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What makes a healthy vegetarian diet

at makes a healthy vegetarian diet?

This is an important question to consider because many people assume wrongly that a vegetarian diet must be healthy. Not true. Just because you avoid eating meat does not mean that you are automatically eating a healthy vegetarian diet.

There are vegetarians who eat excessive amounts of:

These are among the many common examples of vegetarian foods can cause serious health problems when consumed on a regular basis. They should be avoided / minimised in a healthy vegetarian diet.

Yin and yang balance

What if a health conscious vegetarian generally avoids the foods listed above? Would that person be eating a healthy vegetarian diet?

Again, not necessarily. Another important aspect of a healthy vegetarian diet is the yin-yang balance. This is something that few people know and understand unless they study macrobiotic philosophy.

It is especially important for vegetarians to understand yin-yang balance because they have greater risks of going out of balance. In the case of non-vegetarians, they might instinctly balance their diets by following what the body craves.

Vegetarians, however, tend to follow concepts and ideals. When the body craves something - meat, for example - they might ignore the craving and do their best to suppress it. That is when they might end up being unbalanced.

Briefly, in macrobiotics, yin is expansion and yang is contraction energy. In general, plant foods are more yin or expanded - as plants grow upwards and outwards, in an "expanding" manner - while animal foods are more yang or contracted.

The natural tendency, therefore, is for vegetarians to become overly yin or expanded. Unless the person makes special effort to eat a healthy vegetarian diet that is balanced in terms of yin and yang, he or she may develop a body that is soft, weak and lacking in energy.

The person may also develop health problems such as:

Since a vegetarian diet tends to be yin or expanded, a balanced and healthy vegetarian diet has to involve special effort to:

  1. Avoid extreme yin / expanded foods
  2. Introduce yang elements into the diet, such as salt and cooking.

Avoid extreme yin

Extreme yin foods are highly "expanded" in one way or another. They include vegetables, fruits and spices that:

It is not that vegetarians cannot eat these foods as part of a healthy vegetarian diet. But in general, they should be minimised rather than eaten excessively.

At the same time, there are plant foods that are more yang or contracted, which can be form major portions of a balanced and healthy vegetarian diet. These include:

Add yang elements

To create a more balanced and healthy vegetarian diet, the yin quality of vegetables needs to be balanced and this can be done primarily through cooking and the use of salt.

Let me share a story here... Once, during the Indian festival of Deepavali, I went to an Indian friend's house to watch her mother cook. When the old lady cooked the spinach, she cooked it over a very big fire and went on for about 20 minutes. I kept wanting to tell her to stop - as I felt she was "destroying the vitamins" - but I restrained myself.

It was only some years later, when I learned about macrobiotics and yin and yang, that what she did made sense. From the modern nutritional perspective, we think only of vitamins being destroyed. Actually only some of the vitamin C gets destroyed while most other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients remain intact.

From the perspective of yin and yang, spinach is a rather yin / expanded vegetable, as evident from its limp structure whereas some other green vegetables are more sturdy. Cooking over a big fire, for a long time, helps balance the yin quality of spinach.

From this perspective also, we can understand why a raw foods vegetarian diet can cause yin problems such as asthma and allergies. Click here to understand why raw foods do not make a healthy vegetarian diet.

Salt, too, balances yin as salt has very strong "contracting" energy. I have an Indian friend who was vegetarian from birth and she eats an extremely salty diet - without suffering from high blood pressure and other heart problems that are commonly blamed on salt.

Recently I got acquainted with some Chinese from Northern China and they, too, eat very salty foods. They are not vegetarians but they generally eat a lot more vegetables than what people like me are accustomed too.

When one adopts the narrow viewpoint that "salt is bad", they seem to be headed for trouble. But salt is NOT bad for health. Click here to understand more about salt.

Also, vegetarians and people who eat plenty of vegetables can afford to take more salt for two reasons:

A healthy vegetarian diet should rightly be more salty than a healthy meat-based diet. But, er... is there such a thing as a healthy meat-based diet? Isn't a vegetarian diet healthier than eating meat? Well, I used to think so, but no longer. Click here to learn why a healthy vegetarian diet should not be purely vegetarian.

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