From better sleep to improved digestion, the author shares some surprising reasons
My first master’s degree was in sports nutrition, and I am currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Ayurveda. This means I have read reports and studies promoting both plant-based diets as well as the ones championing increasing animal protein intake. I understood early on that a lot of these studies lean in the direction of whoever is funding it, thanks to capitalism.
Ayurveda has taught me to pay attention to the impact of food on our mind and body. It taught me why diseases happen. Growing up in an Indian home, we didn’t eat non-vegetarian food every day. It was served mostly on Sundays and sometimes midweek if there were visitors.
The Abundance Of Meat
Close to 25 years ago when I moved to the U.S., I noticed the portion size of chicken breasts, steak, or lamb shank was bigger than the size of my face. “Rare” meant blood oozing out of the dish. Jeez, animal meat looked like “meat” unlike India where we cooked it in a curry or threw it in a tandoor which made it appear less heinous. Oh, my flexible morality. So, why did I continue eating fish and boneless chicken if I didn’t quite enjoy them? Sheer convenience and out of habit.
My yoga practice has evolved over the past two decades. The level of consciousness and connectedness to the world, as a result, have also transformed. Filling my belly at the cost of hurting another living being feels cruel. But I continued to eat animal protein because it was convenient (not proud of it).
My husband and I travel a lot. In India, finding a well-balanced vegetarian meal is easy-peasy. But in the rest of the world, it’s a struggle unless you can eat French fries and carb-laden pasta every day, which I can’t. When I was attending an Ayurvedic workshop in Tuscany, Italy in early May, I struggled with food. The desire for pasta and risotto died within two days. The only veggies available on the menu were grilled zucchini and eggplant. Everything else was pork, beef, some other kind of pig meat or chicken-on-bones. Some nights, I ate gelato for dinner.
Despite this, why did I turn vegetarian? Here I give you my top five reasons.
Better Quality Of Sleep
In India, my father lived in a wonderful senior living facility, which served delicious, farm-to-table and home-cooked meals, and vegetarian. I didn’t miss eating any animal meat. Then one night, we all went to a fine dining Indian Chinese restaurant where we ordered a bunch of items. The food didn’t sit well with me. It felt heavy and interrupted my sleep. Even after I returned to NYC, I experimented with my meals. I never ate or liked red meat. Even on the days I had chicken or fish, the quality of my sleep suffered. Sleep or nidra is considered a pillar of health in Ayurveda.
Agni Got Ramped Up
In Sanskrit, our digestive fire is known as agni, and it is responsible for transforming the food and beverages that we consume. Agni also absorbs, assimilates, and converts the food into energy. Ayurveda explains that properly functioning agni is integral to good health.
Despite eating small portions, I’ve often struggled with feeling full or sleepy after eating. That’s a sign of ama or toxins.But switching to vegetarian food has helped me enjoy the feeling of “healthy hunger.” Did you know that the proteins in meat and fish can take as long as two days to fully digest? Fruits and vegetables may move through our system in less than a day due to the higher fiber content.
Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org writes, “We’ve known for 14 years that a single meal of meat, dairy, and eggs triggers an inflammatory reaction inside the body within hours of consumption.”
You can buy the most high-quality animal meat and produce and cook at home. But in a profession like mine where networking and in-person facetime is part of the job expectations, there is also social eating. In the U.S., where GMO is more common than naturally grown foods, my inflammation had shot up from lunch and dinner meetings. By eliminating animal protein from my diet, the inflammation is way down. It feels amazing to not wake up to pain and joint stiffness every day!
Return Of The “Energizer Bunny”
Even though I am described as someone with extremely high energy, I am aware that with my autoimmune condition, I hit my “energy-limit” by evening. But in less than 3 weeks of me turning vegetarian, I became ferociously strong.
Typically, after working out with my trainer once a week, I had to take a day off to recover. But now, I do weight training for an hour, 60 minutes of intense yoga, work all day, cook fresh meals, and include a 5-mile walk at the end of the day.
Enjoying A Calm Mind
When I lost my dad and father-in-law, I was surprised at how calm and unprovoked I felt. I didn’t have the time or brain space to practice asanas. But just not eating meat helped.
Ayurveda tells us that our mind, body, and consciousness are connected. Eating animal meat can create unnecessary mental fluctuations. As a high pitta individual, I was born with a short fuse. Animal meat, which is energetically heating, can aggravate my pitta further. It creates fierceness (rajas) and lethargy/darkness (tamas) and takes us away from sattva. Of the three maha gunas, sattva is the most ideal. Animal meat is also more acidic and the last thing my pitta mind-body and inflammation need is an acidic condition.
Make Informed Choices
October is Health Literacy Month. Even though I am an Ayurveda educator and practitioner, unless you are my client, I don’t share any opinions about what you should eat. I don’t judge, blame, shame, or criticize others for making certain food choices. That’s not very yogic. This is my story of self care, and I hope it empowers you to make your own informed decisions about your health and well-being.
Ayurveda will tell you that every dravya or substance can work as medicine. I tell my high vata imbalance clients, who identify as vegan, to think of ghee as medicine and include it in their diet for a fixed time.
As always, talk to your doctor before you implement any diet or lifestyle changes.
“Came From A Plant, Eat It; Was Made In A Plant, Don’t.” ~ Michael Pollan
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are nursing, taking medications, or have a medical condition, please consult with your health care practitioner prior to the use of any of these herbs. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and Ayurvedic practitioner, contact the author here.