Food & Attitude - Examples

In this extending article of “Food & Attitude” some forms of alternative diets are described in more detail. The term “alternative diet” in this context means a diet that differs from a traditional western diet. The dietary regimens that derive from different attitudes towards food are divided into two categories: the diets that are based on religious beliefs and the diets that are based on philosophical / ethical as well as health reasons. This list is by no means complete nor does it intend to be complete as there are innumerable kinds of alternative diets. Followers of the mentioned diets in this list often have different opinions on the benefits, risks as well as ethical and medical value of their particular diet. The arguments on both sides, supporters and objectors, are so numerous that there is not enough space on this website to discuss them. That is why we display mostly the common view of national nutrition societies, (conventional) medical associations, health ministries and the fundamentals of dietetics.


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Alternative diets that are based on philosophical / ethical reasons and/or health claims:


Vegetarianism is one of the most common and widely-known alternative diets based on a different attitude towards food. The earliest records of (lacto-) vegetarianism date back to around 500 - 600 BC in India and Greece, although the term “vegetarianism” wasn’t used until the 1840s AD at the time when the Vegetarian Society was founded in the United Kingdom. There are numerous varieties of vegetarianism, but they all practice the abstinence from the consumption of meat. Some of the most popular forms of vegetarianism are (including their distinction to the other forms of vegetarianism):


  1. Ovo vegetarianism: includes eggs and egg products, but excludes milk and dairy products
  2. Lacto vegetarianism: includes milk and dairy products, but excludes eggs and egg products
  3. Ovo-lacto vegetarianism: includes milk, eggs, dairy and egg products
  4. Veganism (see below): excludes all animal products (including milk, dairy, honey, eggs etc.)
  5. Raw veganism: includes fresh and uncooked (or at least not heated above 48 °C / 118 °C) fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables only; combines the concepts of veganism and raw foodism; You can read more about raw veganism here:
  6. Fruitarianism (see below): includes only fruits, nuts, seeds and plant matter that is harvested without destroying the plant
  7. Ayurvedic diet / Sattvic diet (see below)
  8. Buddhist vegetarianism (see below)
  9. Jain vegetarianism / Jainism (see below)
  10. Macrobiotic diet (see below): part of a holistic lifestyle concept; consists mostly of whole grains and beans;


The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services state in their 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans about vegetarianism:

“In prospective studies of adults, compared to non-vegetarian eating patterns, vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes—lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and lower total mortality. Several clinical trials have documented that vegetarian eating patterns lower blood pressure. On average, vegetarians consume a lower proportion of calories from fat (particularly saturated fatty acids); fewer overall calories; and more fiber, potassium, and vitamin C than do non-vegetarians. Vegetarians generally have a lower body mass index. These characteristics and other lifestyle factors associated with a vegetarian diet may contribute to the positive health outcomes that have been identified among vegetarians. “


Vegetarians show a lower risk of having diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Certainly, a contributory factor here is the fact that vegetarians usually follow a healthier lifestyle altogether.

This leads to the conclusion that vegetarianism is suitable as diet with a long duration for healthy people, especially if foods with a high nutritional value, as well as dairy products and eggs are sufficiently included.

However, some studies have found that, despite all health benefits that may be offered by following a vegetarian diet, vegetarians have a higher risk of a frequent deficiency in vitamin B12, which could lead to weakening of bones and depression, and some other micro-nutrients such as iron, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. So they have to ensure a sufficient supplementation with these nutrients in their diet. For risk groups with specific nutritional requirements such as pregnant women, infants, children and seniors, a vegetarian diet is only suitable if the particular requirements are met.

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A vegan diet excludes meat, fish and all other animal-derived products such as dairy products, eggs and honey. Mostly it is part of a life philosophy in which the follower rejects the whole concept of sentient animals seen purely as commodity and thus bans all animal products, e.g. fur, leather, wool, silk etc., from all of his/her areas of life. Those who extend the vegan philosophy to that level are called “ethical vegans”, in contrast to the so-called “dietary vegans”. The term “vegan” was created in 1944 by Donald Watson, co-founder of the British Vegan Society. In 1951 this society defined veganism as “doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals”.

Without a profound knowledge in nutrition and your personal nutritional requirements, a vegan diet can lead easily to an undersupply with vital and essential nutrients, especially vitamin B12. A vitamin B12 deficiency, which is often found in followers of a vegan diet, can lead to anaemia and in the longer term to damages to the nervous system. That is why several nutrition societies, like the German “Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Ernaehrung”, as a precaution, do not encourage veganism, especially for pregnant and breast-feeding women, infants and children. Opposite to this, many practising vegans claim, that veganism is perfectly safe and even a healthier and a more ethical lifestyle than the typical western diet (or sometimes even vegetarianism). That is why there are often highly emotional debates between the followers of veganism, vegetarianism and a traditional diet, which sometimes lead to prejudices on all sides.

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Raw Food Diet / Raw Foodism

People who are following a raw food diet usually don’t process or even heat their food. All food has to be completely natural and unprocessed. Food can only be heated to a maximum of 40 - 48 °C (104 - 118 °F). The main ingredients in this diet are fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sometimes cold-pressed vegetable oils. Some raw food diets allow the consumption of raw meat and raw fish. If all animal products are also forbidden (like in the concept of veganism) the diet is called “raw veganism”.

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A fruitarian diet includes fruits, nuts and seeds, but excludes all animal products, vegetables and grains. Very strict forms of fruitarianism only allow the consumption of fallen fruit. Other fruitarians refuse to eat nuts, seeds and grain, believing it is unnatural for humans to do so. Mild forms of this diet state that only 75% of all eaten food must be fruits. However, fruitarianism is more restrictive than veganism or even raw veganism. Due to the limited food and therefore nutrient variety fruitarians have a high risk of deficiencies in calcium, protein, iron, zinc, most B vitamins (especially B12), Vitamin D and essential fatty acids (especially omega fatty acids).

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Wholefood Diet / Whole Foods Diet

The Wholefood Diet is based on the consumption of food that ideally is fresh, unprocessed and unrefined or at least processed and refined as little as possible. Whole grains (unpolished grains), beans, fruits, vegetables and non-homogenized dairy products are preferred in this diet whereas meat, fish and eggs play a minor role. A gentle preparation of food is permitted.

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Paleolithic Diet

The concept and main rule of the paleolithic diet, which was first popularized in the mid-1970s, is very simple: if the typical caveman of the paleolithic era (over 10,000 years ago) didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t do it, too. The thought behind this diet is that highly processed, refined food and foods that have high carbohydrate content are responsible for many illnesses. Animal protein (fish and grass-fed pasture-raised meat) and plants (fruits and vegetables) are the main constituents of this diet. Foods that are forbidden are, for example, dairy products, processed oils or anything made with grains, like bread.

There are not enough scientific studies available to give a definitive evaluation of the benefits and disadvantages of this diet but with all dairy products and grains banned from this diet, there is a mentionable risk of an under-supply with some essential nutrients.

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Macrobiotics / Macrobiotic Diet

The macrobiotic diet uses a holistic approach based on diverse Asian philosophies, for example the concept of Yin&Yang. The diet is seen as part of a new life philosophy that will lead to a healthier life and well-being. The earliest record of the term “macrobiotics” was found in the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates (circa 460 BC – 370 BC). In this dietary regimen, highly processed and refined foods, as well as animal products have to be avoided. The main calorie intake comes from eating grains supplemented with local vegetables. But nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, egg plants, and also spinach, beets and avocados are not recommended or should only be used sparingly because these vegetables are thought to upset the balance between Yin&Yang by being too yin. Also discouraged are high-fat foods and foods that are extremely cold in temperature. Early macrobiotic diets consist only of water and brown rice, which has been linked to severe nutritional deficiencies and even death among followers. Modern strict macrobiotic diets exclude all animal products, which can also result in nutritional deficiencies if the diet is not planned carefully. This diet is not recommended for people with increased nutritional and caloric requirements such as cancer patients, children and pregnant women.

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Ayurvedic Diet

Ayurveda is the name of the ancient traditional Indian medicine, which is considered as one of the oldest healthcare programs in the world and is still practised all over India: at the present time, around 80% of all Indian people are, at least to some extent, treated with ayurvedic therapy. The Sanskrit term “ayurveda” derives from the words “ayus” (life) and “veda” (knowledge) and thus can be roughly translated as “the science of life”. The human is seen as a whole and the diet is only a part of a complete treatment. The ayurvedic diet is customized to constitutional type of the patient. According to ayurveda, every human is individually equipped with the five elements the universe is made of: air, fire, water, earth, ether. Those elements are accumulated in each human into the three life energies (doshas) “Vata”, “Pittia” and “Kapha”. Every individual has a distinct balance of these doshas (tridoshas) and the personal health and well-being depends on the right balance. The aim of the ayurvedic diet is to bring the doshas into balance respectively restore and maintain the balance of the life energies in the body by choosing the appropriate foods.

Generally, the ayurvedic diet is a plant-based nutrition. The main constituents of this diet are vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grain products, dairy products and nuts, cooked with a variety of spices and herbs. Meat, fish, eggs and cheese are not forbidden, but play only a minor role. As said above, the food choices in this diet are very individual since it is based on the dominating dosha in the follower. Another general rule in the ayurvedic diet is the use of fresh foods instead of canned or frozen foods. There are also rules about not mixing certain foods in a meal, for example: (1) High-protein or high-fat food items should be eaten in separate meals from lighter foods such as starchy / high-carbohydrate foods or vegetables, (2) cooked and raw foods and (3) milk and yoghurt should not be mixed.

Overall the ayurvedic diet seems suitable as long-term diet as longs as enough dairy products and un-cooked fruits and vegetables are included. However, the concept of the three doshas has not been substantiated scientifically, yet.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Diet / Chinese Food Therapy

The diet plays an important part in the holistic approach of the traditional Chinese medicine and dates back as early as 2000 BC. According to the TCM, all vital processes are based on the five elements wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Diseases are said to be a result from an unbalance between those five elements as well as yin & yang. Proper cooking and nutrition, especially with the help of herbs and spices, can help to re-establish the balance. Food also represents the five elements and is categorized by their main flavour sweet, sour, bitter, salty or spicy, as well as their “thermic effect” on the digestive system, called “digestive fire”. For instance, grain porridge, lean vegetable soups and ginger are considered stimulating (warming; yang), whereas tomatoes and salads are considered weakening (cooling; yin). Generally in TCM, heated food is preferred and raw foods only play a minor role.

Plant-derived foods, such as vegetables, legumes, whole grains, play a main part in this diet, although it is not a vegetarian diet and fish and meat are also important. Dairy products, raw fruits and vegetables have a lower significance. Dairy products traditionally are eaten little in China, because the majority of the Chinese population cannot process lactose (milk sugar).

The categorization of food in TCM cannot be substantiated and justified by (western) natural sciences. However, the TCM seems suitable as long-term diet, as long as enough dairy products, fruits and raw foods are included. Positive aspects of this diet are the high content of vegetables and legumes and the propagated use of herbs and spices. A negative aspect is the aforementioned low significance of milk and dairy products.

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Food Combining / Hay Diet

The concept of food combining goes back to the US-American physician William Hay, who thought that the wrong diet interferes with the acid-base-balance in the body. In order to restore and maintain this balance, carbohydrate-based and protein-based foods should not be eaten together in a meal, because as the theory behind this concept states, the body would have difficulties and would not be able to digest proteins and carbohydrates at the same time. Instead Hay separated those meals from each other. Furthermore, he established the rule that 80 percent of the daily food intake should consist of alkaline-building foods like vegetables, fruits and milk and only the remaining 20 percent should come from acid-building foods like grains, meat, sugar, cheese and citrus fruits. In addition to alkaline foods and acidic foods Hay defined a third category: the neutral foods. Neutral foods are free to be combined with everything. Snacks between meals are forbidden.

By now, the theories of William Hay have been scientifically refuted and proven wrong. The human intestine is able to digest carbohydrates and proteins at the same time. The body has several buffer systems that keep the acid-base-balance stable. According to the majority of dieticians, the food combining diet doesn’t include enough grain and dairy products, which can easily lead to micro-nutrient deficiencies, for example calcium, manganese, iron and iodine. On the positive side are the high portions of fresh, natural foods with emphasis on plant-derived foods and the reduction of sugar and superfine, refined flours.

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Pritkin Diet

The intention of this diet is purely based on health issues. The overall aim is to prevent or reverse heart disease and increase well-being. The diet is nearly vegetarian, meaning that several ounces of fish or chicken and small amounts of low-fat dairy products are allowed each day. But the main eaten foods in this diet are high-fibre foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Generally, the Pritkin diet is extremely low in fat and cholesterol and also encourages daily exercise.

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Ornish Program

Like the Pritkin diet, the aim of the Ornish program is to reverse heart diseases. It is strictly vegetarian, high in fibre and also very low in fat and cholesterol. Less than 10 % of the daily calorie intake comes from fat. All meat and dairy products are forbidden, as well as oils or fats, except egg whites, non-fat milk and non-fat yogurt. Cold-water fish, that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is allowed in small quantities. Aside from the dietary restrictions, the Ornish program encourages regular exercise and stress reduction and is based on social support among followers.

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McDougall Plan

The McDougall plan was, like the Pritkin diet and the Ornish program, invented to improve the personal health of the follower. It claims to reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, allergies, kidney diseases, osteoporosis, as well as gastric and intestinal diseases. The diet itself is based solely on grains, vegetables, fruits and beans, which makes it a high-carbohydrate, strictly vegan diet. Meats, eggs and dairy-based foods are forbidden. Aside from the diet, the McDougall plan encourages moderate exercise, adequate sunshine, clean air and water, as well as stress reduction.


Examples of alternative attitudes towards food based on religious beliefs:

Kosher Diet

The term “kosher food” means food that is conforming to the Jewish dietary law, the kashrut. Food that is not in accordance with the Jewish law (“halakha”) is called “non-kosher” or “treif”. Kosher meat must be slaughtered in the ritually proper manner as well as Kosher food must be prepared the way the Jewish law states. Non-kosher foods are, for example, the meat and products of pigs, camels and hares, blood, a mixture of meat and milk as well as foods that are produced with non-kosher cooking utensils or machinery. During the Jewish Pesach holiday some kosher foods can become non-kosher.

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Halal / Helal Diet

Halal, or Helal as the Turkish muslims say, is an Arabic term describing any object or any action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to the Islamic law. The original linguistic meaning of “Halal” is “permissible”, “lawful”. According to the Quran, the central religious text of the Islam, food is distinguished into “halal” (permitted) or “haram” (forbidden). Examples of foods and ingredients that are forbidden are animals that were not slaughtered by the rules of the Islamic law, pork and everything of pig origin, blood, animal fats (except butter) and alcohol. These Islamic dietary guidelines also specify how food must be prepared. Halal food that is prepared the wrong way can become haram. There also is a grey area between halal and haram, called “makruh”. These are foods, objects or actions that are not explicitly forbidden but tend to “haram” and that are frowned upon.

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Hinduism / Hindu Diet

The food habits of Hindus vary according to the community they live in and therefore according to the regional traditions. Many forms of diets in Hinduism see vegetarianism as an ideal path of nutrition because of the following the three main reasons: (1) the principle of non-violence, so-called “ahimsa”, which is one of the main principles in Hinduism, (2) the conviction that a vegetarian diet is important for the mental and spiritual development and well-being and (3) food that is going be blessed by a deity during religious offerings has to be “pure”, which in Hindu belief means that it has to be vegetarian. But there are also many non-vegetarian Hindus, which is contrary to popular belief that India is a predominantly vegetarian country (which it is not). Religious Hindus who eat meat, choose the so-called “jhatka meat”, which is produced in compliance with the Hindu dietary laws. Followers of the Vedic religion, a path of Hinduism, offer special protection to bulls and cows and therefore don’t eat beef.

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Jainism / Jain vegetarianism

Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that prescribes non-violence to all living beings, including plants. This rule is also reflected in the diet of its followers. The Jain diet is considered as one of the most rigorous spiritually-motivated diets worldwide. Food that contains even the smallest amount of particles of dead animals or eggs is forbidden. The diet is strictly lacto-vegetarian (milk can be eaten but no eggs) and even garlic, onions and several other root vegetables are forbidden, since the harvesting of these plants would kill the plants and small insects in the surrounding soil. Strict Jains are vegans, because they think that milking a cow or taking honey from bees involves violence against those animals. Mushrooms, yeasts and fungus are also forbidden, since they grow in non-hygienic environments, are parasites and may harvest other life forms. It is only allowed to eat fresh food, because food that is left overnight may be contaminated by microorganisms.

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Buddhism / Buddhist Diet

The many schools of Buddhism have different views whether meat is permitted or if Buddhist should remain strict vegetarians. For example: Followers of the scripture of Theravada are allowed to eat meat. Even Buddhist monks of this school are allowed to eat meat, as long as the animal was not killed for the purpose of providing food for the monks. In contrast to the view of the Theravadic school, the follower of the Mahayana scripture believe that Buddhists should not eat any kind of meat and fish and that even vegetarian food that has only been touched by meat or fish has to be washed thoroughly before eaten or has to be rejected. The latter view is based on the first law in the basic Buddhist code of ethics, the “five precepts”, which prohibits killing and applies equally to humans and animals. In the modern Buddhist world, the attitudes toward vegetarianism vary by location. It is estimated that about half of all Buddhists worldwide are vegetarians.

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 This text was written by Erik Voigt of the Department of Food Biotechnology and Food Process Engineering, Berlin Institute of Technology (Technische Universitaet Berlin), Berlin, Germany and of the European Federation of Food Science and Technology (EFFoST), Wageningen, The Netherlands.

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