also speak about the three 'Guna' of food, 'Guns' meaning quality. 'Sattwic' food is variously understood as 'contributing to serenity', 'providing the essentials', Keeping the human organism sweet and clean', etc. 'Rajasic' food contributes to dynamism and other requisite qualities needed by a householder or housewife. 'Tamasic' food is strong in taste or smell and can be 'heaty' or 'exciting passions'.

Revelations of Science

In the light of modern nutritional researches, we have to find out the ideal diet which is both 'Mita and Sattwic, so that the Yoga practitioner benefits therefrom both physically and mentally. Let us find out whether Yoga should favour the intake of flesh, fish or fowl. What does human anatomy and physiology tell us? It may be news to many that structurally and functionally, we are vegetarian animals in the same class as the primates, the higher apes, such as gorilla, chimpanzee or orangutan. Here are some of the salient similarities:

  1. Our hands are like these apes', meant for plucking food such as fruits, vegetables, leaves, flowers, barks, shoots, etc., and not for tearing flesh: we do not have claws.
  2. Like the primates', our lower jaw or mandible can move both up and down and side to side, whereas the carnivore's moves only up and down.
  3. Like the higher species of apes, our saliva is alkaline, containing ptyalin to digest carbohydrates, whereas in carnivores it is acidic.
  4. We do not have fangs which carnivores have, for biting into flesh. our so-called canine teeth are not truly canine (like dogs); they are not longer than other teeth. Apparently, we are not constituted to prey upon animals' bite into their flesh, or rip apart their bodies. We are made for gentler manoeuvres in gathering our food.
  5. Our gastric secretions are acidic; so are carnivores'. But the carnivores' stomachs have four times as much acid; this strong acidic milieu is needed to digest the highly proteinous flesh diet.
  6. Like the primates' our small and large intestines measure four times as long as our own height, whereas, in case of carnivores, it is about the same as their body length.
  7. Liver and kidneys of carnivores are proportionately larger to handle the excessive nitrogenous waste. which is a residue from the flesh diet.
  8. The carnivore's liver secretes a much larger quantity of bile into the gut to deal with the high-fat meat diet.

These facts are convincingly in favour of vegetarianism for all of us. But just any type of vegetarian diet is not alright for our systems. For example, we do not have several stomachs that a ruminating cow has, and we do not chew the cud as she does; therefore, we cannot live off pasture-lands. We are frugivores like gorilla (diet 15% fruits), or chimps (67% fruits), or orang (50% fruits), who besides fruits eat some vegetables, shoots, flowers, seeds, etc.

Adaptability of the Human System

Of course the human system does adapt itself to non-vegetarian foods, but this is not without certain drawbacks. Eskimos, for example may live on reindeer and seal meat, but they die early, their average life span being about thirty years. What our human system can easily and profitably utilise, digest, absorb and assirnilate, is a diet consisting of fresh fruits, leafy and other vegetables, seeds, nuts, cereals and legumes.

We have domesticated certain animals whose milk we use— and justify the use. However we should bear in mind that no adult drinks other animal's milk and no animal continues to drink milk after it is weaned ! In this discussion, we have included dairy products in vegetarian diet, though it must be pointed out that there are vegans who maintain excellent health on a vegetarian diet excluding dairy produce. Chinese and Japanese vegetarians too, do not take dairy products.

Cholesterol versus Chlorophyll

Nowadays, flesh diet is increasingly incriminated by discerning medical men for creating pathological disturbances in the human body.

Animal fats are a well-known cause of increase in cholesterol in our blood. This increase may result in the narrowing of the lumen of arteries by fatty deposits; if this happens in coronary arteries, the blood supply to heart muscle itself may be affected, thus causing a heart attack. When several major arteries and arterioles develop atherosclerosis, blood pressure may increase; and with high blood pressure, several pathological conditions may develop in various organs. Cerebral haemorrhage, too, can occur, resulting in paralysis.

Since half of the fat in all meats is saturated and cholesterol producing, and since even the most lean part of meat also has some fat in it, all types of meat should be prohibited in persons suffering from cardiovascular disorders. Non-flesh foods except eggs, hydrogenated oils and dairy products have no cholesterol producing fats. Coconut oil has no cholesterol, though it is high in saturated fats.

Cardiologists now increasingly advise their patients against meat. As early as 1961, the Journal ofAmerican Medical Association conceded that a strict vegetarzan diet could prevent ninety seven per cent of coronary occlusions ! Dr. Donald Ross, Director of Surgery in the National Heart Hospital, London, advocates a study of vegetarian communities, since the incidence of heart disease in them is much lower than non-vegetarian communities. He advises his patients to halve their meat intake, and double their vegetable intake, also cautioning at the same time to restrict dairy fats. He also moots the possibility that the human race has not yet adapted to meat protein; in fact, he believes that atheroma could be a process of the body's rejection of meat proteins taken over a long period of time.

It is also to be noted that gall-stones are usually composed of cholesterol; hence, the less one takes of animal fat, the less one is likely to suffer from stone formation in the gall-bladder (cholelithiasis ) .

The Nature Cure dietetic injunction is on sound footings; Nature Cure suggests that chlorophyll which is present in leafy and other greens, be eaten in large enough quantities to keep the blood stream free of cholesterol deposits, so that neither the clots, known as thrombi, form in the blood, nor are the arteries affected. Vitamins C and E derived from uncooked (really speaking sun-cooked) fruits and vegetables, including the inner rind of citrus fruits, are also Nature's anti-thrombosis agents.

Vitamin C is important for inter-cellular respiration, fighting infections and healing inflammations. Dr. Linus Pauling, the champion advocate of Vitamin C in mega doses, avers that man once lived mainly on vegetables and fruits, consuming up to three grams of vitamin C daily. Later, with the inventions of fire, and cooking of food, and also with man becoming a hunter and flesh eater his intake of vitamin C was greatly reduced; the aftermath was loss of health and vigour. Flesh eaters should note that meat mostly lacks vitamin C.

Vegetarian diet Spares Kidneys

Another drawback of the meat diet is that it has a high uric acid content. In the last throes of death, all animals produce acids in their tissues; these are not drained offwith blood. Mutton, beef, pork, etc. contain fourteen to sixteen grains (1 grain=60 grams) of uric acid per pound of meat. Human kidneys not being made for excretion of fleshy toxins, cannot easily cope with excretion of more than seven grains of uric acid per day. No wonder then, that large flesh eaters who consume more than half a pound of meat daily, over-load their kidneys. Result may be kidney stones or inflammation in kidney tissue, to start with; and kidney failure in the long run. Dialysers and surgical transplants do not solve the problem of increase in kidney diseases.

Research has shown that the flesh-eater has also to eliminate tissue wastes in the meat, which the animal's kidneys would have excreted if it had not been slaughtered. Nephritis is often the result of these excess fleshy wastes. Seventh Day Adventist doctors who advocate vegetarianism, rightly feel that the meatless diet spares the kidneys, for they have seen quite often that meat acts like a poison to Bright's disease or nephritis patients. In cases that show albumin in appreciable amount in their urine, they advise a diet free of all meat, fish, fowl and eggs; the result is clear urine in a week or two. Uric acid also leads to troubles such as gout and to a lesser extent, all types of fibrositis, neuritis and neuralgia, including what are called lumbago and sciatica, besides arthritis or inflammation of the joints.

Meat and Cancer

Another drawback of meat is that it has no fibre content; it lacks cellulose or roughage, which is a must in the human diet; without roughage, bowels cannot move properly, and we suffer from constipation. Unfortunately, most medical men believe that constipation is not a health problem; they think it is alright even if stools are voided once in two or three days or even a week ! But those who know better, lift a cautionary finger against constipation, calling it 'the fertile mother of many diseases'. Comparing our system again to the organism of our arboreal ancestors, the apes, we find that they eliminate faeces at least twice a day; so should we!

Now, however, the orthodox medical view is also changing. Bowel cancer is on the rise in countries which are traditionally non-vegetarian, and where, therefore, constipation is rife. Australia which consumes 130 kilograms of beef per year per head, suffers more from bowel cancer than other countries; no other country eats so much of flesh food, though Scotland, Finland and USA are very near the mark. Incidence of cancer of colon is high in these countries too.

Dr. Alan Lorg, writing for 'The Vegetarian' magazine of U.K. says "Intestinal flora of vegetarians differ from flesh-eaters; they contain more aerobic bacteria. The flesheaters' anaerobic bacteria include bacteroides containing the enzyme 7-alphadehydroxylase, which converts components in the bile juices into deoxycholates, known to be carcinogenic in animals. Concentration of deoxycholates in the faeces is related to the prevalence of colonic cancer. A survey published in 1973 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute compared the faeces of people on a normal high-protein-high-fat U. S. diet with those from vegetarians, Seventh Day Adventists and recent Chinese and Japanese immigrants. Excretion of the degradation products of cholesterol and of total and degraded bile acid was higher in the flesh-eating group, which bore out earlier contentions. Low-residue diets (deficient in fibre) with correspondingly prolonged transit-tirnes (constipation) and greater opportunities for the action of 7-alpha-dehydroxylases were incriminated in 1971 by Dr. Burkitt. Reports in the 'Gut' Journal in 1969, and in the British Journal of Cancer in 1973, remark that rates of mortality from cancer of the colon relate with consumption of animal protein. "

Let alone the fell disease cancer, the less serious conditions of appendicitis and haemorrhoids—commonly called piles—are always due to constipation, whether latent or patent.

....And Diabetes Too!

Diabetes is generally associated with too much intake of refined carbohydrates, i.e. starches and sugars. In Bombay, the incidence of diabetes is twice as high among vegetarians than among non-vegetarians. Medical men recommend a high-protein meat diet to their diabetic patients, under the notion that this would not tax the pancreas to secrete insulin, because, with increase in meat intake, carbohydrate intake would ipso facto decrease. Here, the surmise is correct, but it is a very myopic view of total metabolism.

A study by a medical team led by Prof. N.S.P. Verma, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, has found that the fibre content of vegetables acts as a protection against diabetes in many cases. Dr. Verma said at a seminar on 'Diabetes and Cardio-vascular Diseases' on 23rd October, 1975, that the best way to reduce chances of 'catching' diabetes was to eat more vegetables and unpolished cereals.

Since meat constipates, it dams excretion, throwing extra burden on kidneys and liver, the two important depurative organs, which often are involved in the genesis of diabetes. A better plan is to keep the diabetic on a vegetarian diet, induding whole-grain cereals, sprouted legumes and plenty of non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens and fruits. Papaya, oranges, grape-fruits, amalas, apples, peaches, plums and pears are especially prescribed.

A detailed study of diabetes reveals that it is not only an excess carbohydrate disease; it can be a high-protein or even high-fat disease.

Since there is too much fat in some meats—mutton has 13% fat though it may look all muscle; beef meat has 10% fat—it can result in obesity. Dr. O.S. Parrett, M.D., has pointed out that in fat people, some fat infiltrates the liver tissues. The liver is the store-house of glycogen (liver carbohydrate), but in the obese, the extra useless fat cells in the liver impede the function of the healthy liver cells; this results in poor storage of sugar and starch in liver, thereby the blood being over-loaded with sugar. The kidneys have to do the job of eliminating this sweet burden of the blood; thus sugar makes its appearance in the urine. It will be seen, then, that in obese diabetics, the fault may not lie with the pancreas, but with the liver. The cure results when the sufferer reduces weight.

Regarding the prescription of a meat diet by medical men to their diabetic patient, Dr. Parrett explains: "Foods to be avoided in diabetes are starch and sugar in excess. When the blood which normally carries a maximum of 120 mg of sugar, reaches 175 mg or so, there is spill-over of sugar into the urine through the kidneys. We then seek a diet for the patient that yields its carbohydrates as slowly as possible, lest the blood stream too quickly reach the spill-over level, and it appears in the urine .... Meat which is mostly protein with little carbohydrate—glycogen— would seem to answer this diet need admirably, except for two important reasons. "

These two important reasons are:

  1. The diabetic has to get rid of nitrogen and sulphur wastes of meat protein metabolism, and
  2. In meat are the tissue toxins of the slaughtered animal; they are ingested by the diabetic when he eats meat.

As it is, even the vegetarian diabetic's system is usually burdened with toxins; the non-vegetarian's would be all the more loaded, increasing the risk of acidosis. Dr. Parett suggests a diet programme of low proteins for the diabetic. He also suggests low starch vegetables which add carbohydrates slowly to the blood stream. He considers tomatoes as ideal because of their low starch and high vitamin and mineral content. Dr. Andrew Gold in his book 'Diabetes: Its Causes and Treatment' suggests vegetarian diet, because he also has noticed that "the ingestion of butcher meat increases the toxaemic condition underlying the diabetic state and reduces sugar tolerances On the other hand, the non flesh, non-stimulating and especially unfried vegetarian diet promotes and increases sugar tolerance, "

Meat is Not Mita

Now if we revert to the definitions of Mita and Sattwic diet, we find meat totally contra-indicated in Yoga.

  1. Meat is not palatable. Whatever taste it seemingly has, is that of salt and spices.
  2. It is not nutritious in the sense that whole-wheat bread or apple is nutritious. Meat does have protein and fat but we have seen that it also has harmful acids, cholesterol, etc.
  3. It may provide some iron, calcium and phosphorus, but there are better vegetarian sources to obtain these minerals, besides the other minerals which meat lacks.
  4. Though dairy produce have animal proteins and animal fats, these in moderation, do no harm. They definitely contribute to growth especially in children. Adults can take cream-free milk or yogurt or buttermilk. Skimmed cow's milk or yogurt contains only 3.2 per cent protein, and 2 per cent fat, unlike mutton which is 19 per cent protein and 13 per cent fat. Again, uric acid is absent in milk. Some research being done at present actually attributes anti-cholesterolaemia virtues to yogurt and buttermilk.
    The diet of Masai tribesmen is preponderantly animal blood and fat, and yet these people are remarkably immune to heart disease. This is attributed to their open-air living and walking long distances but the inclusion of home-made curds i.e. yogurt in their diet also perhaps is a factor in this immunity. As per a study conducted by Dr. Mann and Dr. Anna Spoerry of the African Research Foundation, the Masais' cholesterol level dropped more if they ate more of curds. Dr. Mann opines that some of the bacteria in yogurt produce a substance which blocks or inhibits liver's own cholesterol production.
    Taking these facts into consideration, therefore, milk and primary milk products with lessened fat content are 'passe' for Yoga practitioners.
  5. We skip the fifth point of moderation, for that is applicable to vegetarians and flesh eaters alike.
  6. It is irreverence of the highest order to thank God for 'our daily bread', if the 'bread' includes the mangled limbs and organs of a once-living creature—a creation of the same Creator that is being worshipped ! It is doubtful if God's grace would descend on the table laid out with camouflaged corpses of the butchered pieces of the same. Would not the name of the Lord be a sacrilege at such a table ?
    We conclude from the above that meat does not qualify as Mita-Ahar. We cannot help coming to the conclusion also that meat is not Sattwic; it is disease-producing and can only be branded as Tamasic.

Be a Vegetarian—But Eat Wisely

Meat diet is wrong; but vegetarian diet can also be wrong. It is good to be a vegetarian, but not enough. Many vegetarian items are Tamasic, unhealthy, even poisonous to the system. We know alcohol is not Sattwic; we ought to know also that tea, coffee and cocoa, containing harmful alkaloids such as theine, caffeine and theobromine, are also not Sattwic, Chocolate made out of cocoa, and Coca which contains caffeine, and therefore can be addictive, are also not for Yoga Practitioners. Tobacco is unhealthy on all counts, whichever way it is used. All these are proscribed items, though there is nothing nonvegetarian about them.

Few, however, even among vegetarians know about the harm of refined carbohydrates, i.e. sugars and starches. Refined sugar, which is, chemically speaking 99 per cent sugar, and is devoid of all vitamins and minerals originally contained in sugarcane from which it is made, is a very harmful substance. Not only does it contribute to dental cavities and diabetes, but also to osteoporosis and arthritis. Though by chemical reaction it is neutral, it is acidic in our system, and may cause hyperacidity and peptic ulcers. According to Prof. John Yudkin, it also leads to heart disease, as much as animal fats do. Moreover, a research project in USA has traced the connection between anterior poliomyelitis and much sugar intake. Links between hypersucrophagy (too much eating of sugar) and psychological disturbances also have been established. For some years of his life, Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian under medical advice but he was too fond of sugar, putting sugar in everything he ate or drank. Nutritionists are of the opinion that he was sugar-drunk, time and again, which affected his psyche.

Even in children, it is observed that hyper-sucrophagy tends to make them peevish or cantankerous. We all need sugar, but it has to come from naturally sweet fruits; if these are not easily available, dry fruits are a good substitute.

Vegetarians also need to avoid fried items. Boiling, baking and steaming are conservative modes of cooking to recommend.

Spicy Yoga

A word about strong spices and condiments. Yoga tradition is to avoid onion and garlic, as these are strong smelling and therefore in the category of Tamasic; chillies and pepper though a greater irritant to the mucous lining of the gastrointestinal tract, get a clean chit from Yoga practitioners because they do not have a strong odour. In the light of new discoveries, however we may have to include onions and garlic in a health promoting Yogic diet, as these two have been variously ascribed the virtues of lowering high blood pressure, disinfecting bowels and curbing tuberculosis. On the other hand, chillies have no such merits, though they are high in vitamin C if taken fresh. The demerit is that chillies cannot only set the so-called delicate but in reality tough inner walls of the alimentary canal aflame, their irritating factor can similarly cauterise or scorch the cells of the liver and the kidneys. Indians in England are said to suffer from 'Curry Kidneys' due to an excess of chillies.

Here, the plea for onions and garlic is only as herbs and to add flavour and taste to other dishes; these need not be taken to the extent that one smells of them.

Thou Shalt not Kill

This study of a non-vegetarian diet is made from a medical n~e. However, since Hatha Yoga cons sts of eight facets (Ashes Anga), one of which is Yama which again includes Ahimsa, Yogic diet may be studied from the angle of Ahimsa also.

Ahimsa means non-violence, or non-killing. It is wrongly believed that the intention not to kill implies not killing other human beings. This is a very narrow view. Non-killing means not killing any animal, whether for food, clothing or sport. Under this broad definition of Ahimsa therefore, Yoga indirectly proscribes and prohibits meat diet.

Vedic Rishis may have partaken of meat under some dire circumstances, but these do not exist for us in modern times. From the humanitarian angle, the spiritual angle, the nutritional angle as well as the ecological angle, meat diet has no locus standi; it had better be eschewed.