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The habit of eating no animal products or none obtained by destruction of animal life. Although this cult has gained ground over the last 20 years, it has been practiced by Hindus and others for centuries. In Britain, over 1.5 million people are now vegetarian, and a further 1.5 million avoid red meat.
The poet Percy Shelley published a treatise in 1813 which claimed the human digestive system was suited only to plant food, but the idea doesn"t stand up; looking at mans closest relatives - chimpanzees, baboons and monkeys - all of which supplement their mainly vegetarian diet with insects, birds eggs and any small animals they can catch. While animals that are really herbivorous can break down the cellulose and raw starch in vegetables without much difficulty, modern research shows that man"s digestive tract can"t deal with vegetables in bulk unless they are cooked. We can, on the other hand, digest raw meat, fish and insects.
Peking man, one of the earliest fossil remains found (at Choukoutien, near Peking), show that along with the 38 individuals found, there were charred bones of many animal species, most of them now extinct. The charring of the bones indicates the flesh of the animals had been roasted; and the hard-baked clay under the bones shows that Peking man had hearth fires. The much new cave paintings found near the village of Aurignac in southern France, said to date back to the Paleolithic Age of 40,000 years ago, clearly show bison and tigers being hunted for food by men of that era.
One vegetarian argument has been that meat produces "necrones" and harmful deposits of uric acid in the body. An increase in uric acid in the blood is associated with gout - however, the body itself produces more uric acid when gout is present and no reputable doctor can tell you what "necrones" are!
In a survey by Dr.Lockie at Surrey University he found that vegans had to be careful not to have deficiencies in vitamin B2, B12 and vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc. The potential deficiency of calcium is easily overcome by eating sufficient green leafy vegetables, wholefoods, nuts, pulses and seeds. Iron is quite well supplied in wholegrains, lentils and beans and becomes much more bioavailable if eaten in conjunction with vitamin C rich foods. B12 does come in some vegetarian foods - Spirulina, a blue-green algae available in supplement form is particularly rich. Vitamin D can be made in the skin in the presence of sunlight, but is otherwise hard to get and zinc is richest in wheatgerm and other nuts and seeds. Lacto-vegetarians had too much fat in their diet - however, they did have low blood levels of cholesterol, thought to be due to their high fibre intake.
Those not eating animals for reasons of conscience need to watch their intake of and possibly take supplements to compensate.