Elaine Dodson Beauty & Wellness

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Different Vegetarian Diets

There are many different diets that are all encompassed in the term “vegetarian,” and I have tried them all. Some, like the Natural Hygiene diet (virtually all raw foods – seeds, nuts, grains, fruits and vegetables only) and the Macrobiotic diet (mostly well-cooked foods, seasonal foods, no sugar or dairy and very little fruit) are designed, in my opinion, for times when one needs to heal from illness. Although I, personally, cannot maintain myself permanently on the discipline and restrictions of these diets, I know many people who would eat no other way. I frequently adopt principles, recipes, and eating styles from various systems as my needs and wants dictate. The point is that any and all of these diets work.

What do I mean by the word “work”? What I mean is that all of these systems are valid in the sense that they will keep your body healthy, energized and vitalized and your mind clean and clear. How do you choose one over the other? I think everyone has individual likes and dislikes, as well as individual body type that must be considered. Again, I do not preach faddishness or fundamentalism. Once the basic strengths and weaknesses of a particular diet are understood, then it can be adapted into a personalized system that fulfills your needs, tastes and objectives in a way that the Standard American Diet (SAD) never could.

Vegan Diet

A vegan will eat no foods of animal origin, including eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt. Their diet consists of grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Vegans may eat raw or cooked foods, although there are different subsets within this class of diet that may abstain from one or the other, such as natural hygienists.

Many vegetarians eventually become vegans because they realize they can eat a nutritious, varied diet without consuming eggs or milk. Also, many who have lactose intolerance and cannot digest dairy products must choose this type of diet.

Veganism is the most respected diet among vegetarians because it totally eliminates exploitation of animals, and people who become vegetarians for ethical reasons are often pure vegans.

Macrobiotic Diet

The key concept of macrobiotics is the need to balance yin and yang energies. The concept is that health is a balance and harmony between complimentary energies, not combat among opposing ones. It is the balance between our inner and outer environment, between mental and physical activity, between cooked and raw food, between salt and oil, and between countless other interrelated factors. Yin and yang, the universal forces of expansion and contraction, create all phenomena. The term macrobiotic comes from two Greek words, macro, meaning long or great, and biotic, meaning life.

On the extreme yang end of the food spectrum are meat, poultry, eggs, hard dairy foods, and refined salt that are too contracted for regular consumption. On the extreme yin end, soft dairy foods, tropical fruits and vegetables, honey and sugar, coffee and other stimulants, and alcohol are too expansive for ordinary use. Between these two extremes is a central category of foods that are more balanced and appropriate for daily human consumption. These include whole grains, beans, vegetables, sea vegetables, seeds and nuts, and locally grown fruits.

Although I do not follow a macrobiotic diet strictly, I always come back to it when I am off balance or need to get rid of some extra weight. The diet gives me lots of energy and I do not feel so full after I eat. Because there is no dairy, sugar or meat, there is more balance. For example, when you allow yourself to have that dessert more often, the sugar craving takes over and you want sugar every day. A blander diet also stops that overeating problem many of us have. I recommend you start by finding a cooking class. Because it is a lifestyle, the macrobiotic diet has many facets. In almost every major city there are restaurants that strictly serve macrobiotic, and most offer cooking classes.

Lacto-Vegetarian Diet

The lacto-vegetarian diet is a vegetarian diet that allows the consumption of dairy products in addition to fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds and nuts. Milk products are important to the diet because they are excellent sources for protein, calcium, riboflavin and other essential nutrient. Processed dairy products are also, for most people, easy to digest. In countries like Sweden, Denmark, Britain, and Australia, where life expectancy is among the highest in the world, the per capita consumption of milk and milk products is four times higher than in the United States.

This diet is the easiest to adopt and maintain long term and also the least traumatic for people who are making the transition from eating meat. But be aware that you need to watch the fat content of your diet, as many new vegetarians tend to overcompensate when they quit eating meat by eating too much dairy and cheese and fatty foods. The perils of fat are well known today. Aside from overweight, too much dietary fat will lead to high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, increased risk of stroke and heart disease, liver cirrhosis, and many other complications usually associated with a meat- centered diet.

To be safe, then, keep your fat intake below 15 percent of your diet. Do so by limiting your consumption of fatty foods, especially whole milk and cheese (cheddar cheese is the fattiest of all cheeses); nuts such as walnuts, cashews, and peanuts; mayonnaise, butter, margarine, and salad dressing. One of the problems when trying to limit your fat consumption is avoiding "disguised" fats. Peanut butter contains 50 percent fat, nuts have 60 percent, and cheese is 35 percent. Pie and ice cream contain as much as 20 percent fat.

Ayurvedic Diet

Under the general classification of lacto-vegetarian diets is a comprehensive system called Ayurveda. It is an ancient holistic system of health maintenance that is indigenous to and widely practiced in India. The word Ayurveda is a Sanskrit term that can be roughly translated as meaning “science of life.” It encompasses not only science but a philosophy as well. In Ayurveda, the whole of life’s journey is considered to be sacred.

The guiding principle of Ayurveda is that the mind exerts the deepest influence on the body, and freedom from sickness depends upon contacting our own awareness, bringing it into balance and then extending that balance to the body.

Although we perceive our bodies to be solid, they are constantly changing and renewing. We acquire new stomach linings every five days. Our skin is new every five weeks. Every year, fully 98 percent of the total atoms in our body is replaced. Ayurvedic medicine gives us the tools to intervene at the level where we are being recreated new each day.

In Ayurveda, everything in our universe is perceived as being composed of five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. These five elements form the basis for all things, from the individual’s constitution to the tastes of food. Balancing the elements is key to maintaining health and successfully healing illness, whether physical or mental.

Unlike traditional Western medicine, Ayurveda is not confined to the healing of disease in a superficial treatment of symptoms. Instead, it evaluates the complete body-mind of the individual. It sees medicine and diet as complementary rather than separate. No one can expect to retain vitality, recover from disease, or succeed in the practice of yoga without the appropriate knowledge of the powerful effect diet has on physical health, mental clarity and spiritual progress.

Indeed, Ayurveda places great emphasis on diet as an integral part of the successful practice of any spiritual discipline. Like macrobiotic philosophy, Ayurveda stresses balance and harmony, but through the concept of prana, or “life force, energy.” Any imbalance of prana in our body can be experienced as illness, discomfort or pain. Harmony is expressed in a healthy body through balance of breath, food, water, sunshine, exercise and sleep.

The Ayurvedic preparation of recipes is most exquisite in its exotic tastes, aromas, textures and colors. When people raised on a traditional meat-oriented diet shift to a vegetarian style of eating as practiced in the West, they often experience positive changes in their health. But when they try Ayurvedic recipes, they discover a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. Their whole system responds to the nourishment that comes from the subtle tastes and aromas of the special blend of spices. These subtle spices and aromas play a vital role in bringing us to a deeper level of health and well-being.

Have an open mind and try things that have been proven for thousands of years. Following is a subset of Ayurveda, called the Sattvic Diet. It is a pure lacto-vegetarian diet that has many benefits.

Sattvic Diet

The Sattvic diet is called the Meditator’s Diet. It is a part of Ayurveda that is used to maintain high energy, develop the brain, have peacefulness in our lives, and remain karma free.

Ideally, any food you eat is turned into nutrients. At the breast, a baby naturally turns his mother’s milk into nutrients, but it would take a remarkable digestive tract to produce nutrition from a leftover pizza. An excellent, balanced diet can be planned around the foods that turn into nutrition with the least effort on your body's part. Ayurveda calls these sattvic, or pure, foods.

On a more general level, a Sattvic Diet contains:

  • Light, soothing, easily digested food
  • Fresh produce
  • Spring water, ozonated or clean water
  • Balance of all six tastes – sweet, sour (lemony), salty, pungent (spicy), astringent (watery), and bitter
  • Moderate portions

Milk is currently out of fashion in health circles, because of milk’s link with digestive problems, allergies, and high cholesterol. Ayurveda holds that most of the objections to milk have to do with consuming it improperly. Milk should be boiled before drinking, which makes it more digestible. It can be drunk hot, warm, or cool, but never ice cold, straight out of the refrigerator. Milk should not be taken with tastes that conflict with it (pungent, sour, salty) but only with other sweet foods (such as grains, sweet fruits, and cereals).Milk is currently out of fashion in health circles, because of milk’s link with digestive problems, allergies, and high cholesterol. Ayurveda holds that most of the objections to milk have to do with consuming it improperly. Milk should be boiled before drinking, which makes it more digestible. It can be drunk hot, warm, or cool, but never ice cold, straight out of the refrigerator. Milk should not be taken with tastes that conflict with it (pungent, sour, salty) but only with other sweet foods (such as grains, sweet fruits, and cereals).

Food is meant to be eaten fresh, right off the stove or right out of the garden--the fresher the better, and the easier to digest. Old food and leftovers, even when reheated, do not produce balanced and proper nutrition. Frozen food in general is also good to avoid. Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes destroys the body’s capacity to assimilate nutrition. Air and water pollution are equally detrimental.

Finally, here are a few more tips, handed down in the Ayurvedic tradition, aimed at maximizing nutrition. The best possible foods for the body are fruits, vegetables and dairy products from your area, as these foods have thrived on the same air, water, nutrients and sunlight that you grow on. Have your largest meal at lunch, when digestion is strongest. Dinner should be a modest meal that can be digested before bedtime; breakfast is optional and should be your smallest meal of the day. Eat at the same time every day. Besides not snacking, avoid eating at night, which disturbs your digestive rhythms and disturbs your sleep from the food that is undigested. Dine either alone or with people you genuinely like--family is best. Negative emotions, whether yours, the cook’s, or those of the people around you, have a harmful effect on digestion.

Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian Diet

The lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet is one I do not recommend. This diet includes eggs as well as dairy products. It does not include the flesh of animals, so, technically, it is a vegetarian diet.

The yolk of the egg is the single highest source of cholesterol in the average American diet, as well as a source of highly saturated fats. Eating two eggs a day can dangerously increase your serum cholesterol, among other problems. Also, it is a very concentrated food and can, as a result, be highly loaded with chemical residues, pesticides, hormones and insecticides.

Finding What Works For You

“One should not accept more than what he requires for the maintenance of the body.” Sri-Isopanisad

After personally living with and adopting many different diets and systems, one thing I am still learning is that one must take into consideration how different foods react in your own stomach and then judge if it works for you.

I would always go to the extreme and do everything I was supposed to do in each case, even if it did not settle right with my particular situation. Because I always respect my teacher at the time, I faithfully follow the diet system to the extreme. This is my nature. I always go to the max.

Usually I end up having some type of stomach problems, too much gas, bloating, whatever, until I remember each person is an individual with their own specific problems and they must adapt the system to their own innate nature.

When I went totally into the diet Deepak Chopra suggests, Ayurveda, I was having some problems with so much dairy in my diet, and he personally told me, “Well, then cut the dairy down.” I did so, and felt much better.

Most systems should be used simply as a guide, and it is vital to be in touch with your body’s reaction because it is such an individual thing. I also know that the mind plays a part as well. I have found it important to start a new system slowly and allow the changes to take place gradually. I also find that patience is my ally. Give something new sufficient time before you judge. It takes time, up to three months, for you to realize benefit from a change. So be patient with yourself.

  Elaine Dodson Beauty & Wellness