International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India


NUTRITIONAL ASPECT OF VEGETARIANISM

Capt. N. Seshadrinathan, M.B.B.S., D.T.M.

Vegetarianism has been defined by different people in different ways. But all are agreed that the major portion of the diet should consist of green vegetables, roots and cereals. As far as I am aware nobody prevents the inclusion of milk and milk products in a vegetarian diet. Some will include eggs and even fish. It is not compatible with health if a diet is deprived of milk and milk products. These constitute what are called protective food factors.

People take to a non-vegetarian food by sheer habit and tradition rather than by conviction that such a diet is more nutritious. It was once thought that meat eating is associated with greater strength and endurance, than a vegetarian diet. This has not been confirmed yet. The excess of meat served at dinners in England before the great war produced gluttons and even led to inefficiency. Gout was a common disorder of excessive meat eating, and uric acid stones in the urinary passages was a common complaint of those days. During the war when rationing was adopted people became healthier and their capacity for sustained work increased.

The question whether meat is a necessity at all is to be solved by proper statistical research not only through animal experimentations, but by observations on mankind in the different regions of world where owing to circumstances men have been forced to give up meat and take to a vegetarian diet with the addition of milk and milk products From evidence so far gathered it has been shown that a diet rich in greens, roots and fruits and milk can sustain the body very well.

A table of nutritional essentials in the various food sources is given below to show the relative importance of meat and milk and greens and cereals. The table is one prepared by the League of Nations Nutrition Research Committee, 2936.

HIGHLY PROTECTIVE FOODS

    Good Protein Minerals.   Vitamins    
        A B C D
  Milk ++ +++ + + +0 +0/
  Cheese ++ ++ + + - -
E Eggs. ++ ++ + ++ - ++
E Liver ++ ++ + ++ - ++
E Fat Fish +   + + - ++
  Green Vegetables +   + + ++ -
  Fruits   +++ + + ++ -
E Butter - - + - - +0
  Cod Liver oil - - +++ - - +++
  Yeast + + - ++ - -

LESS PROTECTIVE FOODS.

  Meat + 1 - + 1 -
  Root Vegetables tubers.     +* + + -
  Legumes (dry peas lentils)     - + - -
E Cereals (whole meal bread) + 1 1 + - -
E Cereals (rice polished)     - - - -
E Nuts 1   - ++ - -
E Sugar honey     - - - -
E Margarine etc.     ... - ... -

E = Foods of high energy value
+++ = Signifies very rich
1 = Present in traces
0 = In summer when the cows are in pasture
* = Signifies if yellow in colour.

From the above table it is clear that meat does not get so much prominence as protective foods as milk, fruits, and vegetables do. Stress is made in modern diabetic literature on vitamins in nutritional programmes. Vitamins are present more in the green vegetables and milk than in other food sources except eggs.

Every nation takes to cereals for energy, of which wheat is definitely superior to rice. With modern rapid transport and distribution facilities wheat is available for the people in the rice producing countries also. Of course, energy is obtained only when physical work is done. Hard physical work makes up for many defects in nutrition essentials, because very little of nutritional elements is wasted on account of the good digestion resulting from hard physical work.

It will be seen that a non-vegetarian diet is not only not essential, but is inferior to a vegetarian diet which includes milk. It seems that meat is rich in iron, but green vegetables are richer in iron - Cod liver oil is richer in Vitamins A and, but green vegetables are good sources of Vitamin A and exposure of the body to the sun provides Vitamin D requirements, Vegetable oils can be irradiated to contain Vitamin D.

Researches carried out in India have shown that wheat and milk and fruits taken in plenty by the hills tribes give them a better physique than the people of the plains who eat rice and other cereals and who drink less milk and eat very little of fruits. The ideal of herculean physique or pugilistic constitution weighing 360 lbs or so is not one aimed at by modern man. The days of the gnarled muscles adorning the arms and the body capable of rolling down rocks, working on galleys, or crushing enemies with one's arms in Bhima fashion are gone, The ideal herculean physique is not obtained merely by eating meat or other food so much as by developing one's muscles by hard physical work. Take the case of the wood-cutter or the cart-puller ; he takes very little meat, but the major part of his food is all calories and pulses, which he converts into strong muscles and enduring health by hard physical labour.

As for courage, it is not the monopoly of non-vegetarians. Courage may be mistaken for the exhibition of cruelty. Courage is the capacity to face real personal danger. This capacity is possessed by many vegetarians.

As for endurance, even the half starred Indian labourer bronzed and darkened by the inclemencies of the weather has exhibited endurance equal to, if not superior to that of well nourished, well preserved members of other nationalities. The main source of sustenance of the Indian labourer is the rice and pulses and not meat.

Nutritional research stresses the importance of milk and fruits and vegetables in our dietary. It has been demonstrated through more than two thousand years in our country that it is not incompatible for a person to remain hardy, healthy both in body and mind on a diet entirely free from meat.

We have no quarrel with people who have habituated themselves to a non-vegetarian diet, but let it not be said that without meat man cannot sustain a healthy body and mind.

Men of fine calibre have protested against the infliction of pain and suffering to animals. To-day there is a considerable number of eminent men who are giving deep thought and consideration as to why vegetarianism should not be an ideal to be followed for simple living and high thinking.