HEALTH & DIET
By Dr.Sudha Vashisht
It is a core daily activity and it happens several times a day. Every man woman and child on this planet has to eat many times a day. Food and eating are closely linked with family habits and social and religious traditions. Many of these are rooted in healthy living principles of history, some history that is remembered and much that has been lost and forgotten.
The Indian Ayurvedic system writes in considerable detail about healthy eating. Ayurveda knowledge guides people about the type of diet they should consume in health and in illness, during the different seasons of the year and during the different ages in life. There is a wealth of knowledge in Ayurveda, which was common knowledge in Indian families, passed down in tradition and nani ka nouska, for centuries. Unfortunately, this knowledge is being forgotten or discarded slowly. The knowledge of the discipline of Ayurveda has been allowed to be relegated to the past, by modern marketing and modern living.
An estimated 70 per cent of all diseases are related to diet. Thirty percent of cancers are related to diet, and obesity. Obesity is linked to a non-vegetarian diet (as well as an increased calorie intake and a sedentary life).
Many Westerners, inspired to be vegetarian but thinking a meatless diet might be boring or nutritionally lacking, derive renewed encouragement and inspiration from the many time-tested vegetarian traditions of India. One source of such wholesome eating dates back thousands of years to the health-care system of Ayurveda, the “science of long life, “which utilizes food both as medicine and sustenance.
Most people are aware of the benefits of vegetarianism. However, for the record I will restate these benefits.
Eating a balanced vegetarian diet will regulate your gut, your blood glucose levels, and hence help to reduce the risk of obesity. This will in turn reduce the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. It will help to reduce cancer risk, especially cancer of the bowel. You will have more energy and live longer. This is fact and known directly by scientific studies, and epidemiological studies.
Your risk of food borne illnesses will be reduced. The poultry and meat industry in the UK, and elsewhere uses high levels of antibiotics and unnatural farming methods to fatten the cows and lamb for slaughter. Toxic chemicals are used in intensive farming methods. This affects the animals and those who eat those animals. This affects the human gut and makes them prone to Salmonella and E. coli infections, which the animals are infected with. Meat eating is increasingly being recognised to be one of the causes of the increasing incidence of colitis, which affects many young people throughout their lives. There are other long term effects -remember CJD –the mad cow disease epidemic?
Being a vegetarian is financially cheaper as well, in most places.
For many there is the more important humane moral argument. Vegetarianism is based on the concept of non-violence, especially to helpless animals. Non- violence is self-explanatory. Vegetarianism is more in harmony with the ecosystems of dharti mata-Mother Earth.
There is another important aspect of being vegetarian. Have you considered the ecology of being vegetarian? How many people, vegetarian people can you feed from a given piece of land? How many non- vegetarian people could you feed from the same given piece of land? In the USA 70 per cent of all grain produced is used to feed animals raised for slaughter. The animals consume five times as much grain, as the USA human population does. The reason is that there is only 10-15 per cent energy transfer at each food chain level (This includes the plants which are only able to use 5-15% of the sun’s energy to transform the water and oxygen into carbohydrates). The population of India and the world is increasing. India, and the world does not have an increasing land mass, and intensive farming methods will not keep up with increased meat production, for an increasing population. Eventually there will be famines and other problems.
So it is with dismay I note that even in India, more young people are eating meat. There is a certain 20 per cent (and increasing) of the population, which was has not been vegetarian for many generations. Furthermore, my very own cousins, nephews and nieces eat meat now, albeit on an intermittent basis. Their parents never ate any meat. Their parents observed many of the other traditions which does not advocate eating meat, not only beef. These young people probably did not start eating meat until they were beyond childhood, but would probably be feeding their children meat, from infancy. How has marketing and modernity taken them so far away from their traditions, with the perils that it may bring? It is said by some experts that India’s water tables have high levels of heavy metals, due to high fertiliser use. Those heavy metals will get concentrated in the food chain, and will affect those children in the mother’s womb, and then from early infancy. Those heavy metals will be a lot higher concentration in the animals, than in the vegetables. This has the possibility of harming numerous generations, as it is not easy to get rid of heavy metals from the soil and food chain. India cannot afford to ignore these facts, which will cause real problems in the future.
There has been increased meat eating, increased alcohol consumption as a result of modern living methods adopted in recent decades, and this is rising. This should be of concern to those governing the country, and there should be an intelligent policy linked to this. It’s not just about eating beef, or not eating beef. The media seems to capable of only full of knee jerk responses to these serious issues. Fairly mindless reporting of incidents occurs in the media, without much meaningful discussion, or debate.
Here, Britain is increasingly becoming a nation of ‘flexitarians’ – choosing to eat a lot less meat to stay healthy. But they are not full-blown vegetarians, and may succumb to the odd tempting meaty treat such as bacon.
Overall 40 per cent of people in a survey agreed with the statement: ‘These days I eat less meat than I used to do’
The figure rises to 45 per cent among women. The American Association of Cancer Research, in a study of 69,120 participants found that ‘vegetarian diets seem to confer protection against cancer, and vegan diet seems to confer lower risk for overall and female specific cancer than other dietary patterns.’
There are certain parts of the world where some of the above problems have been recognised, and as a result many people are turning away from eating meat, especially meat of the Macdonald and KFC variety. Yet MacDonald’s and KFC are getting a foothold in India, pushing the unhealthy lifestyle, causing obesity, diabetes and other illnesses. When the ills of such a lifestyle are well known, it is inexcusable that that very lifestyle is being pushed out to the rest of the world, in the name of modernity and progress.
The absent wisdom within Capitalism is very evident. This absence of wisdom is totally immoral, anti- Sanskriti and against Dharma.
So I for one will remain a shakahari(Vegetarian).