The Hindu diet is practiced by adherents of Hinduism, the third largest religion in the world (1).

It’s a primarily lacto-vegetarian diet, which means that it includes dairy products but excludes meat. Still, some people who practice Hinduism choose to eat certain meats or other animal products.

You may be curious about its history, how it compares with vegetarianism, and whether it offers health benefits.

This article tells you everything you need to know about the Hindu diet.

The Hindu diet is the eating pattern usually followed by adherents of Hinduism, most of whom live in India. Yet, as an estimated 1.1 billion people practice this religion, there are many variations of the diet (1).

In general, Hindus follow a lacto-vegetarian diet, which excludes meat, fish, shellfish, and eggs but includes dairy.

Why people follow it

Hindu religious texts advocate for ahimsa, a practice of nonviolence toward all living creatures. This tenet justifies a lacto-vegetarian diet, as the killing of animals for food can be considered violence in Hindu cultures (2).

Additionally, Hinduism considers cows sacred, as they’re representative of maternal gentleness. As such, even among Hindus who eat meat, beef and byproducts like beef lard are taboo (3).

How it compares with vegetarian diets

There are no universal, mandatory dietary restrictions for practicing Hindus — with the exception of abstinence from beef.

Thus, the Western concept of vegetarian diets, with its rigid bans on certain food groups like meat, fish, and poultry, doesn’t apply to the Hindu diet.

All the same, a majority of Hindus follow what could be considered a lacto-vegetarian diet. Some may follow a stricter diet while others may have more relaxed practices — even eating meat, such as chicken or goat.

In fact, many Hindus living in India report including at least some meat in their diet — particularly those who are poorer or lower in the caste system (4).

Summary

The Hindu diet is followed by adherents of Hinduism. While it’s primarily a lacto-vegetarian diet, many Hindus may eat meats like chicken or goat.

The traditional lacto-vegetarian version of the Hindu diet may provide several health benefits.

May boost heart health

Lacto-vegetarian diets can be associated with heart health, as they tend to be higher in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and antioxidants than omnivorous diets.

Indeed, vegetarian diets are linked to lower blood pressure levels than diets that contain meat (5).

Additionally, one review found that vegetarian diets lowered levels of total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease. All the same, vegetarian diets also reduced HDL (good) cholesterol (6).

However, the Hindu diet’s inclusion of dairy products may help maintain or increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels. That said, dairy products may also raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, depending on what types of dairy products are involved (7, 8).

May promote lower body weight

In Hinduism, moderation of food intake is considered an important virtue called mitahara. This practice emphasizes diet and nutrition as keys to healthy living (9).

This focus on food moderation may promote healthier attitudes about food. In fact, dietary moderation is associated with lower calorie intake (10).

In turn, a lower calorie intake may aid weight loss.

Indeed, the traditional lacto-vegetarian Hindu diet is linked to lower body weights in India, compared with other eating patterns common in the country (11).

Packed with fiber and antioxidants

The traditional Hindu diet may be richer in fiber and antioxidants than other diets due to its high concentration of fruits and vegetables (12).

Fruits and vegetables both boast fiber, which has several health benefits. These include lowering cholesterol and promoting healthy digestion (13).

Fiber intake is also associated with a lower body weight because it promotes feelings of fullness. High fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, likewise tend to be lower in calories than low fiber foods (13).

Additionally, fruits and vegetables are some of the best dietary sources of antioxidants. These plant compounds may help prevent or reverse cellular damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals (12).

Antioxidants may decrease chronic inflammation and lower your risk of illnesses like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers (14).

Notably, a study in 100 people in India revealed that those who followed lacto-vegetarian or ovo-lacto-vegetarian diets — which include eggs — had higher antioxidant levels in their blood than non-vegetarians (15).

May decrease chronic disease risk

The Hindu diet is primarily plant-based, but the addition of dairy products helps ensure that your body gets adequate vitamin B12 and zinc, which may help your body fend off anemia and certain chronic illnesses (16, 17).

Specifically, due to their fiber, nutrient, and antioxidant contents, plant-based diets are associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, autoimmune conditions, kidney disease, and type 2 diabetes (18, 19, 20, 21).

One study in 32 vegetarians and non-vegetarians in India found that the non-vegetarians had ratios of gut bacteria similar to those of people with colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (22).

From these results, researchers inferred that a vegetarian diet may protect against these conditions. All the same, more research is needed (22).

Summary

The traditional Hindu diet may be associated with improved heart health and antioxidant status, as well as reduced body weight and chronic disease risk.

The Hindu diet is primarily lacto-vegetarian, though some practicing Hindus eat meat.

Generally, the only food completely banned for Hindus is beef. That said, many Hindus refrain from alcohol, and some may avoid onions and garlic, as these plants are tied to anger or passion according to certain religious doctrines (3).

Here are some foods that are commonly eaten or acceptable on the Hindu diet:

  • Protein: beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products
    • Optional animal protein: chicken, lamb, goat, fish, and eggs
  • Starches: rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, breads like naan, oats, corn, and grains like amaranth, quinoa, and millet
  • Fruits: apples, grapes, bananas, coconut, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, tomatoes, and avocados
  • Vegetables: spinach, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, radishes, and turnips
  • Dairy: milk, yogurt, sour cream, cheese, and heavy cream
  • Fats: butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil

Ghee is a type of clarified butter widely used as a cooking fat in India.

Summary

Some Hindus follow a strict vegetarian diet, while others eat meat. Generally, the only food strictly off-limits on the Hindu diet is beef.

The Hindu diet is practiced by adherents of Hinduism and primarily lacto-vegetarian.

However, there’s a large degree of flexibility, as some Hindus strictly abstain from meat while others eat certain meats, such as chicken or goat.

Thus, there’s not necessarily one right way to follow the Hindu diet — although it’s usually associated with a high intake of whole, nutritious vegetables and high fiber grains and legumes.

In general, lacto-vegetarian diets are associated with lower body weight and a decreased risk of several diseases.

Thus, the traditional Hindu diet offers a number of health benefits.