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: http://www.vegsource.com/news/2009/11/reflections-on-the-weston-a-price-foundation.html
  2. “The 3 Season Diet” by John Douillard.
  3. http://www.westonaprice.org/vegetarianism-and-plant-foods/myths-of-vegetarianism#7


Anonymous said...

"haven't found a compelling alternative diet for Autism." ? Have you looked into Body ecology diet? You could still remain a vegetarian and heal your child. Look into the bedrok forum (Body ecology diet recovering our kids). I could never step into the realm of Gaps because of all the meat. Raw foods are very healing when combined with Cultured vegetables (different from sauerkraut which have wild fermentation) and coconut kefir too. You could combine BED with Nutriiveda and Nordic naturals fish oil (2 EFAs : 1 EPA) for a great start into recovery. Then add powerful probiotics such as gutpro/custom probiotics/theralac, minerals such as quinton/Humic x1. All the best.

Vaishnavi Sarathy said...

Yes, we did the BEDROK protocol for a short time after which I shifted to GAPS since I viewed it as a healing protocol vs BED as a balancing diet. He did do well on the BED and did well on GAPS as well. Except for the meat broth and lack of grains, his current diet is very low in meat, so somewhat similar to BED.

What you mention about Cultured Veggies is interesting. I hadn't thought of them being different from sauerkraut. What's the difference wrt healing? He does coconut kefir now anyway. Thank you for the input!

Anonymous said...

The only difference between cultured veggies and sauerkrauts is that cultured veggies are made with probiotics whereas in sauerkrauts, veggies are allowed to ferment naturally (like in pickles). So sauerkrauts are 'wild' fermented, which may not necessarily good for kids who are already immune compromised. I know a lot of kids make big gains when a lot of raw green smoothies are added to their diet. I am surprised you did not find BED as a 'healing' path...I know of some moms who have recovered their kids just with BED...it makes so much sense. Also, have you tried homeopathy? Homeopathy center of Houston is a sequential homeopathy place which can be of immense help ($$$ however). There is a great classical homeopath in NY (Pierre Fontaine) so that could be another choice. I prefer to by anonymous online, but can get in touch with you privately in case you are interested in discussing. BTDT but still in the hole.

Hope you find your right path to healing!

Vaishnavi Sarathy said...

We have done some classical homeopathy without much success. With some people, it may take a lot of iterations, which was more that we could do at that time. And, I would love to get in touch with you. Do send me an email (I believe you can do that through blogger), and we can talk more.

Manju said...

Hi Vaishnavi,
I am in a similar situation as you. Being brought up in a Brahmin family, had never eaten even eggs till a few years ago. I have a seven yo son with Autism who is doing awesome. I have been contemplating doing GAPS for years now, but am not sure how I will be able to handle the smells etc. I think he could benefit from GAPS and was wondering if I could talk to you to get an idea of how to go about starting GAPS, especially coming from a meatless background.

Vaishnavi Sarathy said...

Hi Manju, Yes, of course I would love to talk with you. GAPS has been very helpful with Sid. You don't have to do it forever, but it can give you a quick start. Are you able to write to me via blogger? If not, where I can email you at? - Vaishnavi

Anonymous said...

Hi Vaishnavi,

Its so nice to connect with a fellow Indian mom in the same boat. We started GAPS diet for our son 6 months ago and love to connect with you to share experience and learn.

If its okay please let me know how to contact you.


Anonymous said...

Hi Vaishnavi, thanks for sharing this. I'm vegetarian too and thinking of starting on the GAPS diet. Is it possible to do the diet without eating meat but just sticking to vegetables, fruits, and anything else that is allowed?



Vaishnavi Sarathy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vaishnavi Sarathy said...

Hi Sia,
It is possible, but not recommended. Without grains and dairy, the protein intake is unlikely to be sufficient. Also bone broth is one of the healing pillars of the GAPS protocol. If you are able (and willing) to get bone broth from other sources, it might still be possible.

If you do not want to try meat, I would suggest doing the SCD as a vegetarian (but not as a vegan), or the Body Ecology Diet which allows for vegetarianism. Do give at least 6 weeks for each diet before you phase off it. You can email me at vishlist.blog@gmail.com if you want to chat.


Libby said...

Hi Sia,
I am so glad I found this post! I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years now. Although I know that gut dysbiosis is at the root of my health problems, I just can't bring myself to start eating meat. I have been struggling internally with this decision for over 10 months because I know GAPS would be the best thing for me, but I've realized that meat-eating is just not going to happen. I am willing to do the broths, cod liver oil, butter and eggs. I cannot bring myself to eat chicken breast though, much less organ meats. Would you recommend trying gaps with these considerations in mind, or trying SCD or body ecology instead? I really don't know anything about the latter two. Thanks!

Vaishnavi Sarathy said...

Hi Libby,
There is a book called "GAPS Guide" which is a how-to-do-GAPS step by step (not by the author of GAPS, but it is authorized by the author of GAPS). This book has a short section about vegetarianism, where she essentially says that she believes a diet as you mentioned would work.

I am not really sure which is better for dysbiosis - BED or GAPS: currently GAPS seems more popular, though BED had its days. GAPS did help my son a lot. But we had to move out after he stopped progressing.

I would try both - first BED (Body Ecology) because it is somewhat easier for vegetarians, then GAPS, perhaps.

Best, Vaish

Vikash Kumar said...

Hi Vaishnavi,

I am from India. My child is three years old. He is a cute little child. He looks like other normal child but has behavioral problem. He does not speak and does not walk also properly. Doctors suggested for Gluten Free Diet, but, it didnt work.

I ll appreciate if you could spare some time on the plan for my childs diet on GAPS protocal. Doctors says that he is Autistic but my heart says he will be a normal child one day.

If you can suggest how to proceed with this diet .. I ll be thankful to you.. I dont know where to find this diet in India.

Right now he is on normal diet.

Vish List said...

Hi Vikash, A couple of things, a Gluten free diet must be 100% to see results (as in not even a bite of bread by mistake), and 100% for at least 3 months. Also, some kids need more than just Gluten Free.

Some thing that you can start with as a basic step are Gluten, Dairy, Sugar and Soy which are the most common allergens. Then the next step would be moving to organic food and then gradually removing grains.

How is his digestion? Can you send me an email at vishlist.blog@gmail.com so I can point you to some more resources?

Anonymous said...

Dear Vaishavi:

Thanks so much for this post. I came here trying to understand some issues with my stomach upset for the last three months. Something that started with an infection and now I can hardly eat anything. I keep getting acid reflux which leads to a constant sore throat.

While so much of your information on GAPS was fascinating, I absolutely loved your ideas on ayurveda and benefits of vegetarianism , the philosophy and the main reason behind a vegetarian diet.

I became a vegetarian in my teens, and have never regretted it. Thanks to a wide variety of Indian cuisine I have never missed meat or poultry (do eat eggs in cakes etc.) But with this recent activity in the stomach --(i hope it is temporary) I am considering some changes, although I still find it hard to think of consuming meat and broths. For a body that has not eaten meat in a long time, broths can be just as foreign (whenever I have accidentally eaten it, I burp it for the next three days).

But as you said, to take it like medicine....or at least try other alternatives....thanks so much for this blog and pl. keep writing!!

Anonymous said...

Hi I used to eat meat only few times a week and after knowing of weston price being pregnant switched to their diet standards. The first year I was ravenous for meat lunch and dinne, but know not breastfeeding anymore my body naturally wants to eat lighter and I'm looking into a more ovolacto vegetarian also integrate some fish. I am really thin but need lots of calories. I wonder do traditional people's of India eat fish? Did they receive omega 3 from any source?

Yogesh Amin said...

Hi Sireesha,
I was just reading this blog and I am so convinced reading about the GAPS diet. My son has ADHD and so I would like to start him on this diet. Could you please pass me some resources on recipes that I can start off with. I have no problems with non- veg as well.
I really appreciate your help !
Thanks so much,

Vaishnavi Sarathy said...

Hi Veda,
The focus of GAPS diet is healing the gut through the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. It is hard to find desi recipes that are GAPS compliant, but not impossible. There is myheartbeets.com. Remember to follow the GAPS intro diet etc if you do.