Is Ayurveda Completely Vegan?

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Eating meat is always a personal decision, based on your morals, religious practices, individual needs, and health status.

What might be the reason for the popular belief that Ayurveda is vegan? The reason might be linking Ayurveda and yogic, or saatvik, diet together. If you check the ancient Indian scriptures like the Vedas and Puranas, the description and explanation of meat has been given.

Do you know what Ayurveda says about food?

Ancient classic ‘Charaka Samhita’ says, “The life of all living things is food; the entire world seeks food, complexion, clarity, good voice, long life, understanding, happiness, satisfaction, growth, intelligence etc. are all because of food.”

Like plants and grains, Ayurveda also accepts meat as a form of food. Emphasizing upon it Charaka says, no other food excels meat in producing a nourishing effect in the body (mamsam brimhananam). And Ayurveda also gives detailed explanations on meat in eight different categories which include animals, birds and fish.

Here are the eight categories of non-vegetarian food mentioned in the ancient classics.

  1. Prasaha (animals and birds who eat by snatching)
  2. Bhumisaya (animals who live in burrows in earth)
  3. Anupa (animals inhabiting marshy land)
  4. Varisaya (aquatic animals)
  5. Varicara (birds moving in water)
  6. Jangala (animals dwelling in dry land forests)
  7. Viskira (gallinaceous birds)
  8. Pratuda (pecker birds)

Photo by Eiliv Aceron on Unsplash

The classics give numerous elaborate descriptions as per the properties of various meats—especially for their Vata-reducing properties.

• Those such as peacock for example were commonly used for improving eyes, voice, intellectual capabilities, complexion, hearing etc. and was commonly used.

• Goat meat was also well-known for bulking the tissues and often used as a meat soup or even basti (enema). Goat and mutton are said to be strengthening or tonifying for the body, and so good for Vata people and severe debilitated conditions. Goat also does not cause malas, or wastes in the body.

• Beef is said to cure dry cough, exhaustion, chronic nasal catarrh, emaciation, and excess hunger.

• Charaka says that fish is in general heavy, hot in potency, sweet, strength promoting, nourishing, unctuous and aphrodisiac.

• Acharya Charaka also says, good quality meats are brimhana (strengthening and building) and also balya (promoting strength). It states meat soups (mamsarasa) as one of the best for the body—that they are sarvarogaprashamanam (alleviates all diseases) and promote vidya (wisdom), swarya (good voice), strength (bala) of vayas (age), buddhi (intellect), and indriyas (senses) respectively.

Type of Meat

Nutritional and Medicinal Benefits in Ayurveda

Mutton

Homologous with the dhatus (body tissues), anabhishyandi (does not obstruct the bodily channels) and is nourishing

Chicken

Aphrodisiac and nourishing. It clarifies the voice, promotes strength, produces sweating

Beef

Exclusive vitiation of vata, rhinitis, irregular fever, dry cough, fatigue, atyagni (increased appetite) and wasting of muscles

Fish

Strength promoting, nourishing, unctuous and aphrodisiac, causes skin diseases, not recommended for daily use

Lamb

Vermifuge and tonic, improves intellect and digestion, laxative

But, keep in mind Ayurveda doesn’t recommend the intake of certain types of meat on daily basis. There is a detailed list of food materials that should or should not be included in diet on daily basis.

Foods for Regular Use

  • Ghee
  • Honey
  • Indian Gooseberry
  • Fruits, such as grapes and pomegranates
  • Rice and barley
  • Immature Radish
  • Chebulic fruit
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Meat of animals in arid or dry land

In short, dishes that are capable of promoting health and curing diseases are suitable for regular use.

Undesirable Foods for Regular Use

  • Cheese and curd
  • Alkaline preparations such as vinegar
  • Sprouted seeds
  • Black gram
  • Dried meat
  • Molasses
  • Tuberous roots
  • Sweets prepared by grinding cereals
  • Uncooked radish

This list of undesirable food materials is not because of any religious or spiritual reasons, but because too much of these substances can result in health problems.

Another popular misconception is that you are not supposed to take meat items while undergoing Ayurveda treatments or when having Ayurveda medicines.

The truth is that Ayurveda dose advises certain Pathya-Apathya (wholesome-unwholesome foods and regimen) depending on the nature of disease. This Pathya and Apathya are not for the medicines. There are certain disease conditions where Ayurveda advises the intake of meat as medicine. In tuberculosis, for example, after correcting the digestion, processed meat with certain herbs are advised as medicine. In certain sexual disorders meat is also mentioned as a medicine.

Bone broth has been used for thousands of years to build bone tissue in those suffering from fractures, dislocation of joints, etc.

Another common doubt is whether there is a particular time of the day to eat meat. 

It is ideal to have meat at mid-day because your digestive fire will be highest during that time of the day.  Cook meat properly with clarified butter, curd, sour gruel (Kanjika), acidic fruits (as the pomegranate etc.), pungent and some aromatic condiments (black pepper, etc.). Meat prepared like this is considered as very wholesome, though heavy to digest. It is possessed of relishing, strength-giving and tissue-building properties. 

Varieties of cooked meat are also mentioned in Ayurveda classics.

  • Ullupta (minced meat)
  • Bharjita (fried)
  • Pishta (made into balls or cakes)
  • Pratapta (roasted with clarified butter over a charcoal fire)
  • Kandupachita (dipped in mustard oil and powdered aromatic condiments and roasted and done to a honey colour over a charcoal fire)

In addition, the benefits of thin meat soup have also been described in detail.

A thin meat soup is a pleasant tonic and proves beneficial in cases of dyspnea, cough, and consumption. It subdues the Pitta and Kapha, destroys the Vata, and has an agreeable taste. It is wholesome to persons of weak memory and reduced semen. Meat soup, prepared with the juice of the pomegranate and seasoned with pungent condiments increases the quantity of semen and tends to subdue the action of all the three deranged humors (i.e. Vata, Pitta and Kapha of the body).

Eggs and Ayurveda

Ayurveda gives explanation about different types of eggs. Ducks, poultry and quail eggs are effectively used as medicine in various diseases like decreased sperm count, chronic cough, tuberculosis, heart diseases, and more. Eggs are also said to improve the growth and development in children.

Modern medicine explains that egg have nine essential fatty acids along with omega-3 fatty acid.

A large egg contains over six grams of protein. A large egg has 4.5 grams of fat, only 7 percent of the daily value. Only one-third (1.5) grams are saturated fat and 2 grams are mono-unsaturated fat. They contain, in varying amounts, almost every essential vitamin and mineral needed by humans, as well as several other beneficial food components.

Though eggs are highly nutritious, their heavy in nature as per Ayurveda. This heaviness makes it hard to digest. People with strong digestive power can definitely include eggs in their diet.

Fish in Ayurveda

Ayurveda also has explanations and details on consuming fish. Eating fish improves strength and helps in gaining weight. It is Vata pacifying in nature and can be consumed in diseases occurring due to aggravated Vata. It also increases Kapha, which means that fish is not advised for daily use.

Acharya Susruta explains, in detail, about the quality of fish residing in ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers. Ayurveda prefers small fish varieties over larger ones. Small fish, like anchovy, are light for digestion, provide instant energy, are delicious and pacify all three doshas.

Fish is a low-fat, high-quality protein. Fish is filled with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins, such as D and B2 (riboflavin). It is also rich in calcium and phosphorus, and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week as part of a healthy diet. Fish is packed with protein, vitamins, and nutrients that can lower blood pressure and help reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Shellfish is one of the more common food allergies. Certain descriptions on allergic reactions due to fish has been described in Ayurveda as well. Intake of prawns and milk together are considered as Virudh ahara (incompatible).

There are two groups of shellfish: crustacea (shrimp, crab and lobster) and mollusks (clams, mussels, oysters and scallops). Crustacea cause most shellfish reactions, and these tend to be severe. Shellfish can cause severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis. Allergic reactions can be unpredictable and even very small amounts of shellfish can cause one.

Ayurveda considers prawns as the worst in fish varieties described since it aggravates all the three doshas.

Keep in mind the following thing when you consume meat.

  • Do not consume meat on daily basis, have it moderately, more in winter season when you have a strong digestive power.
  • Keep in mind your digestive power and constitution while consuming meat. A Kapha predominant person must consume less meat when compared to a Vata predominant person.
  • If you consume meat, make sure you exercise to keep the body healthy and fit.
  • Along with meat, include vegetables and grains and make sure you receive all the necessary nutrients in your diet.
  • Choose organic, hormone-free meat whenever possible.
  • Choose quality over quantity. A meatball size portion of meat (1/4 c) eaten daily with vegetables and grains is an appropriate amount that your body can process fully.
  • According to Acharya Charaka, healthy and wholesome food, even if taken in proper quantities do not get properly digested when the individual is afflicted with grief, fear, anger, sorrow, excessive sleep, and excessive vigil, therefore, mind matters.

Food taken in proper quantities provides strength, vigor, good complexion, and nurtures the health of tissues. In order to live healthy, one must live in harmony with his surroundings and follow a diet suitable to one’s own bodily constitution.

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