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theory and practice of eating only fruits and vegetables, thus excluding animal flesh, fish, or fowl and often butter, eggs, and milk. In a strict vegetarian, or vegan, diet (i.e., one that excludes all animal products), the nine amino acids that must be supplied by the diet can be obtained by eating foods that include both grains and legumes (e.g., beans or tofu) at any point during the day. Vitamins B12 and D can be obtained through supplements or the addition of a cup of nonfat milk or yogurt to the daily diet. Ovolactovegetarians obtain complete proteins by including milk, cheese, and eggs in their diets.

The basis of the practice of vegetarianism may be religious or ethical, economic, or nutritional, and its followers differ as to strictness of observance. Certain Hindu and Buddhist sects are vegetarian, as are Seventh-day Adventists. As a general movement vegetarianism arose about the middle of the 19th cent.; it made considerable progress in Great Britain and in the United States. In the contemporary United States, vegetarianism has gained acceptance as a practice that lowers one's risk for the "diseases of affluence," e.g., high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.


See C. Spencer, A History of Vegetarianism (1995); T. Stuart The Bloodless Revolution (2007).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Russian, vegetarianstvo), a system of nutrition that excludes from the diet all products of animal origin, including fish and poultry. Followers of vegetarianism consider only vegetable food to be natural nutrition for humans. Some vegetarians (“old vegetarians”) use plant products only in raw form in their diet, others use them also in broiled or cooked form, and the “young vegetarians” include milk products and eggs along with vegetable foods. Nutrition recommended by the “young vegetarians” covers all body requirements for nutritional elements and is, therefore, entirely acceptable from a physiological standpoint.

Vegetarianism became widespread in Europe in the first half of the 19th century, especially in countries where vegetable foods, including fruits, were the foods most readily available to wide sections of the population; in Russia it came into use somewhat later and primarily among various religious sects (Dukhobors, Beloriztsy, and “svobodniki,” among others) and certain strata of the intelligentsia (especially Tolstoyans). Vegetarianism has not become widespread in the USSR. Contemporary nutritional science, based on the researches of physiology and biochemistry, recommends a mixed diet (vegetable and animal products). Foods of animal origin contain complex amino acids which are very important for the life processes of the human body. In order to meet the body’s physiological requirement for protein with plant foods only, a greater quantity of these foods are necessary; overloading the digestive organs with plant foods may cause a number of disturbances and even chronic illnesses. Moreover, vegetable protein is assimilated considerably more poorly than animal protein. Thus, about 48-70 percent of the protein of black bread is assimilated, 60-68 percent of that of potato, 60-70 percent of that of buckwheat groats, and 50 percent of that of millet, whereas up to 98 percent of the protein of meat, fish, eggs, and milk is assimilated, Animal products (milk, eggs, meat, liver, fatty fish) contain vitamins A, B, among others. However, physiological requirements for carbohydrates, fats, mineral salts, and vitamins may also be supplied by vegetable foods, even under conditions of increased muscular exertion, such as active sports.

A vegetarian diet is used for therapeutic purposes in certain illnesses, such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, acute and chronic kidney diseases, uric acid diathesis, and gout. In such cases it is beneficial to add milk and eggs to the diet. A temporary transfer to a vegetarian diet is effected gradually, since rapid transfer may cause severe weakness and a depressed state.


Pevzner, M. I. “Znachenie ovoshchei i fruktov v pitanii.” Trudy kliniki lechebnogo pitaniia, 1940, vol. 1.
Pokrovskii, A. A. “Fiziologo-biokhimicheskie aspekty pitaniia i pishchevaia promyshlennost’ ” Prikladnaia biokhimiia i mikrobiologiia, 1967, vol. 3, issue 5.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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