The Vegetarian Diet
The vegetarian diet has always been an integral part of yoga. But now-a-days we often see important things, such as what we eat, left out of fray by many yoga entusiasts, largely due to a lack of real understanding of just what relationship the vegetarian diet has with yoga …
The yogic approach to eating, as with all aspects of life, is based on an understanding of universal truths concerning the health and welfare of the human being. Dietary considerations in Yoga are always based on engaging in that which supports health not only on the physical, but the mental, emotional and spiritual levels as well, and relinquishing those things which have the opposite, detrimental, degrading and de-evolutionary effects.
The Vegetarian Diet (A scientific perspective)
A vegetarian diet is at the foundation of the yogic life. The reasons for maintaining a vegetarian diet are numerous, and all support in every way a superior health for the individual, as well as harmony with one’s surrounding, natural environment.
But convincing the habitual meat-eater of the value of vegetarianism is, in many cases, no small task. Much propaganda exists concerning the eating of meat, and an enormous industry throughout western culture, especially within North America, is reliant on it and has much at stake. The debate usually starts off on the health front. As Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri writes:Vegetarian Diet
Most of the people of the word today have been deluded into thinking that they cannot survive except on a diet high in animal protein. This entire concept has been allowed to grow, not-withstanding that a great portion of the world’s population is vegetarian…
… we get protein in almost every food we eat, and we do not require animal protein at any time as an adult if an adequate balance of food is being consumed. Let the sceptic answer this question: ‘Where does the cow get its protein from?’ Why get yours second-hand, so to speak?”
It is a medical fact that the “bio-availability” of proteins from meat is less than that from its organic counterparts in nature. This means simply that meat proteins, though they may seem from a composite structure to be more “complete”, in fact take much longer to break down into its “useable components” within the digestive tract of the human being then proteins from vegetable sources.
This extra-digestive effort requires a higher degree of energy output, thereby negating much of the benefits of the digested substances in the end.
… And as meat spends a considerably longer amount of time undergoing the digestive process within the human digestive tract than its protein-rich vegetarian counterparts, it invariably putrefies (rots) within the gut, leading to the production of toxins which are severely damaging to the health of the Being. The eating of meat has created a “toxic race of beings”.
This habit is not a natural one for the human species, and consequently is the single biggest disease-contributing factor in cultures where meat-eating predominates.
A study of the physiology of the human digestive tract supports this, revealing that it resembles that of the herbivore within the animal kingdom, not that of the carnivore. In short, we are not built to properly digest meat! The book Food for the Spirit, Vegetarianism in the World Religions, summarizes this point of view as follows.
“Many nutritionists, biologists and physiologists offer convincing evidence that humans are in fact not meant to eat flesh.”
Biologically speaking, there are many convincing arguments to suggest that humans are vegetarian in nature. One good point is that the saliva of carnivores (meat eaters) contains no ptyalin and cannot predigest starches; that of vegetarian animals (and humans) contains ptyalin for the predigesting of starches; while flesh-eating animals secrete large quantities of hydrochloric acid as well to help dissolve bones in their diet, which vegetarian animals (and humans) do not. This book continues:
“There are many such comparisons, and in each case humans fit the vegetarian physiognomy. From a strictly physiological perspective then, there are strong arguments that humans are not suited to a fleshy diet.”
Growing Medical Support for Vegetarianism
A group of eminent doctors called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), founded in America in 1985, have gathered to change the U.S. consciousness on human nutrition. The PCRM, supported by over 3,000 physicians and 50,000 lay persons states in their literature:
“… science is on the side of vegetarian foods. A multitude of studies have proven the health benefits of a vegetarian diet to be remarkable.”
The PCRM literature also lists a host of health benefits of a vegetarian diet, including the following:
- Preventing cancer: “Numerous epidemiological and clinical studies have shown that vegetarians are nearly 50% less likely to die from cancer than non vegetarians.”
- Preventing heart disease and lowering blood pressure.
- Preventing and reversing diabetes.
- Preventing and alleviating gallstones, kidney stones and osteoporosis.
- Preventing and alleviating asthma.
The yogi would find nothing surprising in these assertions, as the cultural and medical traditions of India have known full well the health benefits of a vegetarian diet for millennia … [continued]