REGARDING A VEGETARIAN DIET
Ayurveda considers diet as an important aspect of life which is in its own right capable of promoting or disturbing balance in the physiology. We would like you to understand the Ayurvedic position on eating meat.
The ancient textual authorities make many references to the kinds of meat that may be appropriate for balancing a myriad of imbalances. The habitat in which an animal lives and the nature of the animal itself are factors that determine the qualities of the flesh when eaten. In other words the elements of nature which are predominant in a given region will predominate in the life forms of that area. For example, animal or fowl living in aquatic regions will yield foods that are moister and heavier than those living in arid regions. Fowl tends to be lighter than earth-bound animals and so on. Thus in principle, one might eat heavier meats when trying to balance excess lightness and emaciation in the physiology, for example.
The question arises: " If balance exists, is it still okay to eat flesh?" Recall that Ayurveda holds that digestion is that process at the root of all health. Heavy foods are harder to digest than lighter foods. Our goal is to make digestion easy and to get more energy from food than it requires to digest it. The heaviness of flesh tends to dull digestion and mental alertness (called tamasic). Modern pathophysiology has an explanation for this effect.: When digestion is weak there tends to be a development and proliferation of anaerobic bacteria. The presence of the bacteria promotes the conversion of meat proteins into harmful substances, such as phenol and “pseudo monoamines” such as octopamine (many normal neurotransmitters are monoamines; e.g. dopamine. These “pseudo monoamines” compete with monoamines for receptor sites in the brain. By occupying a receptor site the cell is prompted to perform some action, which depends upon the specific nature of the occupying molecules. Because “pseudo monoamines” do not act as monoamines, by passing on impulses in a nerve, the impulse is effectively deactivated (not sent on to the next nerve receptor--axon). This process leads to the brain “shutting down” and is experienced as dullness by those eating meats and having poor digestion.
Meats and eggs also have a quality that tends to promote aggressive and angry behavior (called rajasic). Some of this influence comes from the natural presence of arachidonic acid (an inflammatory substance), and also from steroids and other substances injected into or fed cattle, etc. Animals are the end point of the food chain for many kinds of poisons in the environment--including, pesticides, herbicides, etc. The conditions of slaughter of an animal release stress hormones in the animal, which affects us. We express the qualities of the foods we ingest. We are what we eat in very literal way. Balance in the physiology means evenness and alertness (called sattvic). Meats do not promote evenness, alertness, etc. Meats tax the digestive process by their heaviness, promote aggressiveness, inflammatory changes, and tend to impede elimination (leading to putrefaction).
Modern research findings have uncovered some disturbing correlations: Higher incidence of stomach cancer has been associated with predominantly fish eating cultures. Multiple Sclerosis symptoms have been linked to dietary intake of animal fats. Incidence of colon cancer is higher among meat eating cultures than among non-meat eating cultures. It is believed that meats in the process of metabolism foster viri proliferation. There is evidence that the presence of butyrate is inversely related to the incidence of colon cancer. Healthy bacteria in the colon digest vegetable matter fiber and convert it into butyrate (butyric acid). Hence, if you don’t eat vegetables butyrate will not be formed and cancer risk rises. In addition, problems with cholesterol, obesity, heart disease, etc. seem to be significantly lower for those eating a vegetarian diet. The China Study, by Colin Campbell, documents these risks and implicates all animal proteins, generically. We do not introduce these data to scare people away from eating flesh, rather we just want to introduce the idea that health is related to the food we eat. We feel livelier and more alert by eating foods rich in these qualities--digestion produces more usable energy for activity from vegetarian foods. Ultimately, no matter what the content of the diet its capacity to produce health or otherwise will depend upon other qualities which either balance the doshas or not. (See diets for balancing vata, pitta, and kapha)
© Copyright 1994 Michael S. Dick All Rights Reserved