International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India

How to Become a Vegetarian

Srimati Siitaa Devi, a vegetarian for nearly forty years, before coming to India in 1935 was Director of the Nutritional Department of the California Avocado Association and the Calavo Growers of California, later the Dietitian at the Headquarters of the American Theosophical Society, Wheaton. In India, her principal concern is to help the poorest people spend their naya paisa to the best dietetic advantage and through newspaper articles and personal contact she works to that end, herself experimenting with the diet she advises for them.

We have decided that we can no longer partake of the products of suffering. We can no longer contribute to the slaughter of our defenceless younger brethren, We want bodies pure and vital and not contaminated with decaying animal matter. Regardless of the cost to ourselves, we have resolved we will no longer eat flesh.

What is our next step? Bishop Charles W. Leadbeater warns us of a danger we are sure to encounter: "When people begin to be vegetarians, they often misunderstand the whole matter: they have been living principally on meat, with cabbage and potato. Their idea of being vegetarians is to give up the meat and try to live on cabbage and potato. Now potato is practically all starch and cabbage is mostly water. A man cannot live on starch and water; other elements are needed - foods that will form flesh, bone, and blood, etc."

We must study the laws that govern the body's daily food needs. Only so can we build finely vital, responsive, strong, and useful bodies.

(1) The Body needs Energy. It is an engine using fuel for its activities. But the average normal person will always continue eating until he supplies this need. In poverty stricken countries, the diet may be low in energy units, but it is for lack of money not food. The best source of energy units is fruit sugars and vegetable oils, as found in fruits, nuts and such seeds as sesame (the "good oil") recently discovered in the West for its keeping value in packaged products, and starches as found in cereals.

(2) The Body needs Building Material (Protein). Whether we work or whether we fast this living growing organism we call the body must daily waste and replace its waste nitrogenous products by body-building material. It is this protein that builds the muscles, including the heart and other muscular structures. Protein or body-building material deficiencies are shown by people who cannot keep their spines upright and are always slumping, whose muscles are wasted and weak, and who generally feel disinclined to do anything requiring activity. The lack of this one essential has been responsible for nearly every failure in health and vigour due to an unbalanced vegetarian diet. If even the adult needs the body-building material, one can readily see how much more it is needed for the child whose very stature is increasing, or the convalescent from a wasting disease. Even a reduction diet for over-weight patients should be high in protein, though low in energy units, for they have to live on their own flesh for their energy until it is reduced.

The best proteins are those directly designed for the use of new life, that is, milk and its products, nuts, eggs. The small quantify of protein in grasses is also good. Though the "groundnut" or "peanut" is really a legume, it has been found (especially when made into a flour or paste) to be readily digestible and rank with real nuts as best or complete protein. The soya bean made into a paste and milk in the Far East and used in innumerable ways is, when cooked, a good body builder. (The raw soya meal contains a growth-inhibiting factor. See 104-1957 research in Journal of Nut.) Legumes (Dahls, Grams, Lentils, dried Peas, Beans, etc.) furnish a considerable quantity of supplementary protein. Likewise the whole or unhusked grains. Watch to see what a squirrel will eat of a wheat grain and you will see him take off the crude outer husk only. Vegetables and fruits have even less body-building material, though high in other vital food factors. The charts at the end of this article show the requirements and how they can be met for body-building. While the amounts of food specified may seem high to some, dietitians will say that they are the actual requisites for a LOW protein diet.

(3) Regulative and Protective Foods: Certain key substances are needed in order that the body processes proceed normally. Fortunately the average diet rich in fruits, whole grains, and vegetables, supplies most of the minerals we need, so dietitians only watch out for those which are apt to be deficient, unless care is taken : Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, and those very minute substances which until recently we called "vitamins," because they had not yet been analyzed and found to be minerals.

Calcium and Phosphorus are not only bone and tooth-building materials in the presence of Vitamins D and C, but have the most important function of maintaining the blood alkalinity at exactly that point necessary for health. If one takes too much acid, the calcium neutralizes it; if too much alkali, the phosphorus neutralizes, keeping the body in perfect equilibrium. The great dietetic authority Sherman has written in "Chemistry of Food and Nutrition" :

"Calcium is capable of correcting the disturbances of the inorganic equilibrium in the animal body; whatever the direction of the deviations from the normal may be. Any abnormal effect which sodium, potassium, or magnesium may produce, whether the abnormality be in the direction of increased irritability or of decreased irritability, calcium is capable of re-establishing the normal, equilibrium ... It is absolutely necessary to the coagulation of the blood and also the regulation of the action of the heart muscle."

If not enough calcium is supplied in the diet, the blood will rob the teeth and bones to get this very essential mineral. The bones thus become more and more porous and fragile and dentine structure disintegrates. We are thus never too old to need calcium every day. Children need twice the quantity needed for adults. People on meat diets are often starving for calcium. Those who take most of their protein in the form of unsoured milk or its products, whether whole or skimmed milk, will have no calcium problem, as these are the best dietetic sources. Next in rank of quantity and assimilability come Almonds, Soya Beans, seeds, nuts generally, some of the legumes and leafy vegetables if taken in quantity. Souring milk has a tendency to render calcium insoluble and not easily digestible, so we cannot depend on curds and buttermilk as best calcium sources. Again milk is the vegetarian's best source of phosphorus; following which are the unhusked cereals, legumes, and nuts, Those who from necessity or desire wish to eliminate milk should study carefully this calcium problem. It is interesting to note how the betel leaf users spread calcium on it and thus supplement otherwise deficient diets. Phosphorus is needed not only as stated above in bone-building and blood regulating functions, but is an essential constituent of every cell in the body and particularly of the brain and nervous system.

Iron is the carrier of oxygen in the body. It is of little value to breathe in the good fresh air unless iron is in the blood to carry that oxygen throughout the body. Without oxygen, no burning up of waste products. Many people take such insufficient quantities of iron that they are always working under a handicap with very little storage. Good sources of iron are the very dark greens, whole grains, dried fruits, nuts, especially cashew and walnuts, berries, potatoes, the legumes but most especially molasses or jaggery. The yolks of eggs are also an excellent source. A real vegetarian will be eating the above sources of iron in quantity. However, those who are just non-meat eaters will need to become real vegetarians to insure adequate iron.

Salt is usually adequate or even in surplus in the average diet. Powdered or recleaned and ground kelp is not only rich in natural salt but also in iodine a vital necessity. Of all salts, the mined or rock salt is very bland to tender membranes.

Vitamin A : is intimately connected with tissue building and the defences of the lymphatic system and is necessary for growth and practically all bodily processes, increasing longevity and discouraging the tendency to break down in the prime of life. It increases the visual purple of the eye and the power to see at night. Its deficiency is accompanied by constant colds and breakdown of mucous membranes. Best sources: cream, butter, egg-yolks, and highly coloured red, yellow, and green vegetables and fruit, such as carrots, greens, alfalfa meal, papaya., etc. Vitamin A (water soluble) only a few years ago has been prepared synthetically, and need not be prescribed from fish-liver oils. There is a balance between A and B which should be maintained if extracts of vitamins also medicinally used. Therefore self-medication, even in vitamin extracts is dangerous.

Vitamin B: is intimately connected with the nervous system; it is vitally necessary for growth, the proper functioning of the digestive system, and without it all appetite disappears. There is no danger of a lack of Vitamin B if whole grains are taken. But starch becomes an absolute poison to all animal life if eaten without its protective inner husk. Starving pigeons will not get multiple neuritis or beri-beri, but pigeons fed only only on white rice will have twisted wings that can only be cured by the addition of rice husks to their diet, or some other source of B. Practically all the vitamin value is rejected in refining. If, because of some ulcerated stomach condition, whole grains cannot be used, your doctor will prescribe Vitamin B substitutes which are all synthetic. Vegetables in large quantities also furnish Vitamin B, also yeast and autolyzed yeast extracts such as Vegex, Savita, Marmite, ... etc. Note : The Vitamin B mentioned here is the Complex which has been divided and subdivided by research workers.

Vitamin C : Is intimately connected with the defences of the circulatory system and has a cooling influence on the body. It is necessary for growth, stamina, resistance to disease, and the bodily processes in general. It is a very unstable vitamin quickly destroyed by cooking and does not store in the body like "A"; therefore must be taken daily. The best sources are citrus fruits. Gooseberries (Amla or nelikkae even when powdered) and tomatoes, even when tinned in vacuum. All fresh fruits and vegetables are the best beat sources. Especially are fresh green leaves, growing and sprouting shoots, juicy stems. Coriander leaf, for example, is an excellent source. It is easily obtainable in a cheap synthetic form and valuable where the diet must be deficient of the above items. But all extracts of vitamins should be taken under physicians advice.

Vitamin D : With C Aids in the depositing of calcium and phosphorus in bone and tooth structure. It is not a problem in tropic countries, as it can be obtained from the action of sunlight on bare skin. But in the non-tropical countries on dark winter days, the intake can be increased by the use of irradiated milk, irradiated cereals, eggs, and again the dark green vegetables. Naturally a non-vegetarian doctor may prescribe fish-oils, but he can be induced to change his prescription to irradiated ergosterol if his patient requests it.

Vitamin E: Is intimately connected with the reproductive and generative system and is necessary for lactation and reproduction. Doctors are prescribing it now for a variety of conditions, including Diabetes and Heart disorders, but its full effect has not yet been tested. The whole grains, especially wheat germ, milk, vegetables, etc. contain quantities of it for ordinary use.


BY BULK : Put mentally or actually all the foods you will consume on a large platter. Divide in half. On the right put fruits and vegetables only, including legumes. Now the left remaining half divide again into quarters. In the upper half put all the best body-building foods, i.e. nuts, sesame and millet seeds, milk and its products, eggs, and soya beans. In the bottom quarter put your cereals, i.e. wheat, rice, and other whole grains, and starches, including, of course, bread. Potatoes, though a vegetable for the westerner, should more properly be put into this corner, though the easterner could put potatoes in the right hand with the fruits and vegetables. Butter and ghee and other fats can go in the bottom left hand quarter. "But," some will protest, "I would be hungry all the time unless at least half my food was rice." Or, "I could not possibly eat all those vegetables." It is true in countries where the vegetables are highly seasoned and spiced and used only as an flavouring adjunct to the cereal or wheat chapatis, to eat such quantities of highly seasoned food would make one ill. It is likewise true where protein in the food is insufficient, the body will go on and on eating rice and other cereals in a vain attempt to get enough body-building materials. But over and over again the experiment has been made with such protesting ones of giving them sufficient protein daily and then - matching to see the effect. Invariably they gave up eating such a quantity of rice or other cereals, because the body was satisfied after receiving its body-building quota, to eat a minimum of other things. How many times we have heard people say, "I could not take a glass of milk or eat those nuts, for it would spoil my dinner." Obviously, because these body-builders are a meal in themselves Another objection will be raised : "I could not possibly drink milk - it makes me sick." You may be the one in ten thousand who has a milk allergy and break out in a rash when you take milk, or wheat, or some specific food, In that case you should consult a doctor who will help you plan a diet. But more likely all you need is to flavour your milk, as the Indians do their payasan, with a little cardamom or nutmeg, or use it in cooking as the wise mother does in the West. 'But I have found nuts absolutely indigestible," says another friend. "Try grinding them into a meal or powder, flavouring them with a bit of honey or other syrup, or making them first into a paste. and eating them alone or with an acid fruit such as lime juice or an orange, or with a digestive fruit such as papaya. Over and over again, when eaten at a distance from the regular food, these nuts have been found to be readily digestible. Another secret in nut eating is not to roast them first unless one has a very excellent digestive system. Even then one loses valuable elements of the nuts. For example, around the peanut or groundnut that little thin coating of red contains iron. When roasted it becomes indigestible. When nut-meals have been used for making child and even baby food, such as "Almond-Lac" and other products found successful where milk is contra-indicated or not desired, these nuts are always ground unroasted. "But nuts and milk are costly," says another person." Yes, and so is rice, these days. But more costly than both is health. What you will eventually pay out in prepared mixtures and medicines and doctor fees will buy the good food that will obviate these." It is well here to note that in absolute famine conditions at the time of catastrophes, such as floods, the U.S.A. relief corps are told to drop by aeroplane the equivalent of at least two cups of milk in the form of milk powders in the area for every person, though they hold the child needs under normal conditions at least four cups daily so urgent do they consider the protein and calcium need.

Minimum Daily Food Essentials Computed for a person whose normal weight is 130-5 lbs. An ideal weight of 110 lbs. could reduce requirements by about 15 per cent ; For 150 Ibs, increase by about 15 percent.

By Common Servings

Body-Builders and Muscle Renewers : Choose approximately 30 grams of protein from "Best" Protein table. Example: 2 glasses of milk, two ounces of groundnuts (peanuts) or approx. 72 nut-meats ;

WHOLE GRAINS : (Dark, Unhusked): Can be used in the form of cooked cereals or bread, chapati, etc. The equivalent of 3 oz. before cooking. Example, a half-cup cooked cereal and two slices of entire wheat bread (3 by 3-3/4 x 1/2"): or 3 slices of same bread.

(If for any reason, whole grains cannot be used, then your doctor will give a prescription for for added Vitamin "B".)


LEAFY: (Includes spinach, cabbage, lettuce, coriander leaves, greens generally, one should be a dark green vegetable unless liberal carrots are taken or such fruit as papaya): two large servings a day.

GREEN AND SUCCULENT: Summer squash, snake gourd, marrow, cauliflower, tomatoes, string beans, carrots, turnips, chow chow, lady fingers, (eggplant) brinjals: one serving a day.

STARCHY: Corn, lima beans, green peas, potatoes, winter squash, parsnips, beans dried and other legumes and dahls, grams, etc: one medium serving a day.

FRUITS: (Fresh and Dried) 3 servings a day : Example, an orange, an apple, a dish of peaches; large serving of papaya, glass of lime juice from one lime of lemon, raisins; (Unless one citrus fruit a day is eaten, be sure to supply vitamin C substitutes such as one large tomato, raw cabbage, etc. before mentioned.)

(If for any reason fruits and vegetable cannot be taken in the quantities given above, your doctor will give a prescription for Added Vitamin A and C, of course, from non-animal sources. When travelling, your doctor may advise a multi-vitamin supplement to tide you over until your return to proper food habits. Of course, there must be no fish oil derivatives in the supplement.)

FOR NORMAL DIETS: Add sufficient energy foods (fats and natural sugars) to maintain weight.

FOR GAINING-WEIGHT DIETS: Add as much of the easily digested fats and natural sugars as can well be tolerated.

FOR LOSING-WEIGHT DIETS: Keep to the stated minimum, omitting all fats and sugars possible.

All diets other than normal should be under the supervision of a physician. This particularly includes fasts, fro the body never fasts. When it is deprived of its natural body builders, etc., it goes on an all-flesh diet which is highly acid, tearing down its own fatty, organic and muscular tissues, and generating the usual poisons accompanying such diets. When the body is suffering from alkalosis, the acidity of the fast may be highly beneficial, but the same results can be gained through carefully planned diets. One is never so much a meat-eater as when one is fasting, since then one is living on one's own flesh. Of course a few hours or even a day's abstention from food can in no way be considered as a "fast".

ENERGY FOODS : Fats : Butter should be added generously to vegetables and as spread. Also ghee, margarine, nut butters, sesame (gingelly) and other vegetable oils. (If butter is omitted from the diet, be sure that carrots and dark green vegetables are eaten generously.)

SUGARS: Molasses or Jaggery (ghur) and brown sugars give valuable minerals (as, for example, iron and calcium) with their sweetness. Honey is an easily digested sweet that also helps other foods to digest. Dried fruits are excellent sources of sugar.

White sugar tends to rob the body of its minerals to replace those stolen from it in the process of refining. It is also usually refined with bone meal.

Flavourings: As before noted, if foods are highly seasoned with masala, spices chillis, tamarind, etc., it is difficult to eat one's requirements, to say nothing of the effect of a continued spice diet on the liver and internal organs. Those who can afford and use most spices usually suffer most from what is called by some doctors "wealthy man's liver."

May we use "meat-flavourings" like marmite, sarita, vegex, etc. etc. for those who are accustomed to the taste of meat foods? Such a question shows a lack of scientific knowledge. These are only autolyzed yeast extracts. There is no such a flavour as meat - there is only the flavour of fermented proteins or glutens. Glutamic acid which most people think is a meat flavour can be obtained in the form of sodium glutamate through the fermentation of the glutens of wheat, corn, cottonseed, soy bean, and other vegetable sources. Scientists now speak of this flavour as the "glutamic taste." It is also said that this gluten flavour stimulates gastric juices and assists digestion. This sodium glutamate is now manufactured under a number of trade names, "Viandarome", "Accent," etc., and wonder of wonders many manufacturers use it in so-called "meat" preparations which are mostly made of cereals. Delicious stocks for soups or sauces can be made from vegetables either with or without the above flavours. Nut-milk stocks, cereal and legume stocks are also delicious. Sea-stocks can be made with a small amount of Irish moss. One very common seasoning used in Indian cookery-asafetida made from a Persian plant deceives many westerners into thinking fish was used. The smoke-flavour so much prized by those who like smoked fish and meats can be purchased separately. Fried celery, dried mushrooms and soy sauce give the characteristic flavour of Chinese dishes. In the East green jack-fruit served in main dishes will be appreciated by former meat eaters. Roasted cashew or brazil nuts, asparagus diced into a stew, kitchen bouquet and other herbs, braised barley, oats and other cereals, all help to give the former meat-eater flavours that are familiar to him. Nut-loaf roast (See p. 321) can be purchased tinned or made by steaming in a pressure cooker or regular steamer 3 hours drying out afterwards in an oven. This slices like pressed meat and can afterwards be fried or served at once. Because some of us prefer, say, to live on fruits and nuts and other very bland or sattvic diets, we must not make it difficult for the former meat-eater to become a vegetarian, for compassion and harmlessness should ever be the keynote of our creed, not separateness or a sense of superiority.

(Much of the above material, though rewritten for eastern needs, was first published in the author's book "Creative Cookery" by the Theosophical Society in America, Wheaton, Illinois. In it are recipes for all the basic stocks for soups, sauces, meat-substitute body-building dishes, and whole-grain cookery. See also p. 321)