Saturday, April 06, 2013

Quinoa and Soy: the story of health, fashion and starvation

This is my comeback post. My views leanheavily towards traditional diets matched to geographical area of residence. Iwanted to start by focusing on two of the biggest intruders in the area of ancientfoods. They are ancient foods themselves. Keep reading for a classic story ofhow too much good in the wrong place and time can be indistinguishable from evil. 

Both quinoa and soy aren't grains, but they are the faddestgrain-alternatives to hit us in a long while. They are not only high inprotein, they are even complete proteins, a very rare feat in the plantkingdom. For Indians, they fit very nicely into our regimented world oftraditional foods. Quinoa substitutes for sabudana and rava so well in upmasand pulaos (the aftertaste is a sacrifice at the altar of one's health -whatever that may mean these days). And soy, well it substitutes for anything,for grains of course, for beans, for milk and more popularly, in its heavily processedform, for meat.

What follows is a story of the devastation that has trailed behindthese incredibly versatile grains (or grainoids). There are untold storiesbehind every fad, behind every new super-food that will “transform yourhealth”. Changing traditional diets comes with a cross that we must bear, orthat others must bear for us.

High protein: check. Traditionalfood: check. Low fat: check. No dead animals: check. In fact the New York Times notesthat NASA scientists declared quinoa to be the perfect balanced food for spacemissions.

The untold back story of Quinoa exploded with a  NYTimes article in early 2011. Several othermagazines have since noted that Quinoa’s price in Bolivia has tripled since 2006 making it unaffordable to many of those that cultivate it. In Lima, chicken isnow cheaper than quinoa and of course imported junk food is too, as it is anywhereelse. Somehow high processing costs + high transportation costs alwaystranslate to super cheap food. Sadly, over the same time period, quinoaconsumption in Bolivia has dropped by a third, being replaced by rice, noodlesand junk food. Malnutrition among children in quinoa-growing areas has risen.

Diverse rotation farming in Peru and Bolivia has turned intomono-cropping of quinoa over the years, a very dangerous practice potentiallystripping soil of nutrients, and creating an extremely unbalanced environment.An article published in 2010 in The Guardian noted a similar story withasparagus cultivation (also in Peru). Asparagus is a water intensive vegetablethat has caused drought like conditions in its native Inca valley, with amassive decrease in the water table. Mono cropping is involved in soycultivation as well, and will continue to be a cultivation method for all fadfoods that have a sudden increase in demand.

Vegetarians are one of the biggest markets for Quinoa and Soy.Given that the ethics of veganism hinges heavily on ecological destruction dueto confined lot animal operations (i.e., factory farms), the ecologicalfootprint of soy (which is the go-to food of choice for a majority of convertedvegetarians) is ironical: Soy cultivation is one of the two main reasons fordeforestation of the Amazon (the other being cattle ranching, quitejustly). 

The upsides to the stories are similar. Asparagus cultivation hasresulted in 10,000 new jobs in the Inca valley, leaving us with the question:should one buy asparagus from Peru so the farmers can go to work, or not buy itso their children don’t face drought? Ditto for Quinoa, except the scale ofjobs created in Peru and Bolivia is much higher.

But we don’t really buy Soy and Quinoa because we can send morepeople in the Altiplano to work. Neither do we eat them because they are tasty(most people can attest that both foods have a highly acquired taste, theactivation energy for which is high enough that you would have to besufficiently motivated otherwise).

Traditional food habits of Asians have long been a justificationfor the safety of eating Soy. But as much respected food author and sciencewriter Michael Pollan says, there isn’t really much record of any cultureeating as much soy in as many forms as is being consumed now. Quinoa, or theother hand hasn’t been modified much yet. It is likely safe, but perhapsunnecessary.

The point that I hope this discussion leads to is: Eat local. Eattraditional. Eat traditional and local if you can. What if traditional isvegetarian? Can one eat local and vegetarian? I am not sure, if you don’t livein a tropical country. For sure, one can’t eat local and vegan in temperateclimates. What does one eat in winter? What then, is the most ethical way toeat?

The scale is tight: there lie “health”, animal welfare andfashionable tastes on one side, and ecological devastation, malnutrition,genetic modification and jobs on the other. What will you choose?


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nutriiveda - looking for an impartial forum

04/9/2013: There are neutral and impartial groups and blogs available to discuss Nutriiveda and other interventions, both on Facebook and on Yahoo groups. Please look around and be aware that NOTHING works for everyone.

Hello fellow moms in the Autism journey (and other journeys)...

My son started on Nutriiveda (Original Formula) last week. While the website and the seller that promote Nutriiveda (Pursuit of Research) claim a 100% success rate, just a casual perusal of the world wide web indicates that this is not the case.

We started as suggested, after stopping all other supplements that he was on. The above mentioned sources also mention a turn-around time of 3-4 days, which have passed, with not many changes. In fact, he developed a rash, and his mood has been somewhat worse.

I am looking for an impartial forum where Nutriiveda might be discussed. Apparently the Apraxia yahoo group, where Nutriiveda is predominantly discussed, is actually moderated by the seller, making this a huge conflict of interest.

We have stopped Nutriiveda for now (after 4 days), and he is back to his supplements to see if the slight regression will reverse. However, "die-off" is always a convenient explanation, and I am debating whether to stick to it and keep moving or not.

I would love some impartial advice, and I am hoping a google search of Nutriiveda will lead someone here!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ghee Wiz! Fat In Not Fat Out

Also titled: How misinformation about fats is killing our food and health:

The low-fat diet is endemic in India. After seeing old people, young people, nice people, bad people, with a diagnosis of high cholesterol (most often with a co-diagnosis of high blood sugar) religiously shunning fats, and substituting carbs, it was time to unfurl the research (if there was any). 

I had started off assuming that all fat was ok, based on the intake of traditional diets around the world, going off on a further assumption that traditional diets were usually right, (especially, in the geographical location that invented the diet, i.e., South Indian diets are good, and more definitely so in South India). I was very relived to find that a lot of research supports this, and I finally had content for my next post. Note: not all research does. It sees and it saws. But the trend is swinging steadily and solidly back to say that fats are ok, and refined carbs are the culprit in heart disease.

Note: The one thing I do feel uncomfortable about is being in the position of "telling people what to eat". And this post is not intended to do that. It is intended to show how a section of possibly biased research combined with new-fangled food processing techniques has completely reversed our eons of traditional understanding of how and what to eat.

Rap to the beats of:

Eat what your Ma ate. 
If you don’t live there, then wait...
Eat what your neighbor’s Ma ate.

If you neighbor is not a a nate (ive)
Eat what his neighbor’s Ma ate.

If she didn’t eat all that great,
Eat what your Ma’s Ma ate.

If that was a moderately similar plate,
Eat what your Ma’s Ma’s Ma ate.

Myth 1: Eating fat increases cholesterol, risk of heart disease, etc.

Even the younger brother of this myth (eating fat makes you fat) is false. There is NO evidence pointing to this. Gram for Gram, fat packs more calories than carbs. So if you overdose on fats, you can gain more calories that if you overdose on carbs. But there is nothing else in fats that “makes you fat”. In fact fats are very satiating (make you full more easily), and may reduce calorie consumption.

Coming to the older brother, cholesterol. The guy that started this myth was called Ancel Keys. He is really famous in the nutrition community (and even graced the cover of Time in the 70s). He published a very famous study called the “Seven country study” where he studied people in seven countries and tried to draw correlations between fat intake and heart disease. And he found that higher fat intake correlated with higher incidence of heart disease. 

Even in those days, a significant portion of the scientific community discredited his work. Recent analysis has found that he had data available from 22 countries. If he had included all that data, he would have found NO correlation. There are allegations that Ancel Keys cherry picked his data. Gary Taubes, an eminent science reporter, and author of “Good Calories, Bad Calories” has a great summary of Mr. Keys’s research methods.

This is a classic case of a hypothesis being repeated so often that it has come to be regarded as truth.

An excellent summary of available historical data (available in youtube) by Andrea Garber, Associate Professor in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at UCSF actually shows that most studies have found no changes in weight loss, or cholesterol levels in people that follow low-fat diets (50,000 women were followed over 8 years).

In fact studies have found that low-fat diets may increase LDL cholesterol levels relative to low-carb diets.

Myth 2: Saturated fat is heart-unhealthy

Back to Mr. Ancel Keys. The data on this is so contradictory that it is a wonder it is accepted as truth. Yes, there is some data showing that saturated fat increases cholesterol levels. But there is a some data showing that it makes no difference at all, and actually has the same risks as excess refined carbohydrate intake.

Harvard school of Public health has 10 years worth of studies proving that total fat intake has no correlation with heart disease. And they also found that increasing saturated fat intake has the same effects on heart health as increasing refined carbohydrate consumption.

A collaboration between Harvard School of Public Health and the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute analyzed data spanning 5-23 years and 350,000 people, and saw.... guess what? NO correlation between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease.

Myth 3: My doctor says to avoid saturated fat. He must be correct.

Oh, the things your doctor doesn’t know about nutrition would fill a book... Nutrition and medical science seem like they should go hand in hand. But, they don’t. Nutrition is just not taught sufficiently in medical schools. Also, the field is evolving. You'd be better off consulting your grandmother for diet advice.

So listen to your doctor when he is reading test results, but do your own research when looking up diet-based solutions.

Myth 4: Saturated fat is bad, so ghee and coconut oil must be bad. 

Nope. Saturated fat can be short-chain, medium-chain, or long-chain fatty acids. Now, short-chain and medium-chain fatty acids are converted into energy very quickly. The process of metabolism is VERY different and much shorter than that of long-chain fatty acids (typically animal derived).

Coconut Oil is almost all medium-chain, and there is research showing how quickly it is metabolized, and how it can actually help with increasing HDL (good cholesterol), decreasing LDL (bad cholesterol) and lo and behold: decreasing weight.

Research on animal husbandry operations has shown that animals that are fed coconut oil lost weight and became toned, which made it necessary for feedlot owners to feed them unsaturated fats like corn oil, sunflower oil, etc to fatten them.


The numbers: Ghee is only 65% saturated (well the only is my take), and 25% short- and medium chain fatty acids. So it is also more easily metabolized than most other saturated fat of animal origin.

I can’t emphasize this enough: there is NO evidence (at least that I have seen) showing any association of increased ghee consumption with cardiovascular disorders. There have been tons of studies in India. Ghee has been shown to be anti-carcinogenic, good for HDL, anti-inflammatory, and a host of other good things. But high and bad LDL cholesterol? Nope.

Myth 5: Unsaturated oils are good for health. Saffola, Sunola, Canola, etc.

They are unstable at high temperatures, easy to oxidize, have actually been shown in some studies to be carcinogenic if heated to high temperatures.

Most of the “refined” oils that we use are already heated to extract them from the seed efficiently. Heating heated oil, is like re-using your deep-frying oil for cooking. 

These oils are best used cold-pressed, and un-refined, and when used for low to medium temperature cooking.

Summary of stuff above (not in rap format, though I can try on request):
  • 85% of the cholesterol in your body comes from ... your body. Only 15% comes from your diet. So eat that egg, drink the full fat milk. It is ok, in moderation.
    • A side note on the milk: homogenized, ultra-pasteurized milk is not real milk, especially non-fat. Vitamins in milk are fat-soluble. If there is no fat, there are no vitamins. Most lactose intolerances can be traced back to homogenization.
    • Just as egg-whites alone are not real eggs.
  • Cholesterol in your blood is glue or healing ointment to heal inflammation in arteries. If you have high cholesterol, you have high inflammation due to some stressor, either dietary, environmental or otherwise.
  • Low-fat diets do not reduce cholesterol: there is very little research to prove this and abundant research to disprove this. Replacing fat with sugar and refined carbs increases risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Saturated fats are not bad, in moderation.
  • Remember, refined carbohydrates, not fats have a higher association with risk of cardiovascular disease (cholesterol, triglycerides, other indicators).
  • Heart disease risk is related to diabetes and pre-diabetes risk, both common in populations very dependent on carbohydrates (especially refined), and skimping on fats and proteins.
  • Coconut oil is different from saturated fats (westerners usually mean animal based saturated fats when they use the term). Coconut oil is awesome. It gives close to instant energy, and is NOT stored in your body as fat. There is a ton of research chronicling the cardiovascular and other health benefits of coconut oil.
  • Ghee is awesome too. High smoke point (can tolerate high temperatures), anti-carcinogenic, increases HDL, does not increase LDL, can soothe wounds, the list really goes on.
  • Final caveat: everything in moderation. Eat as your ma (or her ma) ate. 
  • This is what my Ma’s Ma’s Ma ate when she was young:
  1. Unrefined groundnut oil
  2. Coconut Oil
  3. Ghee
  4. No hydrogenated fats (Dalda and the like)
  5. Milk from the milkman (no hormones, not homogenized or pasteurized, no milk powder)
  6. Organic vegetables
  7. Rice that was hulled, not polished
  8. Whole grains, like wheat and millet.
  9. Minimal sugar (a lot of it was unrefined jaggery)
  1. Henry Blackburn, MD. Overview: The Seven Countries Study in Brief.  
  2. Gary Taubes. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health.
  3. Ravnskov, U. The questionable role of saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in cardiovascular disease. J Clin Epidemiol. 1998;51(6):443-60.
  4. Sally Fallon. Nourishing Traditions
  5. Low-fat dietary pattern and risk of cardiovascular disease: the Women's Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial
  6. Andrea Garber, UCSF. Fad Diets: what really works for Weight Loss. 
  7. Andrew Weil. Fat or Carbs, which is worse. 
  8. Harvard School of Public Health. Fats and Cholesterol, Out with the bad, in with the good
  9. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91:535-46.
  10. Micha R, Mozaffarian D. Saturated fat and cardiometabolic risk factors, coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a fresh look at the evidence. Lipids. 2010;45:893-905.
  11. Astrup A, Dyerberg J, Elwood P, et al. The role of reducing intakes of saturated fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: where does the evidence stand in 2010? Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93:684-8.
  12. Feranil AB, Duazo PL, Kuzawa CW, Adair LS. Coconut oil is associated with a beneficial lipid profile in pre-menopausal women in the Philippines. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2011;20(2):190-5.
  13. Papamandjaris AA, MacDougal DE, Jones PJ. Medium chain fatty acid metabolism and energy expenditure: obesity treatment implications. 1998;62(14):1203-15.
  14. Kumar, PD. The role of coconut and coconut oil in coronary heart disease in Kerala, South India. Trop Doct. 1997 Oct;27(4):215-7. 
  15. Gupta R, Prakash H. Association of dietary ghee intake with coronary heart disease and risk factor prevalence in rural males. J Indian Med Assoc. 1997 Mar;95(3):67-9, 83.
  16. Kumar MV, Sambaiah K, Lokesh BR. Effect of dietary ghee--the anhydrous milk fat, on blood and liver lipids in rats. J Nutr Biochem. 1999 Feb;10(2):96-104.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Respect: beyond the pro-life and pro-choice arguments

I have no religious biases towards a "pro-life" point of view. And I think this entire debate going on in the western world misses the point most of the time. Yet it bothers me every time a doctor has "advised" me or another mother to make sure that the foetus is "healthy" and when a doctor asks me "if I didn't know about Sid before he was born".

It bothers me that homogenization is seen as a virtue from milk to people with 46 chromosomes. We respect and celebrate diversity in every other part of our life. Yet, a child with a disability is primarily a tax burden, not a contributor to this diversity (and the word disability should be in quotes because much is treatable today). This is the reason hospitals push tests over and over again.

How is it that to bring differently abled kids to earth is to burden society? It is regretfully the current view of suffering (we have been led to believe that to be different from the throng is to suffer), and of happiness (read: we are happy when we pay less taxes and when the world is utterly homogenized; and once we all have perfectly blue-eyed children there will no more suffering in the world). No offense to those with blue-eyed children, I think they are really cute.

Unfortunately, in a topic that I think should be about (a) human values and ethics, and (b) understanding of the real causes of suffering, the predominant views are religious and "progressive" and of course they have no middle ground. The minute an argument arises from your religion's perspective, you alienate over 50% of the world that does not share your religion. And this sort of argument can never change anything for the better. You are simply shifting the homogenization to your religion and your views.

We respect eco-diversity, we go to lengths to see that species are not extinguished, we realize that nature in the wild hangs in delicate balance, and every species that is endangered potentially endangers this balance. Yet we run campaigns and brainwash people into exterminating people with Trisomy 21. We are convinced that this is easier for us and better for society. It is just as easy as exterminating a girl child is easy. And it is as biased and short-sighted.

I am trying to end my blogs by bringing threads together with "what I am trying to say" section. I realize that I have biases in this discussion. I also realize that not everybody can take on new challenges, and for some people any unexpected challenge can tip them over the cliff of their precariously balanced life. But most of us, I imagine, do not live like that. While I respect that we all have a choice in whatever we do, in the children we have, there is still room for openness and acceptance of the new and extraordinary. Perhaps when we stretch our arms in new directions, we will find (like many have before us) strange and new horizons open up, and a richness and newness to our days (challenging as they may be) that was unimaginable before.

As a side note, I have seen several news items about kids with DS being abandoned in Indian hospitals.  Aamir Khan's show on female foeticide is on everybody's mind this week (and I hope it will be for more than a week). I naively thought there could be discussion about this rampant bias through the world (and India) against fetuses with genetic abnormalities that are labeled inferior. But I now realize that a culture that does not care about taking the life of a 50% shareholder in the population can never even begin to care about children that bear the stigma of being under developed and burdens to society.

Respect first and foremost, respect women, respect children, respect diversity and the world will be fine.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

South Indians, low fat diets and the cholesterol drama

Let's start out with facts. South Indians (at least the majority of them), and in particular the Tamil vegetarian community have one of the lightest fat diets in the world, low in fat (high in simple carbs of course). And every aunty-uncle couple I have met has some combination of diabetes and cholesterol between them. Of course this has spread beyond the realm of aunties and uncles now to ages very uncomfortably close to my own. (We'll leave the discussion of whether I am an aunty myself to another time).

Yet, every reaction to the high cholesterol diagnosis has been to lower fat further, go to fat-free milk, remove whatever ghee was remaining, dismissing the tadka, etc.... you get the gist. I recently read in several places that Indians have among the highest rates of heart disease anywhere. Sally Fallon's "Nourishing Traditions" quotes from another study that North Indians who eat 17 times as much fat as South Indians have 7 times less heart disease! Both of these indicate that South Indians have the highest burden of heart disease in the entire world (yes, not the red meat eaters of Europe and North America, not the only-meat-eating Inuits, but the largely vegetarian South Indians). And while I don't have a reference for this statement by itself, I can state just by anecdotes that this is probably true.

So, do we have all of our nutritional science wrong? Is a low-fat vegetarian diet not the magic antidote we have been chasing? Well, from a few limited interviews of my mother and aunts, I gathered that in the olden days, "Madrasis" didn't really die that much of heart disease. My mother remembers several natural deaths. I can't say that I have seen even one (North or South, East or West). Sally Fallon, to prove her point against low-fat diets piles a whole lot of adjectives on "Madrasis" - puny, ailing, life span of 20 years (!!) and so on. A lot of this is from quite-suspect anecdotes by some pukka-sahibs in the early 1900s- suspect because I don't currently know very many puny and ailing Madrasis (oh, how I passionately hate this term, and the abuse that it has endured), and I won't even deign to comment on the life-span.

The point being that our traditional diet in our traditional climate didn't hurt us too bad. But that diet has changed. Our rice used to be hulled, not polished (making it a slightly more complex carb with some fiber than the ultra-polished white rice we ingest now), our oils were cold-pressed by chekku maadu-s (and didn't potentially oxidize at the high-heats that solvent-extracted oils are subjected to), our milk was raw, hormone-free, non-homogenized, and our vegetables and fruits were organic. Also this food gelled well with our super hot summers and non-existent winters.

Cholesterol, it turns out, is less of a final problem, and more of an indicator. It (LDL) is produced by our livers as a repair agent, to fix inflamed tissue, such as in arteries. High cholesterol is therefore an indicator of high inflammation, or damaged tissue. It also has been shown that more than 85% of our cholesterol is produced by our liver (as opposed to 15% from food), making reducing our diet fat quite useless in reducing cholesterol. Our concern should be more about why the tissue is damaged in the first place rather than lowering the cholesterol (which no doubt frees up clogs in our arteries, but leaves them damaged anyway). One of the unambiguous factors that have correlated with tissue damage is high blood sugar. The other one (although opinions differ on this one) is a diet deficient in fat soluble vitamins and high in vegetable oils.

What am I trying to say? Just that blindly obeying the dictats of modern medicine, that are based on a few years of possibly highly skewed research, has led us to a more unhealthy lifestyle very far from our roots. Tamil Brahmins reducing fat in their diet is the most extreme diet measure I have heard of. We know that people have lived long and healthy a certain way in a certain place. It is easiest to return even partially to that life, than to follow a largely unknown path, especially one that has proven over the years to be quite useless. Pass the ghee and the coconut oil, please. And make them organic and extra-virgin, while you are at it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Love your guts

Bacteria... This most maligned of species deserves an entire post (and several books and more) to itself. Our race has travelled long distances, been lost in various diseases, only to discover that the answer to every problem and the cause of every other problem is ... bacteria.

Lowering the drama a bit: I have been shocked and awed at the role that microbes (change of word) play in the human intestine. We have a gastro-intestinal (GI) tract with the surface area of a football field covered entirely (in a healthy human gut) by numerous species of beneficial and some not so good micro-organisms, all of which make up our gut wall providing selective permeability for what passes through.

It is known that a child in the womb has a sterile gut which gets populated through vaginal birth, breast feeding, and then through environmental interactions. The intestine is also the seat of our immune system. In short, bacterial imbalance = poor digestion = perhaps leaky intestine = brain sees stuff it should not see AND immune dysfunction = who knows what syndrome. Bad bacteria take over, yeast takes over, metabolizes sugars into alcohols, your gut barrier allows partially digested food to be absorbed into the blood, your brain (and immune system) sees stuff it never would have normally - and the brain fog begins.

It is amazing that gastroenterologists and neuro-physicians either do not know or will not tell you about the close link between microbial health and gut health, and between gut health and immune health, and between gut health and brain health.

My son has Autism. I didn't know this for the longest time, all symptoms being swept under the all-encompassing rug of Down Syndrome. But he has had all his vaccines, several courses of anti biotics, and every other onslaught on his immune system and gut flora that I could manage. Had I known that 10% of children with DS develop Autism, and had I known the gut-brain connection, things might have been different.

{You are probably wondering about the vaccine connection. The much-maligned Dr. Wakefield's research has now been confirmed by several independent studies (look at Dr. Bob Sears' "the Vaccine Book" for details: children with Autism do have inflammation in their intestines. And there does seem to be a correlation between some vaccines and this inflammation. In a child whose gut flora has already been compromised - read: immune system has been weakened - a further onslaught of a vaccine may prove to be the proverbial last straw that broke the camel's back}.

So Eat Fermented Food, made at home preferably. Stop over sanitizing yourself and your surroundings. How many under-sanitized third world countries do you know that have the overwhelming number of allergies that this country does? Educate yourself about vaccines, check your child's gut health before you vaccinate anyway. Use ear oil for ear infections, or see a chiropractor. Re-think the antibiotics. Why kill more of the good stuff yourself? Embrace the dust. Next time you are in India, remember how you lived as a child, dirty and disease-free. Symbiosis exists in our own body - love your bacteria. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ayurveda, Vegetarianism and the Weston Price/GAPS diet

Ever since I decided to take my son on the GAPS diet to heal Autism, I have been torn by the apparent conflict with Ayurvedic principles.  The GAPS diet calls for animal fat to be the basis of healing – including lard, ghee, butter, and fatty portions of meat. The GAPS book by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (Dr. NCM henceforth) goes to the extent of claiming that vegetarian diets are dangerous. While this statement alone should have pushed me off the book given that I come from a lineage that has eaten a lacto vegetarian diet for several hundred years (at a minimum), I stuck to it because the rest of the book made so much sense.

There are several arguments associated with the Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF) reasoning against a vegetarian diet. Some of them are based on Dr. Price’s tour of the world visiting native cultures and determining that all healthy cultures were those that consumed a traditional diet. However WAPF completely ignores the completely vegetarian populations of India, spanning several regions, each with its own flavor of vegetarianism [1].

There are several blog posts both for and against WAPF’s reasoning. My aim here is to simply present the points that strike me as WAPF’s biggest arsenal against vegetarian diets being healthy.

Low fat
The primary term associated with vegetarian diets is “low-fat”. In the GAPS community, this is almost a swear word. The concept of “low-fat” vegetarian diets might have originated with Dr. Dean Ornish [2] but this was likely in response to a increasingly processed way of eating which did rely on a lot of animal foods (processed again). There are no traditional vegetarian diets in India that try to be low-fat. Oil is used liberally in “tadkas”, where mustard (and other seeds and spices) are burst open in oil at its smoking point to release trace essential oils.

Vegetable Oils
Also the American vegetarian diet (a response to the factory-farmed processed meat industry) relies extensively on processed food. Most people aren’t familiar with a traditional way of cooking vegetables only without meat, and it is easier for them to eat out. Now processed foods will use cheap oils such as solvent extracted canola oil, soy oil made from GMO soy beans, etc. which contain primarily polyunsaturated fats that are not stable at high heats but are used at high temperatures anyway.

Traditional Indian vegetarian diets rely on ghee, sesame, coconut, or mustard oil, depending on the local crop. These oils are stable at relatively high temperatures, and were of course traditionally cold-pressed.

Protein, Iron and Vitamin deficiencies
Any diet that has survived a millennium cannot be anything but balanced. A population that is chronically deficient will by trial and error eventually switch to a balanced diet. Having said that, vegetarian sources of protein iron and B-vitamins are well known and we are not even talking about SOY here. Protein intake is very dependent on climatic and soil conditions and on the nature of local vegetation available. In that context, a traditional vegetarian diet usually evolves to include all essential nutrients in some form or other.

However there are no exclusive vegetarian diets in the Himalayan regions on India where vegetables are scarce in winter, and even the Kashmiri Brahmins eat meat (there are among the only Brahmins in India to do so, though some other Brahmins will eat fish – also rare).

Fermentation is a known source of probiotics and B-vitamins, and most regions in India eat some sort of fermented food in moderation. Lentils are eaten in abundance, typically with a ghee “tadka” to reduce the gassiness or Vata. In fact meat when eaten is eaten usually once a week, either as a treat or as a medicine.

Vegetarian diets today
Most of the comparison in the GAPS or Weston Price community seems to rely on a traditional meat eating diet versus a processed vegetarian diet (3). Some of  it sparingly refers to high heart disease among vegetarian Indians (3) without accounting for the onslaught of pesticides, hormones, and processing in current Indian food (courtesy the Green and White revolutions). This is inherently unfair.

Is a processed vegetarian diet better than a processed meat diet? Probably, because meat can bio-accumulate toxins. This also accounts for the popularity of the Ornish and MacDougall Diets.

Is a traditional diet better than a processed diet (whether veg or non-veg)? Of course!

Is a traditional vegetarian diet better than a traditional non-vegetarian diet? The answer is I don’t know. Physically, perhaps there is no difference. This is where I lean on Ayurveda, literally “the science of life”, the oldest system of traditional medicine. Meat is only considered a medicine, and that too only by some Vaidyas. Meat is said to increase Rajas and Tamas (or passion and inertia, as opposed to a calm, collected, intuitive stable nature or Sattva). This is now the realm of the mind, which eventually becomes the realm of the body. Yes, the body has to be addressed before the mind. But once there is health, per Ayurvedic principles, a wholesome traditional fresh vegetarian diet is most suitable for everybody.

Is a traditional vegetarian calmer than a traditional non-vegetarian? We really have very little data, except that historically India has not invaded any other country (though there have been internal invasions between kingdoms), and that India has always amalgamated all intruders to form a well-mixed accepting society, perhaps among the most truly secular in the world.  All I can say that you have to experiment on yourself to see if you are calmer when you don’t eat meat (but eat a balanced traditional vegetarian meal).

We know that every revered (or enlightened) saint (Buddhist or Hindu or Jain) has espoused vegetarianism and the doctrine of non-violence. And in eastern religions, it is generally believed that spiritual progress is difficult through a meat-eating diet.

I think there is some meat to the Sattvic theory (pun intended) and the doctrine of non-violence. But a vegetarian diet that is primarily non-organic, sourced from distant lands, based on processed foods and refined oils has violence embedded in the damage done to the ecosystem and to oneself.

And I will stick to the GAPS diet to see if it heals my son mostly because I haven't found a compelling alternative diet for Autism. But I will also attempt to go back to a sattvic vegetarian diet once he heals.

  1. An article by John Robbins:
  2. “The 3 Season Diet” by John Douillard.