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Vegetarian and Vegan dietetics

According to the vegetarians and vegans, a balanced diet can be achieved without consuming animal proteins.


The nutritive value of foodstuffs and the conception of digestion are identical to the basic principles of currently prevalent official dietetics. However meat and fish are excluded from the diet. In the case of vegans, all animal products are excluded as well: eggs, dairy products and honey.

In order to enjoy a balanced diet, vegetarians and vegans compensate for the absence of animal products with an increased consumption of plant products providing vegetable proteins: soya, lentils, quinoa, seaweed...

According to vegetarian or vegan dietetics

Vegetarian or vegan dietetics believe that a balanced diet can be achieved without consuming animal proteins. They even feel that the consumption of animal products is one of the causes of a few present-day diet related diseases: cardiovascular diseases, obesity, cholesterol...

More about: 1) Introduction --- 2) History --- 3) Principles --- 4) Cuisine

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1 - Introduction

Some people refuse to eat animal products.

Some accept to eat a few indirect products: milk, butter, eggs, honey. We call them vegetarians. We often classify among vegetarians those who content themselves with refraining from eating meat and delicatessen, while continuing to eat fish. Yet others refuse to eat any animal product and only eat plant products. We call them vegans.

This refusal to eat animal products may stem from several reasons.

a - Religious reasons

This is the case in India: respect for all life forms and the idea of purity of food are at the basis of Hindu vegetarianism. Plant products are considered as being sattvic (food partaken by ascetics which gives energy), whereas animal products are tamasic (difficult to digest and which foster pessimism), except for milk which is sattvic.

The Catholic religion holds a more ambiguous stand with respect to meat: it has for long extolled the virtues of fasting and abstinence from meat consumption (Lent), some monastic orders have a mainly vegetarian diet.

40 % of the seventh-day adventists do not consume meat in USA.

b - Ethical reasons

The current-day scenario of industrial breeding and slaughtering conditions cause animal suffering which is rejected by some ethical vegetarians.

c - Environmental reasons

The industrial production of meat and milk, intensive fishing, hunting are harmful to the environment and biodiversity. The production of animal proteins requires massive consumption of fossil energy (oil, pesticides, fertilizer, necessary for industrial agriculture and breeding operations). In order to protect the environment, some environmentalists therefore choose to be vegetarian.

d - Health-related reasons

According to vegetarians, a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of succumbing to some diseases (cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis) and digestion of meat releases toxic substances that are injurious to health. A vegetarian diet is purported to live longer than the average life expectancy.

These assertions are disputed by official dietetics which opines that vegetarian food is imbalanced and plant proteins cannot sufficiently subsitute animal proteins.

e - Biological reasons

According to some, man would not be omnivorous but fructidorian, just like monkeys. The shape of his teeth and the length of his intestines would constitute proof of a vegetarian diet at his origins.

These assertions are disputed by researchers who have found lots of omnivorous monkeys.

-> 2) History --- 3) Principles --- 4) Cuisine

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2 - Some history

- En Inde,- In India, the Indians dating back to the Vedic Age used to eat meat and Ayurveda does not proscribe partaking of it. The Caraka Samhitâ studies the group of meats in chapter XXVII on food items: For imparting viguour and corpulence, there is no food better than meat. However the vegetarianism culture began in Antiquity in the caste of brahmans and developed at the same time as Hinduism and Krishna worship. It then spread to all the classes of society. 31% of the Indians are vegetarians to which 9% of people who eat eggs must be added, 60% of them are non-vegetarian (The Hindu, 2006/8/14). 55% of Brahmans are vegetarian, and 3% of Muslims and 8% of Christians. Contrary to a belief which is widely prevalent in the West, all Indians are not vegetarians, but only 30% of the non-vegetarians regularly eat meet.

- In Greece, in the 6th century B.C., the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras and a part of his disciples were among the first known Western vegetarians. Pythagoras lived at the same time as Lao-tseu and Confucius in China, Buddha in India, Zarathustra in Persia. Everyone known the famous Pythagorean theorem. At Croton in the Southern part of Italy, he also founded a religious community, which studied mathematics and music (numbers constitute the true nature of things). Whether it is truth or legend, it is said that this ascetic sect also observed dress (white coloured clothing) and diet (abstain from eating meat, eggs and beans, eating only those foodstuffs capable of doing away with hunger and thirst) related codes. However Pythagoras’s son-in-law and disciple, Milon of Crotone, enjoyed the reputation of having been an athlete and a huge meat eater.

Be that as it may, Pythagoras is associated with vegetarianism in Europe: till the 19th century, Pythagorean food is synonymous with vegetarian food. For instance, in 1773, the Italian man Vincenzo Corrado wrote a cookery recipe book dealing exclusively with vegetable recipes, that he termed Del cibo pitagorico (Of Pythagorean food). Present-day vegetarians still quote Pythagoras when they wish to justify their practice.

- In England, the vegetarian movement began in London at the turn of the 18th century in some protestant clerical and intellectual elite circles, as a reaction against industrialization, urbanization and modernization of agriculture. At the outset rejection of cruelty to animals and concern for health were the main arguments held by this movement. Vegetarianism in England is also linked to millenarianist movements and to the protestant religious dissident movement.

In the Anglo-Saxon countries, the growth of vegetarianism was largely due to a few religious sects. For instance, the Christian Biblical Church, the core of Western vegetarianism, founded at Salford in 1809, is a dissident branch of the theosophers of the Church of the New Jerusalem. The emigrants subsequently brought their belief to the United States.

Vegetarian is a word of English origin and dates back to the 19th century. The word vegetable, contracted to veget to which the suffix arian is added (used as per the names of religious sects) gave the word vegetarian in English, translated in French by the word végétarien. The English word vegetarian dates back to 1842 and witnessed tremendous success owing to the creation of the Vegetarian Society in 1847. The French word végétarien dates back to 1873.

- In France, the vegetarian movement also began by the turn of the 18th century, in utopist and romantic circles linked to the theosophical movement. Jean-Antoine Gleïzès (1773-1843) launched a vegetarian crusade which created ripples especially in England and in Germany. Before the first world war, a few hygienist medical outfits highlighted the benefits of a vegetarian diet which included eggs, milk, cheese and cream. They founded the Vegetarian Society of France, which especially gathered non conformist doctors, teachers and members of the protestant clergy. From 1918 onwards, the vegetarians were to be mainly found among those disappointed with official medicine and were on the lookout for alternative methods of cure.

- In Germany, the first vegetarian association was created in 1867 by Edouard Baltzer. It was connected to the “natural life” movement. Vegetarian associations came up in the whole of Germany between late 19th century and early 20th century, around the theme of natural life but also the fight against poverty and the abolition of private property. The first vegetarian world congress took place in Dresden in 1908. During the Nazi period, vegetarian associations were persecuted even though Hitler proclaimed himself vegetarian, and even as a vegan (testimonials prove that in reality his vegetarianism was intermittent). The vegetarian movement developed in Germany in the post-second world war period.

- In the 21st century, in the West, an extremist movement which claimed to be revolutionary and anticapitalist has come to the fore and is based on the defense of animals: Veganism (from English vegan). This pertains to strict vegans who not only refrain from consuming animal products, but also from dressing up in leather, wool, from using cosmetics containing animal by-products and who are opposed to medicines tested on animals. This movement seems to be connected to illegal ecologist movements such as the Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF and anti-speciesism, a concept founded in 1974 by Richard Ryder and made popular in 1975 by Peter Singer. Anti-speciesism questions the definitions of species by considering only "sensitive individuals" (animals and within their fold human beings). The prevalent idea of man being superior to animals is considered as being racist, animal breeding is likened to slavery and the killing of animals is likened to committing murder.

1) Introduction <- To -> 3) Principles --- 4) Cuisine

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3 - The principles of vegetarianism

Over and above religious, ethical or environmental beliefs, the main argument which is being currently advanced by vegetarians deals with health.

Resemblance with the current official notion of dietetics.

The nutritive value of foodstuffs and the conception of digestion are identical to the basic principles of the current official notion of dietetics.

Differences with the current official notion of dietetics.

The advocates of vegetarian or vegan dietetics believe that a balanced diet can be achieved without consuming animal proteins. They even feel that the consumption of animal products is one of the causes of a few present-day diet related diseases: cardiovascular diseases, obesity, cholesterol...

Animal products contribute proteins and nutrients which are either lacking or barely present in vegetables (vitamins B12, A, D and K, some amino-acids and fatty acids). The main risk of following a vegetarian diet consists in it ending up to be an imbalanced diet. This is the reason why vegetarians and vegans ought to have proper knowledge of the nutritive value of the foodstuffs consumed by them.

Vegetarian pyramid developed by a vegetarian dietitian: Laurence Livernais-Saettel - Dietobio
Vegetarian pyramid developed by a vegetarian dietitian:
Laurence Livernais-Saettel - Dietobio

In order to enjoy a balanced diet, vegetarians compensate for the absence of animal products with an increased consumption of foodstuffs providing vegetable proteins: soya, lentils, quinoa, seaweed (including spirulina, a green algae mainly found in China). It is also recommended to eat sprouted grains and dairy products (for the vegetarians). It is also advisable for vegetarians to vary their fruit and vegetable intake, reduce fats, eat whole products (brown rice, whole wheat bread), and dry fruits.

In order to avoid some amino acid deficiencies, it is recommended to make dietary combinations within the same meal so as to strike a balance in the protein intake and to combine cereals with dry fruits, cheese, green vegetables or eggs. Vegans who eat neither eggs nor dairy products must pay even more attention to the cereal and vegetable combinations.

In particular, lack of consumption of dairy products may lead to calcium deficiency and it is advisable to privilege fruits and vegetables rich in calcium (green leafy vegetables, cruciferers, citrus fruits...).

A few vegans take vitamin B12 supplements in order to avoid these deficiencies.

Vegetarians in the West have gone looking for animal protein substituting food products in Asian cultures: tofu (a curdled soya milk spread of Chinese origin), miso (a fermented and highly salty spread of Japanese origin, made from soya and rice or barley), tempeh (fermented soya seeds of Indonesian origin), soya milk.

It is however recommended to properly supervise the diet of children, pregnant women, the sick and the aged in order to avoid some dietary deficiencies, which could prove to be detrimental to fragile populations.

A well balanced diet seems perfectly compatible with intense physical activity: Dalip Singh Rana, the world body building champion in 1997 and 1998, the world champion of WWE wrestling in 2007, is a vegetarian. Of Indian origin and living in USA, and aged 36 years he is 2.10 m tall and weighs 190 kg.

1) Introduction --- 2) History <- To -> 4) Cuisine

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4 - Vegetarian cuisine

Vegetarian cuisine does not contain any animal product based recipes, but its recipes are in general identical to recipes to be found in non vegetarian cuisine. The use of substitutes of animal proteins even allows coming up with recipes which usually use meats and fish: vegetable pies, vegetable delicatessen, stews.

While Western cuisine, owing to its cultural origins, favours meats and fish as the main dish, vegetarian cuisine has managed to diversify fruit and vegetable based recipes seeking inspiration from vegetarian cuisines the world over and by incorporating exotic products. Western cuisine has incorporated these new vegetarian recipes quite naturally and the readers of women's magazines often / may find recipes of zucchini pie or vegetable curry in these magazines.

1) Introduction --- 2) History --- 3) Principles <- To

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