The Yoga Diet
Why eat mostly plant?
The Yogi sees the body as a vehicle for the soul, and therefore treats it with the utmost respect and care. Every effort is made to understand the underlying principles that permeate all life, the essential unity of the diverse forms in the world. To keep this tuning, frequently simple vegetarian food is eaten, supplying essential energy while maintaining purity of body and mind. In the following sections, I will break down the reasons behind why plants are focused on in the yoga diet and then present different points of view supporting such.
Consider Your Health
The human digestive system functions best on a mostly vegetarian diet. Individuals who eat mostly vegetables and fruits have been proven through repeated research to have very low cholesterol levels and fewer heart problems. They have a 40% lower incidence of cancer, and are less likely to suffer from arthritis, obesity, diet-related diabetes, constipation, gallstones, high blood pressure, food poisoning, and many other ailments.
As a physiological example, there are striking differences between the digestive tracts of carnivores and humans. The human small intestine is 18-23ft long, several times the length of the average carnivore. A carnivore’s intestine is also straight and smooth, while a human intestine is pocketed to extract more from vegetable fibers and starchier matter.
Another valuable point of consideration is the consideration of bio-magnification or the “pollution pyramid”. The many chemicals, pesticides, and antibiotics sprayed on crops are eaten by animals. These become more concentrated the higher up the food chain you eat – an effect known as bio-amplification. Due to the needs of feeding our large populations, industrialized agricultural practices require at least to some extent the use of chemical pesticides and antibiotics. Because of this though, pesticide is consumed by herbivores initially, only be to accumulate and be more concentrated inside the bodies of carnivores higher up the “food pyramid”. Thus, we can find ourselves at risk.
The content of food is also another factor to consider. The amount of fat and cholesterol found in plants and fruit is much lower if almost non-existent than in comparison to animal products. Rather instead, vitamins, minerals, and fiber are found in high concentrations.
Ethics and Ecology
There are many ethical reasons for eating a diet that is mostly plant-based. When practicing Yoga, one of the most important is the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence. As the first of the yamas of Raja Yoga, the practice of noninjury to all living things must be followed at all times. Nonviolence toward fellow beings must be extended to include noninjury of the environment if the planet is to be preserved for our future as well. It only takes a cursory look into current modern industrial practices and even our news channels to see wanton destruction taking place in many places.
Meat production is a highly expensive and wasteful process. When legumes and grains are converted into meat by feeding them to animals, 90% of the protein, 96% of the energy value, nearly all the fiber, and the carbohydrates are lost. The price of meat reflects this when we compare it to how we receive it from vegetables.
Thus, a meat-based diet costs far more than a vegetarian diet and is nutritionally much poorer. For the price of two lamb chops, you can buy the ingredients for a complete veggie dinner of soup, salad, main course, and dessert for one person. The mostly plant option is nutritionally balanced and far more healthful.
As of 2000, there are some 800 million hungry people in the world. Almost every minute, a child dies from malnutrition. Up to 60 million people in developing countries die annually from hunger and hunger-related diseases. Food in poorer countries is systematically being fed to animals so that meat can be sold to the more prosperous nations. At the same time, people in the so-called “developed” countries spend enormous sums of money every year on dietary products because their food intake Is excessively high in fat and sugar. In a world with limited productive land, it makes no sense to produce meat when the land could feed many more people if used to grow cereals or legumes.
As a simple breakdown:
• Beef feeds only one – 12.5 acres (5 hectares) of land is needed to grow the food to supply the needs of each person eating a meat-based diet involving a cow.
• Corn feeds five – 12.5 acres (5 hectares) of land could feed five people if corn were grown for human consumption rather than for animal feed.
• Wheat feeds 12 – If wheat were to be grown on 12.5 acres (5 hectares) of land, the crop would feed 12 people.
• Soy feeds 30 – A soybean crop from 12.5 acres (5 hectares) would provide the most energy, feeding 30 people.
A diet that is based on mostly plants is far better for an individual nutritionally, financially, and for our world and environment. As part of embracing yogic practices and principles in your life, we highly encourage you to make the change to eat in these ways.
For a really great book on food, eating healthfully, and the ethics of our industrial food practices, check out this New York Times Bestseller by Michael Pollen that also has a wonderful documentary video for those looking into the American Paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we see to become. In Defense of Food is one of the best books I have read on the subject, and one I highly recommend for everyday readers and yogis alike!
Feel like cutting back on meat is too hard? What do you think about eating a mostly plant diet? Comment below!
For more on the yoga diet and practicing yoga in your life – check out our yoga articles here.