TCM: All-veggie diet has too much yin and lacks yang
Sales people promote meat-free meals at a vegetarian restaurant.
THOUGH eating costly meat and fish was once a symbol of wealth in China, today many people can afford animal protein.
Too many, it seems. It is estimated that around 230 million Chinese are suffering cardiovascular diseases, according to China Cardiovascular Disease Report 2010 released by the China Medical Association. Overweight, caused by a rich diet, is a major cause; too much salt, alcohol and stress are other factors.
But eating animal protein has a long tradition in China.
Eating only vegetables violates the cardinal principle of balance in Traditional Chinese Medicine, according to Professor Qian Hai of Shanghai University of TCM. Eating animal foods is essential to maintain balance of yin (cold energy) and yang (hot energy), he says.
Meat, fish, eggs and nearly all animal foods are very yang, while most fruits and vegetables (except seaweed) are yin and some are on the cool-neutral end.
Giving up meat
Yet some people, mostly young, are giving up meat and going vegetarian for the sake of health, and some for animal welfare and spiritual reasons. Some people think they will lose weight on a vegetarian diet, but they need to watch their intake of oils and carbohydrates.
Nutritionists warn that people who want to give up meat should be careful to get enough nutrition and say a vegetarian diet is definitely not for pregnant women and children.
As a Buddhist, 27-year-old sculptor Richard Cao is always concerned about the principle of ahimsa (doing no harm). He has never intentionally killed any animals, even insects. Instead of smashing a cockroach with his slippers, Cao catches it and releases it outdoors.
However, it was not until last October that he gave up meat. Earlier he had made a wish to Buddha and vowed that if it came true, he would give up meat for three months.
"I knew that animals are killed for our meat, but I wasn't sure I could manage without eating any meat. After all, I need energy for my work," says Cao.
He ate only vegetables, grains, nuts, unfertilized eggs and milk for three months and said he didn't feel any weakness. He ate extra soybeans for protein.
"I didn't feel fatigue or lack of strength, as many people predicted, but I also didn't feel better - everything was just the same, except that I ate vegetables," he says.
Luna Gu, 27-year-old public relations professional, became a vegetarian a year ago, because she saw and read a lot about animals being tortured and killed so humans could eat. She thought about what it meant to live as a good person.
Many people love dogs and cats, but think nothing of the pain of cattle or chickens, but for Gu there is no difference between them as living creatures.
"Carnivores cannot live without eating meat, but we are different, we have choices," she says.
She feels much healthier after becoming a vegetarian. She also finds that she has become milder and more tolerant, but that might be a result of her communicating more with Buddhists, she says.
She doesn't try to persuade others to give up meat. "I made my choice, and they can make their own," she says.
Eating vegetables only - without lots of oil - may be a healthy choice for people who are obese or who have problems with blood fat, cholesterol and uric acid, according to nutritionist Yang Kefeng the Medical School of Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
But it is not suitable for everyone (especially children and pregnant women) and eating vegetables only may cause malnutrition in the long run, he says.
"It is true that soybean products provide almost the same high-quality proteins as meat," says Yang. "Yet some nutrition cannot come from vegetables alone, such as enough iron and calcium."
Vegetarians counter that dark green leafy vegetables, bok choy, broccoli and other veggies are high in iron. Calcium is also found in soybeans, collar greens, oranges, spinach and sesame seed.