By Savanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD – in Healthline
The Hindu diet is practiced by adherents of Hinduism, the third largest religion in the world, with 1.1 billion adherents, or 15 percent of the world’s population of 7.7 billion. Christianity is the world’s largest religion, practised by 31.5 percent of the global population, followed by Islam, comprising of 23.2 percent of people on Earth.
It’s a primarily lacto-vegetarian diet, which means that it includes dairy products but excludes meat. Still, some people who practice Hinduism choose to eat certain meats.
You may be curious about its history, how it compares with vegetarianism, and whether it offers health benefits.
This article tells you the basics about the Hindu diet.
Some common foods in the Hindu diet: rice with chickpeas, cilantro and lemon. Image credit Healthline
What is the Hindu diet?
The Hindu diet is the eating pattern usually followed by adherents of Hinduism, most of whom live in India. Yet, as an estimated 1.1 billion people practice this religion, there are many variations of the diet.
In general, Hindus follow a lacto-vegetarian diet, which generally excludes meat, fish, shellfish, and eggs but includes dairy.
Why people follow it
Hindu religious texts advocate for ahimsa, a practice of nonviolence toward all living creatures. This tenet justifies a lacto-vegetarian diet, as the killing of animals for food can be considered violence in Hindu cultures.
Additionally, Hinduism considers cows sacred, as they’re representative of maternal gentleness. As such, even among Hindus who eat meat, beef and byproducts like beef lard are taboo.
How it compares with vegetarian diets
There are no universal, mandatory dietary restrictions for practicing Hindus — with the exception of abstinence from beef.
Thus, the Western concept of a vegetarian diet, with its rigid bans on certain food groups like meat, fish, and poultry, doesn’t apply to the Hindu diet.
All the same, a majority of Hindus follow what could be considered a lacto-vegetarian diet. Some may follow a stricter diet while others may have more relaxed practices — even eating meat, such as chicken or goat.
In fact, many Hindus living in India report including at least some meat in their diet — particularly those who are poorer or lower in the caste system.
The Hindu diet is followed by adherents of Hinduism. While it’s primarily a lacto-vegetarian diet, many Hindus may eat meats like chicken or goat.
The traditional lacto-vegetarian version of the Hindu diet may provide several health benefits.
May boost heart health
Lacto-vegetarian diets can be associated with heart health, as they tend to be higher in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and antioxidants than omnivorous diets.
Indeed, vegetarian diets are linked to lower blood pressure levels than diets that contain meat
Additionally, one review found that vegetarian diets lowered levels of total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease. All the same, vegetarian diets also reduced HDL (good) cholesterol
However, the Hindu diet’s inclusion of dairy products may help maintain or increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels. That said, dairy products may also raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, depending on what types of dairy products are involved.
May promote lower body weight
In Hinduism, moderation of food intake is considered an important virtue called mitahara. This practice emphasizes diet and nutrition as keys to healthy living.
This focus on food moderation may promote healthier attitudes about food. In fact, dietary moderation is associated with lower calorie intake.
In turn, a lower calorie intake may aid weight loss.
Indeed, the traditional lacto-vegetarian Hindu diet is linked to lower body weights in India, compared with other eating patterns common in the country.
Packed with fiber and antioxidants
The traditional Hindu diet may be richer in fiber and antioxidants than other diets due to its high concentration of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables both boast fiber, which has several health benefits. These include lowering cholesterol and promoting healthy digestion (13Trusted Source).
Fiber intake is also associated with a lower body weight because it promotes feelings of fullness. High fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, likewise tend to be lower in calories than low fiber foods.
Additionally, fruits and vegetables are some of the best dietary sources of antioxidants. These plant compounds may help prevent or reverse cellular damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals
Antioxidants may decrease chronic inflammation and lower your risk of illnesses like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Notably, a study in 100 people in India revealed that those who followed lacto-vegetarian or ovo-lacto-vegetarian diets — which include eggs — had higher antioxidant levels in their blood than non-vegetarians.
May decrease chronic disease risk
The Hindu diet is primarily plant-based, but the addition of dairy products helps ensure that your body gets adequate vitamin B12 and zinc, which may help your body fend off anemia and certain chronic illnesses.
Specifically, due to their fiber, nutrient, and antioxidant contents, plant-based diets are associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, autoimmune conditions, kidney disease, and type 2 diabetes.
One study in 32 vegetarians and non-vegetarians in India found that the non-vegetarians had ratios of gut bacteria similar to those of people with colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
From these results, researchers inferred that a vegetarian diet may protect against these conditions. All the same, more research is needed.
The traditional Hindu diet may be associated with improved heart health and antioxidant status, as well as reduced body weight and chronic disease risk.