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Vegetarianism – Is it Really a Big Deal?

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I’ve been a vegetarian since birth, if I can tell, and thousands of people like me born into a Brahmin community are, too. In Hinduism we are originally divided into different groups according to occupation. Brahmins were typically the educated and meant to teach others and were also priests. As society developed, Brahmins took on broader professions such as ministers, bankers, businessmen, etc. Some say that in Vedic times, Brahmins were permitted to eat the flesh of sacrificed animals. With the spread of Buddhism and Jainism, ahimsa, or non-violence, was also propagated as a key message of Hinduism to slow down conversions to those religions. After that, several Hindus, especially Brahmins, became vegetarians and this wasn’t a particularly difficult transition as they were only allowed to have sacrificial meat and no other meat anyway, so it wasn’t a big part of their lives. This is also not to say that all Brahmins are vegetarians, as some have remained meat/fish eaters. As far as I’m concerned, I mean no harm to animals and I’m a vegetarian. Now why am I talking about Hinduism, Brahmins and Vegetarians? The reason for this is that it comes as a bit of a surprise to me to see people being warned about the “pitfalls” of becoming vegetarian when that was the way of life for me and my ancestors without hesitation. Also, a quick look at my background can help you understand why I am surprised. If you have been to India before, particularly South India, you will find more vegetarian than non-vegetarian restaurants and usually the non-vegetarian restaurants will specifically state this on their name tag. On the contrary, I have yet to find a vegetarian restaurant in the western world I live in.

Having spent some time in a western country, I understand that meat is an important part of the diet and is hard to let go of. So for some, it’s probably a big deal. People often warn against a vegetarian diet because it is said to be low in protein. Proteins contain chains of amino acids that are converted into different types of amino acids during digestion and absorption. Some amino acids can be excreted by the body, but others are required from food. Plant-based foods should lack at least one of these essential amino acids. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get enough protein as a vegetarian. It’s simply a matter of combining foods – like combining grains with lentils and vegetables. It was interesting to read that some results show that excessive protein intake can potentially lead to osteoporosis and kidney problems (remember your kidneys have to work harder to absorb the amino acids). A balanced vegetarian diet should provide just enough protein in this way. Even if you are not able to get your balance in a single meal, you can always get your balance in a day. For example, let’s say you couldn’t get enough protein in your lunch, you can always eat some lentils and get the balance. You obviously don’t get the fat from meat on a vegetarian diet, and also because most plants are fibrous, a vegetarian diet is said to be more helpful in maintaining a healthy weight.

Now that the problem of not getting enough protein is out of the way, what else could keep you from going vegetarian? Could it be “limited” choice because most restaurants list macaroni cheese and salad as vegetarian on their menu, or could it be a fear of not pampering the palate because vegetarian is bland? If it’s one or both, I can assure you it’s a myth. While I can’t put more items on restaurant menus as I have no control over them, I can assure you that your menu list at home can get really long. As for flavor and aroma, who said spices didn’t work on veggies, grains, and fruits? Even with just a few ingredients, there are no limits to the type of dishes.

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By making healthy choices, you can very well be a vegetarian and enjoy eating. If you need help or inspiration to create beautiful vegetarian dishes, visit my blog

Thanks to Veena S

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