Eating Buddhist for a Healthier Way of Being

Chosun Ilbo. May 21, 2006

Seoul, South Korea -- Many people who have had food at Buddhist temples are surprised by how delicious it can be given the limitations on what ingredients can be used - no spring onions or garlic, which are thought of as inflaming the senses, nothing that has been killed.

Instead, Buddhist cooking brings out the full flavor of the ingredients it does use, awakening both mind and body. Thus Buddhist cooking also serves as an excellent alternative in an age of proliferating food allergies and wariness of additives like MSG, excessive meat intake and irregular dietary habits. Here, the Chosun Ilbo explains the winning formula.

1. Natural Spices

The secret of the simple flavors unique to Buddhist dishes lies in natural spices. More than 30 kinds of natural spices, from mushroom powder to sea tangle, black bean powder, cinnamon powder and green perilla powder are used.

2. Fiber

If Buddhist monks rarely have trouble with constipation, it is because they eat hundreds of seasoned vegetables. Buddhist dishes are thrifty, often using even the roots and rind of plants. “Vegetables and seasoned vegetables are rich not only in fiber but also phytochemicals, which prevent cancer and chronic degenerative diseases”, says Prof. Shin Mi-kyung, a Wonkwang University nutritionist.

3. Low Salt

“We add the least amount of salt for seasoning because salty food makes it difficult to focus on self-discipline by stimulating our stomach and does not bring out the true flavors of the ingredients,” says Hongseung, a monk with a society for research on Buddhist cooking.

4. Low Calories

Buddhist food is low in calories, with a bowl of hot cereal for breakfast, a full meal for lunch and a bowl of rice and three side dishes for supper. They provide some 1,600 kcal on average a day, only 82 percent of adult’s normal calorie intake. This is why it is an excellent diet for those who want to lose weight.

5. Nuts and Beans

As meat is not an option, Buddhist cooking replaces it with pine nuts and peanuts and other nuts, beans, tofu and green perilla as sources of protein. Studies show that those who eat nuts on a regular basis have a 35-50 percent lower risks of getting heart disease, while beans are known for their anti-cancer effects.

6. Light Eating

Buddhist food makes it difficult to overeat. People often eat too much of any delicious food because they hurry while eating, run out of time or skip meals. “Nutrients left over when our body’s energy needs are already met are the cause of obesity and various diseases,” Hongseung says. “If you make a habit of light eating, you will be able to live a long and healthy life.”

7. Food as Medicine

Buddhism teaches that eating the right food is the best way to cure disease without taking medicine or getting other treatment. “When I have problem with my digestion, I eat cabbage, and when I have problem with the lungs, I eat gingko nuts seasoned with sesame oil,” says monk Seonjae. According to Prof. Lee Eui-ju of Kyunghee University’s Oriental Medicine Hospital, food plays an important role in the three stages of disease prevention, treatment and post-treatment. “For people with diseases related to dietary habits such as diabetes, hypertension and hypotension, Buddhist dishes are a great help.”