22 July 2018
Health is achieved via a balanced diet. A vegan diet of no consumption of any meat and its products is far from ideal. Photo: Xinhua
Health is achieved via a balanced diet. A vegan diet of no consumption of any meat and its products is far from ideal. Photo: Xinhua

TCM perspectives on vegetarianism

Vegetarianism is generally understood as a practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat.

The broad spectrum comes along with many different diets. The strictest among it is vegan, which excludes all animal flesh and by-products.

Semi-vegetarianism is also plant-based but the diet allows occasional inclusion of meat products. A pescetarian, for example, includes fish and possibly other forms of seafood while a pollo-pescetarian includes poultry and fish. A lacto-ovo vegetarian does not eat any meat, fish and poultry, but takes dairy products and eggs.

You might wonder which diet is more in line with the principles of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

According to the Huangdi Neijing, or also known as the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, a healthy diet should have grains as the staple, along with a substantial portion of vegetables, then accompanied by meat and supplemented by fruit.

In short, a vegan diet is not recommended under the principles of the traditional Chinese medicine. Meanwhile, the moderate intake of meat advocated by the principles might be regarded as some kind of “vegetarian diet” for meat-lovers.

In recent years report findings show that cutting meat consumption could help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and cancer.

According to the “Food, Nutrition, Physical activity and the Prevention of Cancer” report published in 2007 by the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute of Cancer Research, a link has been identified between red and processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer.

The consumption of red and processed meat would also increase the risk of oesophageal cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and endometrial cancer.

Cereals (grains), legumes, roots, tubers, vegetables and fruit could lower the risks of various kinds of cancers.

Though people following a vegan diet can gain a lot of health benefits due to high consumption of vegetables and fruit, they are prone to suffering from nutrient deficiencies of vitamin B12, vitamin D, proteins, unsaturated fat, iron, calcium, zinc and iodine, all of which are generally derived from animal sources.

A vegan diet, in the end, can be deemed as a kind of “picky eating”, making it not good for one’s health.

Traditional Chinese medicine recommends exercising self-control and achieving balance in every aspect. People should consume in moderation every nutrition source, as each of them uniquely serves certain vital functions that cannot be replenished or replaced.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 2

Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Registered Chinese medicine practitioner and senior lecturer of the Department of Applied Science at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Chai Wan)

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