The Vegetarian Way

Once someone asked George Bernard Shaw how it was that he looked so youthful. I don’t, Shaw retorted. I look my age. It is the other people who look older than they are. What can you expect from people who eat corpses?

From a dietary perspective the practice of ahimsa limits killing for food. If you are not already on a vegetarian diet you may be surprised by the many less obvious reasons to adopt one, but first let us define what constitutes a vegetarian diet.

What’s a Vegetarian Diet?

The word vegetarian means something that should be good for your whole being and long-term health and growth. At this point in time a vegetarian diet goes against the cultural conditioning of the West. It also goes against all the diseases (cancers, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, impotence, etc.) associated with this conditioning. Instead a vegetarian diet aligns itself with your body’s natural instinct to shun raw meat, fish and eggs, and to welcome fresh fruits and vegetables (at least some). The body also craves fat and primarily for this reason many vegetarians also enjoy modest (or large) amounts of organic milk, butter and cream.

1. Fruits & Seeds

The key ingredient in all vegetarian diets is fruit – fruit of all kinds (not just the fleshy, sweet and juicy variety that perhaps immediately springs to mind), for all tastes, and all nutritional elements, including all three macro nutrients: carbohydrates, fat and protein. Outside of milk these nutrients are not found together in efficient quantities in other foods.

Fruit is also directly or indirectly a comprehensive source of micro nutrients including vitamin C (healthy blood vessels and immune system), antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium (protection against premature aging and coronary artery disease), and folate (breathing and new cell formation and growth).

Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin not present in fruit. Compared with folate only very tiny amounts of this vitamin are needed and although fruits do not carry this vitamin within them, organically cultured or naturally grown fruits may, thanks to natural fertilization, come with just the right amounts on their skins.

Common Fruits

Common fruits are the easily picked fleshy and usually somewhat sweet parts of seed-bearing plants. Many common fruits contain high levels of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), a vitamin required for growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. Fruits extra rich in vitamin C include guavas, lychees, kiwis and oranges. Vitamin C is also needed for the absorption of iron.

While common fruits tend to be poor sources of iron some such as red peppers and strawberries contain low doses of iron along with highly efficient doses of vitamin C. Most common fruits are also low on fat, but there are exceptions as avocados and olives make really good sources of monounsaturated fats (the kind in greatest demand by the body).

The tomato is an especially healthy fruit. Natural genetic variation has given rise to a genetic treasure trove of genes that produce lycopene, carotene, anthocyanin, and other antioxidants. Tomato consumption has been associated with decreased risk of breast cancer, head and neck cancers and might be strongly protective against neurodegenerative diseases.

Grains

Grains are the dry fruits or seeds of cereal grasses. The most common vegetarian diets around the world all include grains, such as rice and wheat, as their main ingredient. Wheat can be a significant source of protein and for women whole-grain wheat can also be an important source of iron. Grains are often a primary source of carbohydrates, a macronutrient essential to the functioning of the brain.

Whole grains contain phytates that protect against cancer. They are also a rich source of vitamin E, an important antioxidant that prevents cataracts. However, smoking will override this effect. When taken together with vitamin C (found in common fruits), this vitamin in high amounts has been shown to reduce onset of Alzheimer’s disease. High dietary intake of vitamin E may also protect against Parkinson’s disease.

Legumes

Legumes, i.e. beans, peas and lentils, are the fruits or seeds of leguminous plants. All legumes, but especially beans and peas, are fruits comparatively high in protein content. Some beans and peas are also good sources of fat. In general all legumes make good to excellent sources of folate.

Beans come in great many varieties. One especially worth mentioning is the soybean, which is fully capable of replacing and surpassing meat as a source of protein. In China soybeans are used to make the staple food Tofu, which is an excellent source of all three macronutrients. Tofu is rich in iron (although not nearly as rich as the raw soybean), and also contains other minerals such as calcium and magnesium in good amounts. In Indonesia the soybean is used as basis for yet another staple food called Tempeh, which is extra rich in protein. In Japan Miso is made by fermenting soybeans.

All peas are especially good for men as they have lower iron-to-zinc ratios than other legumes. Besides being comparatively rich in zinc, peanuts are also a good source of healthy monounsaturated fats, as well as folate. Both soybeans and peanuts contain more protein than carbohydrates.

While poor in fat and calcium, lentils are very rich in iron and also make an excellent source of folate. Unlike some beans and peas, lentils contain more carbohydrates than protein.

Nuts

Nuts are hard-shelled dry fruits. Many so called nuts are not actually true nuts. A couple of genuine nuts are hazelnuts and chestnuts. While nutritional contents vary greatly within this group, all true nuts are generally poor sources of good fat, vitamins and most minerals.

Hazelnuts are fairly high in protein and some minerals such as zinc and copper, but a very bad source of fat and pretty much everything else. Chestnuts are rich in carbohydrates and they also contain a good dose of vitamin C, but are at the same time really poor in both protein and fat.

One borderline nut is a very good source of the much talked-about omega-3 fatty acids. Eating eight walnuts after a meal with animal fat (this kind of fat causes damage to blood vessels) has been shown to restore function even in patients with high cholesterol levels.

Seeds

The seeds of some tropical fruits are especially nutritious. This is the case with the so called Brazil nut – a remarkably nutritious seed that besides protein (all essential amino acids) is rich in fat, has a good amount of zinc with an excellent iron-to-zinc ratio, contains both calcium and magnesium (richer in the latter), and is an exceptional source of selenium (an antioxidant).

2. Vegetables

The second food group is vegetables, i.e. edible plants of the land. These come in wide varieties and with vastly different nutritional contents. Green leafy vegetables make good sources of folate, a vitamin especially important for pregnant women as it aids in the prevention of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the developing fetus.

Some vegetables worth special mentioning include Broccoli. This tasty vegetable has been shown to have very significant health benefits. Another is Spinach, a viable source of protein (high-quality), minerals and vitamins including folate. Finally, as a real treat and long-standing delicacy, Asparagus makes an excellent source of folate.

While rich in some nutrients including many vitamins and protein, all vegetables are, however, very poor sources of fat and carbohydrates (the two macro nutrients in greatest demand by your brain). Apart from the appendix (organ specialized for digestion of plants) the human body is not well-suited for the consumption of raw vegetables.

3. Milk

The third and final food group is based on cow’s milk and often also milk from other vegetarian mammals including goats and sheep. Some modern vegetarian diets, most notably the vegan, leave out this group completely. Others include it sparingly. Most adult vegetarians do, however, consume milk from cows in one form or another. Its richness in a certain vitamin makes it almost mandatory in cities and other places where organic or naturally growing fruit is scarce.

Besides being the only so called animal food containing all three macro nutrients, cow’s milk is arguably the safest source of vitamin B12. Milk can be a decent source of many minerals as well as vitamins. It is especially rich in calcium and vitamin D (the latter may have to be supplied through the diet if you are unable to expose your face and hands to direct sunshine for an hour or so a day, or if you live in Northern Europe or other places where the sunlight is too weak). Despite its many nutritional riches modern day milk with its fat reduced, and hormones, antibiotics and pesticides added, is a far cry from what milk used to be. If you are going to drink milk it is a must that it be organic and whole fat. Cow’s milk is also a very poor source of folate and a really bad food as far as iron goes. To maximize your intake of iron avoid consuming milk along with iron rich foods.

As for the other members of this group, cheese can be a very efficient source of essential aminoacids and zinc, as well as vitamin B12. Finally cream and butter make excellent sources of fat providing for a more efficient and balanced intake of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (no vegetable oil can beat milk fat in this regard, although olive and coconut oils make for the best substitutes).

4. Other Foods

There are also foods that many probably consider vegetarian, but that do not fall exactly into any of the above food groups. Such foods include seaweed (akin to an edible plant of the sea), mushrooms (fruiting bodies of fungi), and potatoes (tubers of an inedible plant). In addition to these treats, almost vegetarian diets, often include such things as honey (product of bees) and eggs (undeveloped animals) from various species.

Vegetarian Cuisine

If you are hungry for real food, Vegetarian Cuisine is the undisputed hands-down winner world-wide. It is colorful and pleasing to your eyes, fragrant and tasty in your mouth, as well as easy on your body. In short there is nothing sexier anywhere!

On the ground

HappyCow’s Global Guide is a free vegetarian restaurant guide, providing vegetarians around the world with vegetarian & vegan healthy restaurant dining and health food store locations.
– HappyCow: Vegetarian Restaurants & Health Food Stores

In the air

Taking the time to order a special meal may result in a higher-quality (and probably healthier) culinary experience inflight. Meals and policies vary from airline to airline, but there’s something for everyone. Special meals on most airlines include: Kosher, Muslim, Hindu, vegetarian (dairy, non-dairy), ...
– EWA Travel: Inflight Food Service

At home

Gourmet Cooking? Vegetarian Style!
– Tai Chi Academy: Vegetarian Corner for Non-Vegetarians

In a Vegetarian Kitchen with Nava Atlas
– Vegetarian Kitchen: Recipes

Feed people, not livestock.
– VegSource.com: Recipes by Bryanna Clark Grogan

Quotes for Thought

Even in the worm that crawls in the earth there glows a divine spark. When you slaughter a creature, you slaughter God. – Charles Darwin (1809—1882)

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. – Mahatma Gandhi (1869—1948)

How can we speak of right and justice if we take an innocent creature and shed its blood. – Isaac Singer (1904—1991)

I don’t eat any animals or anything that has to do with animals. No fish or egg or dairy because I personally don’t feel it’s a good practice to eat anything that might run away from you. – Russell Simmons (1957—)

Further Reading

For information on nutritional details, including protein, iron and vitamin B12, food ingredients to be wary of, and vegetarian varieties you can read the details page. The many external links should give you even more information – yes it is true, the web never ends...





Firefox