VEGETARIANISM.---A theory advocating an exclusively vegetable diet. In all parts of the civilised world, there exist groups of men who consider vegetables the only proper food for mankind, and who call themselves vege tarians. The propaganda for this exclusive form of nourishment has been carried on with more or less enthusiasm for ages ; but in spite of the hearty recommendations accorded it by a few philosophers and other men of mental superiority, it has never found favour with the masses. Within recent years the question has been made the subject of scientific investigation. It has been demonstrated that the weight of the body may remain stationary, and the need for proteids be satisfied, on a diet consisting of uncooked veget ables exclusively. Most so-called vegetarians, however, do not remain loyal to their principle of taking no animal food, since their dietary includes such articles as milk, cheese, butter, eggs, etc.
The characteristic feature of a vegetable diet is the limited amount of albumin ingested (2 to 21 ounces a day, as compared with 3 to 4 ounces on a meat diet). This deficiency is largely compensated for by the increased amount of fatty elements (oils, nuts, etc.) consumed by vegetarians. On a vegetable diet, nutrition is carried on at the lowest possible level, so that the general economy is always slightly endangered. The majority of vegetarians are below the average with regard to nutrition and weight, and are usually thin and anemic. In spite of this circumstance, however, they remain healthy, chiefly on account of their regular mode of living, their avoidance of excesses in drinking alcoholic beverages, and their strict observance of bodily hygiene (taking plenty of exercise, fresh air, sleep, etc.). This is one explanation of the fact that many vegetarians keep well in spite of scanty nourishment.
Within recent years careful dietary studies have been made by a number of chemists, notably Chittenden, Atwater, Benedict, and others. Chittenden
has shown that people eat too much meat, and that a restriction in the proteid of the food is advisable. On the other hand, many dietary studies show that eating, like every other natural act, is in process of evolution, and that man's needs are gauged by his appetite better than by the chemist's balance. Careful dietary studies in Japan have shown that the Japanese have been underfed for years in proteids, and that the introduction of a fuller meat diet has done away with certain diseases, notably beriberi in the navy. The most important and powerful peoples have always had a more ample diet ; and poverty, and the consequent reduction of food supply, is one of the most important elements in racial deterioration.
For medical purposes, a vegetarian diet is an entirely different matter. The majority of vegetarians adopt this mode of nourishment during some sickness when, despairing of being cured, they resort to extreme dietary measures, as it faulty nourishment were the only source of disease: In a small number of diseases a vegetable diet actually results, directly or indirectly, in a cure ; as, for instance, in stubborn constipation. Excluding meat from the diet is often beneficial in gouty conditions, in insidious kidney troubles, and in certain skin-diseases. The question as to the advisability of a vegetable diet in any given case, can be answered only by a physician, as it depends upon an exact knowledge of the causes of the existing disease. If such a diet be recommended, however, it should always be modified by the addition of milk or milk products, in order to avoid the consequences of deficient nourishment. This modification is not necessary in the case of obesity, in which disease a vegetarian diet—carried out under the supervision of a physician—is often productive of excellent results.