Yoga and Vegetarianism

Dr M. M. Bhamgara, Bombay

Yoga, per se, does not say much about diet, except that it should be 'enough food to nourish' (mitahara). However, it is not enough to mind the quantity of food, the quality of food ingested is of even greater importance. There are many convincing facts in favour of vegetarianism, but just any type of vegetarian diet is not all right for our systems. For example, we do not have the 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, eating fruits, vegetables, shoots, nuts, seeds and so on.

Of course the human system does adapt itself to non-vegetarian foods, but this is not without its draw-kicks. Eskimos, for example, live on reindeer and seal meat; but they die early, their average life span being thirty years. What our human system can easily and profitably utilise, digest and assimilate, is a diet consisting of fresh fruit, leafy and other vegetables, seeds, nuts, cereals and legumes. Nowadays, a flesh diet is increasingly incriminated by discerning medical men, for it creates pathological disturbances in the body.

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

Since half of the fat in all meats is saturated, and cholesterol - producing, and since even the leanest meal has some fat in it, all types of meat should be prohibited to persons suffering from cardiovascular disorders. Non-flesh foods, except eggs and dairy products, have no cholesterol - producing fats.

Cardiologists now increasingly advise their patients against meat. As early as 1961, the Journal of the American Medical Association conceded that a vegetarian diet could prevent ninety-seven percent 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 these groups is much lower than in meat-eating communities. He advises his patients to halve their meat intake, double their vegetable intake, and to restrict dairy products. He also suggests the possibility that the human race has not yet adapted to meat protein. In fact, he believes that the formation of fat deposits in the blood vessels could be a process of the body's rejection of meat proteins taken over a long period of time.

It has also been noted that gall stones are usually composed of cholesterol; hence, the less one takes of animal fats, the less one is likely to suffer from stone formation in the gall bladder.

The Nature Cure dietetic injunction is on sound footing. Nature Cure suggests that chlorophyll, which is present in leafy and other greens, should be eaten in large enough quantities to keep the blood stream free from cholesterol deposits, so that neither thrombi (blood clots) are formed, nor are the arteries affected. Vitamins C and P, derived from uncooked fruits and vegetables, including the inner rind of citrus fruits, are also Nature's anti - thrombosis agents. Vitamin C is important for intercellular respiration, fighting infections and healing inflammations. Flesh-eaters should note that meat lacks vitamin C.

Another drawback of meat is that it has a high uric acid content. Mutton, beef and pork contain fourteen to sixteen grains of uric acid per pound. Human kidneys, not being made for the excretion of fleshy toxins, cannot easily cope with the excretion of more than seven grains of uric acid per day. No wonder people who consume more than half a pound of meat daily overload their kidneys. The result may be kidney stones or inflammation of the kidney tissue to start with, and kidney failure in the long run.

Research has shown that the flesh-eater also has to eliminate tissue wastes of the meat, which the kidneys of the animal would have filtered 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 a meatless diet spares the kidneys, for they have seen quite often that meat acts like a poison to patients suffering from Bright's disease or nephritis. In cases that show appreciable amounts of albumin in the urine, these doctors advise a diet free from all meat, fish, fowl and eggs. The result is clear urine in a week or two.

Yet a further disadvantage of meat is that it has no fibre content. It lacks cellulose or roughage, which is a must in the human diet. Without roughage, the bowels cannot move properly and we suffer from constipation. Unfortunately, most medical men do not believe that constipation is a serious health problem. Yet those who know better lift a cautionary finger against constipation, calling it the 'fertile mother of many diseases'.

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 more beef than any other country in the world also has more bowel cancer than other countries, though Scotland, Finland and the USA are very near.

Quite apart from the disastrous disease of cancer, the less serious conditions of appendicitis and haemorrhoids (piles) are always due to constipation, whether latent or patent.

Diabetes is generally associated with the intake of too much refined carbohydrate, that is starches and sugars. In Bombay the incidence of diabetes is twice as high among vegetarians as among non-vegetarians. Medical men therefore recommend a high-protein diet of meat for their diabetic patients, because the increased meat intake would automatically decrease the carbohydrate intake. The surmise is correct, but this is a very short sighted view of total metabolism.

A study by a medical team led by Prof. N. P. S. Verma, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Maulana Azed Medical College, New Delhi, has found that the fibre content of vegetables acts as a protection against diabetes in many cases. Dr Verma maintains that the best way to reduce chances of developing diabetes is to eat more vegetables and unpolished cereals.

Since meat constipates, it dams excretion, throwing an extra burden on the kidneys and liver - the two most important eliminative organs - both of which are often involved in the genesis of diabetes. The better plan is to keep the diabetic on a vegetarian diet, including whole grain cereals, sprouted legumes and plenty of non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens and some fruit. Apart from mangoes and bananas, most fruit can be eaten by diabetics. Papaya, oranges, grapefruit, apples and pears are especially prescribed.

A detailed study of diabetes reveals that it is not only caused by an excess of carbohydrate; it can also be due to an excess of protein or fat in the diet.

Since there is so much fat in most meats - mutton has thirteen percent fat, beef ten percent - it can result in obesity (excessive overweight). Dr D. S. Parrett, MD, has pointed out that with those people who are overweight, some fat infiltrates the liver tissue. However, in those people who are actually obese, the useless fat cells in the liver impede the function of healthy liver cells. This results in poor storage of sugar and starch in the liver, thus overloading the blood with sugar. The kidneys have to do the job of eliminating this sweet burden of the blood; and 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. Cure follows when the sufferer loses weight.

Regarding the prescription of meat diets to diabetic patients, 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 units of sugar, reaches 175 or so, then there is a 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 reaches the spill over level... 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 from meat metabolism, and (2) he must eliminate the extra tissue toxins of the slaughtered animal. As it is, even the vegetarian diabetic's system is usually burdened with toxins. The system of a non-vegetarian would be all the more loaded, increasing the risk of acidosis, which can lead to coma and death. Dr Parrett suggests a diet program of low proteins for the diabetic. He also suggests low-starch vegetables which add carbohydrates slowly to the blood stream. He considers tomatoes, for instance, to be ideal because of their low starch and high vitamin and mineral content.

Dr Andrew Gold, in his book Diabetes: Its Causes and Treatments, suggests vegetarian diet, because he also has noticed that:

"the ingestion of butcher meat increases the toxemic condition underlying the diabetic state and reduces sugar tolerance. On the other hand, the non-flesh, non - stimulating, and especially unfired vegetarian diet, promotes and increases sugar tolerance."

This study of non-vegetarian diet is made from the medical angle. However, one of the facets of yoga is yama, ethical observances, which include ahimsa. Yogic diet may therefore be studied from the point of ahimsa also.

Ahimsa means non-violence, or non-killing. It is wrongly believed to be an injunction against killing only human beings. However, this is a rather narrow view of things, for non-killing means that we should not kill any animal, whether for food, clothing or sport. Under this broad definition of ahimsa, therefore, yoga indirectly prohibits a meat diet.

Vedic rishis may have partaken of meat under some circumstances, but in modern times there is no necessity. From the humanitarian as well as the nutritional angle, there is no support for a meat diet, and we would do well to give it up.