top of page
  • Aku Energija

TCM view on a vegetarian diet

It seems to be a sort of trendy cultural thing these days to claim oneself to be a vegetarian. Many people choose a vegetarian diet out of concern over animal rights or the environment. While parental preferences, religious or other beliefs, and health issues are also common reasons for choosing to be a vegetarian.

Unfortunately, many people seem to be just switching to vegetarianism without the slightest idea about what this means for their health and how to do it properly. Many patients I have seen in my daily practice have been unknowingly damaging their body by adopting an inappropriate vegetarian diet.

Please note that this article is not intended to be an argument for or against vegetarianism. It is an exploration of reasons against meat-free diet from a TCM perspective, to enable the readers to analyze this and find their own ground on this issue.

Being a vegetarian is beyond being healthy or trendy

It should be clear that being a vegetarian is not merely a diet choice, but a way of life. A vegetarian lifestyle requires discipline, planning, and a conscious effort to maintain a well-rounded diet. It requires becoming actively involved, and personal responsibility. One must mature beyond eating things simply because they taste good and develop an attitude of eating for health preservation and personal cultivation. And we must understand and accept certain limitations of being or not being vegetarian. For example, in some areas of the world, vegetarian food is not available the whole year and eating large amounts of imported food, particularly from a different climate ecosystem, could be more unhealthy than a piece of bacon.

Vegetarianism is common in Asia, only under strict conditions

Vegetarianism in Asia is very common because of the influence of Hinduism and Buddhism. Vegetarian food has long been an integral part of many Asian cuisines. In fact, Tofu making was first recorded in the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) of China. And, so was the concept of making mock meat. But with the packaged food manufacturers launching vegan alternatives to animal-based food products such as mock meat and pork, the only concern out here is, “how healthy is it to go completely meatless?” and “how practical is it in modern city life?”

Buddhism emphasizes the importance of “not killing” as much as the importance of facing our own greed, arrogance and obsession in order to gain wisdom, kindness and strength that finally we can get away from this upsetting universe. As a matter of fact, many Buddhist monks in Tibet, Sri Lanka, Thailand do eat meat as part of their alms practice, meaning they receive and accept all the encounters in their lives, including the food that they are given. Unlike in China, these monks do not cultivate their own food but rather to go on the street and receive food from civilians.

In China, the practice of vegetarianism among Buddist monks is more strict, they do not eat meat for sure, some also suggest quitting eggs while some temples do keep their own poultry to provide non-seminated eggs. Please note that, however, these monks live in a monastery far away from cities (where they believe upsetting and annoying) and they spend most of their time meditating or studying Buddhism classics or doing the necessary chores like cultivating their own food then go to bed extremely early.

Getting healthy is not the main concern of Buddhist monks. Indeed, they believe that our physical body is nothing more than a carrier that holds our soul which is destined to rot sooner or later.

In my opinion, pure vegetarianism is fine if you (1) live in a prestigious environment, without doing extremely hard work, particularly mental work (2) have some special genes and (3) have a certain spiritual mind, otherwise it is impractical in a competitive society.

Meat and TCM

TCM physiology is mostly based on Taoism instead of Buddhism. Taoism emphasizes respecting and harmonizing with nature. Killing, as cruel and ruthless as it sounds, is only part of nature. Technically, we also need to kill a plant and many pests or weeds for a vegetarian meal.

Based on the centuries-old practice of TCM, all matters, living and non-living, is a dynamic balance of different energies and materials creating a self-regulating and functioning system. Diseases arise when this internal balance is destroyed by extreme factors like an invasion of external pathogens, internal insufficiency or accumulation of excessive energies and materials leading to failure of normal functions.

TCM believes that the utility of animal products helps to restore the body to a natural state of equilibrium, and treat diseases. However, eating too much meat can also disturb the body’s balance and cause diseases. In short, a vegan diet is not recommended under the principles of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). On the other hand, the small amount of meat advocated by the principles is already a "vegetarian diet" for meat lovers.

A healthy diet is a balanced diet

According to the Traditional Chinese medicine classic Huangdi Neijing, or also known as the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, a healthy diet should have grains as the major proportion, along with a substantial portion of vegetables and beans, then accompanied by meat and supplemented by fruit. In my clinical practice, I suggest a 40/40/20 ratio on grains/cooked plants or mushrooms or beans/meat or local seasonal fruit.

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

For the majority of people in the modern days, it is easier to adopt a ‘flexitarian’ approach. This predominately is a plant-based diet that allows consumption of meat and animal products in moderation. Besides the daily 40/40/20 practice, I also recommend at least one to two “meat-free days or dessert-free days” per month as a practice of restraining and balance.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page