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Avoid That Awkward Moment — Surprising Religious Dietary Restrictions

If you’ve ever eaten a bacon cheeseburger, you’ve consumed something that a huge portion of the world’s population can’t. Religious dietary restrictions prohibit billions of people from even looking twice at it.

Of course, if you’re like many Americans, you might not think twice about scarfing down a $2 Bacon McDouble. But it’s a good lesson in global eating practices. And not just because “a lot of people wouldn’t eat it,” but because their reasons are all so different.

bacon cheeseburger slider

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Hindus wouldn’t touch it because of the beef in the burger.

Muslims and Jews, who practice Halal and Kosher diets, would have a whole host of issues. The combination of meat and dairy, the presence of bacon (off-limits), and the way the meat was prepared would all be considerations.

Buddhists would probably be asking for the veggie burger.

Observant Jains, who often avoid consuming root vegetables, wouldn’t even touch the fries.

a hand offering a double patty burger while the other other refuses to take it

Image: Paffy

buffet featuring Indian food

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And of course, anyone who is doing keto would totally be unable to eat the bun.

(OK, so the carb-avoiding “ketogenic diet” isn’t technically a religion–we think–but we’ve met some adherents, and we’re still not entirely sure…)

Point is, there’s a lot to keep track of with this one fairly common meal.

If you’re planning a dinner and inviting people who practice a different faith, a little research may help avoid a misunderstanding. And if you’re ever traveling anywhere, that has passed laws based on these rules? You need to know before you go there, even if you don’t practice the religion yourself.

In certain parts of India, eating beef can get you huge fines and up to five years in prison. In some countries, drinking alcohol is the thing that will get you locked up.

And in many places it’s not just what you eat but when you eat it, as religious dietary restrictions can change with the seasons.

In this article, we talk about many observed practices from all corners of the world. Some religious dietary restrictions you might never encounter. But if any of them cross your path, you’ll have an understanding of what they are, and why certain people observe them.

A World of Religious Dietary Restrictions

Religious dietary restrictions have been around for thousands of years. Religions frequently tell people what they can or can’t eat, as these choices reflect the cultural and moral values of the faithful.

As such, the study of these restrictions can give us valuable insight into how certain people see the world, what they consider important, what they consider offensive. In many cases, the “why” is as important as the “what.”


Tibetan Buddhist monk wearing orange robe while walking

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Buddhism has several traditions. The main branches are Theravada and Mahayana, and these can be subdivided further into individual groups.

There is enormous variety among followers of Buddha. Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism may look fairly different from one another in terms of the rituals and practices, but there are some similarities that many adherents share.

Generally, Buddha taught that all life is sacred, and that animals should not be unnecessarily sacrificed for consumption.

a seated Buddha statue facing a pool of water

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Theravada Buddhism will sometimes allow for eating certain forms of meat (pork, chicken, or fish) but not others (like beef); but one can only do this if the animal died of natural causes. Slaughtering the animal is what is not permitted.

Throughout Buddhism, many adherents have made the choice to be vegetarian. Although it is not a requirement, except occasionally for some of those entering monastic life, it is extremely common to see vegans, vegetarians, or some who will only eat dairy or eggs.

Monks fast and avoid solid food after noon, but this is not typically expected of most lay people.

Buddhism is one of several Indian religions we will look at here, but it rarely makes hard-and-fast rules regarding diets for people. Unlike Jainism and Hinduism, where adherence to guidelines is expected.

Monks fast and avoid solid food after noon, but this is not typically expected of most lay people.

Buddhism is one of several Indian religions we will look at here, but it rarely makes hard-and-fast rules regarding diets for people. Unlike Jainism and Hinduism, where adherence to guidelines is expected.


Jesus the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro

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The term Christianity covers a wide range, including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Protestants, Adventists, and other assorted denominations.

Although Christianity has its foundations in Jewish tradition, Christians started to pull away from the Mosaic (Jewish) food laws fairly early in the religion’s history. 

Wine and bread are used in the celebration of Communion, and there are typically a few strict rules about avoiding specific foods or ingredients. The Bible does discourage drunkenness and gluttony, however, and many Christians practice fasting during certain days or parts of the year.


Irish Catholic Mass attended by many priests

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Alcohol and all forms of meat are considered permissible. However, it is common for adherents to avoid meat on Fridays during the season of Lent, which precedes the Easter holiday. Fish is usually substituted on those days.

During Lent, it is also regular practice for Catholics to give something up (which may or may not be dietary in nature) and some will also fast on Good Friday or Ash Wednesday.

But for the most part, Catholicism has few strict rules on food.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Eastern Orthodox praying and lighting candles near an altar

Image by Dmitry Boyarin from Russia [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Eastern Orthodox Church was formed in the 11th Century when it split from Roman Catholicism over the authority of the Pope. It became the predominant religion in the Byzantine Empire, and now it accounts for many of the Christians living in Greece, Russia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Kazakhstan.

Although the religion has few strict laws about avoiding any one food entirely, it does encourage fasting as a way of developing self-restraint. On Wednesdays and Fridays, adherents are expected to avoid meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, olive oil, and alcohol. Stricter rules also apply to monks.


Methodist Church with huge pipe organ

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Protestantism, which began during the 16th Century Reformation, has almost no dietary restrictions that are considered requirements. Even the few fasting traditions of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches were set aside, although some individuals within the faith will still observe them.

Although individual foods are not restricted, in some denominations alcohol is avoided. Although wine is used for the sacrament of Communion in most Christian denominations, a few Protestant denominations use non-alcoholic grape juice instead.

Seventh-Day Adventism

Of all the Christian believers, the ones best known for their religious dietary restrictions are the Seventh-Day Adventists. Seventh-Day Adventism arose in the Mid-19th Century, and one of its characteristics is a focus on cleanliness and purity through proper eating.

Alcohol and smoking are to be avoided, and meat, poultry, and fish are all off-limits as well. Seventh-Day Adventists are what are known as “lacto-ovo-vegetarians.” This means they can eat dairy (“lacto”) and eggs (“ovo”), but most other animal products are not considered good to eat.

(Many Adventists also advocate the avoidance of caffeine and sugar. Moderation or abstinence in these categories is strongly encouraged.

In the case of the Adventists, few of these rules are set in stone, but the underlying concept is to keep the body clean from harmful foods or chemicals, and many individuals in the church will have developed their own dietary preferences as a result.


Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world, and has millions of adherents in India and across the world. Unlike some of the other religious dietary restrictions on our list, a few of Hinduism’s guidelines are based on a caste system. One person’s rules may not be the same as another’s.

Generally speaking, people eat only with their equals in terms of the castes they are in. Many of their dietary aims are based on the concept of not wanting to pollute the body. Foods that are seen to be polluting are avoided.

The killing and eating of cows is prohibited. Other animals may be eaten, but many see this as a negative thing to do. As such, many Hindus are lacto-vegetarian; they will eat dairy products, but no meat.


Muslim men  bowing and praying at mosque

Antonio Melina/Agência Brasil [CC BY​​ 3.0 br], via Wikimedia Commons

Muslims have a lot of restrictions on what they can and can’t eat, and how it’s prepared. Muslims adhere to the Islamic diet known as Halal.

The word Halal means “permissible” or “lawful,” and actually applies to any action that is permissible under Islamic law. That which is unlawful is referred to as “Haram.”

The dietary laws were drawn up in the Qur’an during the time of Mohammed. These laws draw from earlier Jewish traditions, and as such, they have many correlations to the Jewish Kosher laws.

Swine is considered unclean, so pork and bacon are not permitted. In addition, no carnivorous animals or birds of prey are to be consumed. No animals that have been found dead, and definitely no eating of anything sacrificed to idols. All of these are considered unfit to eat.

Halal also requires that animals be slaughtered according to strict guidelines, much like Kosher laws.

Halal does differ from Kosher in a few ways. One of the most noticeable of these differences is that Halal bans the drinking of alcohol. While Judaism mainly encourages moderation in drinking, Islam bans it completely.

Other habits (such as drugs and caffeine) are also discouraged.

Children during Ramadan

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Muslims also celebrate a long holy observance during the period of Ramadan. Ramadan is a holy month of fasting, during which Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. At the end of Ramadan, they celebrate Id al Fitr with a large feast.

Although Muslims take the Halal rules seriously, there may be occasions where necessity dictates that they consume food that has not been prepared according to Islamic law. If the circumstances were compelling, then it is not considered a breach of the law, as the life of the person takes priority.


Jainist meditation

Claude Renault from Reykjavik, Iceland [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

You might not know much about Jainism, as it has fewer adherents than some of the other religions on this list. In fact, only some 5 million followers practice Jainism worldwide. But this is one faith with some serious religious dietary restrictions.

One of the main concepts of Jainism is called ahimsa. Ahimsa means practicing non-violence in all areas, and calls for the preservation of all life.

This means that Jains are vegetarians. Many of them also avoid eggs, and will only consume dairy if they know it comes from a farm where the animals have been treated well.

In addition, monks in the Jain tradition will go so far as to avoid root vegetables, as is it almost impossible to harvest these without taking the life of small organisms. The uprooting of potatoes, onions, and garlic may also kill the entire plant.

Because even the tiniest animal is considered important, honey is also forbidden.

Jains fast during the holiday of Paryushana, the most important holiday in the religion. Paryushana takes place in late summer and lasts eight days.


Jewish man reading and praying

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Judaism’s extensive laws regarding diet, dress, and behavior are well-known throughout the world. In particular, the Kosher diet is so familiar that many people use the term “Kosher” for “acceptable within these rules.”

In fact, the word Kosher means “clean” or “pure.” This definition is important in understanding the rationale behind keeping Kosher; it is a way of keeping oneself clean in honor and observance of God.

(designer_start) [ pic of a food package with the Kosher symbol ] (designer_end)

The most commonly known elements are that pork and shellfish are not allowed under any circumstances. There are also many specific animals, including owls and hawks, that are off-limits.

In addition, animals must be slaughtered in a particular way in order to be Kosher.

Hasidic Jews also live by these laws and are usually even more particular about their religious dietary restrictions.


LDS temple in Salt Lake, Utah

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Mormons are expected to eat foods that will improve their body and mind, and avoid those that weaken them. Overindulgence is considered sinful, so restraint is the operative word here.

Mormonism prohibits alcohol and caffeine, regardless of where they come from. The main aim is to avoid substances that produce mind-altering effects, so this would also include smoking and any drugs with mind-altering effects.

Mormons also incorporate fasting into their observances, and many will fast on the first Sunday of every month (so maybe be aware of this if you’re planning a large dinner party on that day and there are Mormons on your guest list.)


Rastafarians eat food that is only lightly cooked. Meats, canned goods, and artificial beverages are shunned. Seafood is allowed in specific cases. It’s mostly avoided, but one very specific rule is that fish “under a foot long” may be eaten.

Perhaps more commonly known is Rastafarian connected to marijuana. Rastafarians believe that it contains healing elements and opens the mind up to wisdom. As such, it is treated with reverence, and is a vital element in their rites.


Sikh prayer ceremony

Image by Maryland Gov, CC by 2.0, via Flickr

Sikhs are free to decide whether or not to be vegetarian, but there is a strong tradition of this diet within the religion. Only lacto-vegetarian food is served in the Sikh Temple (called a Gurdwara).

There are a few restrictions on meat, however.

Sikhs are actually prohibited from eating meat that is Halal or Kosher (that is to say, Sikhs don’t eat meat that has been slaughtered according to Muslim or Jewish laws).

The Sikhs have a tradition that makes allowance for them to eat Jhatka meat, which is a term that carries the meaning that the animal be killed instantly, so as not to cause them to feel any pain.

The Sikhs look to become one with God, and as such, anything that interferes with this journey is to be put aside. Alcohol, tobacco, and drugs are therefore restricted.

Religious Dietary Restrictions





Do not eat meat.

Practice vegetarianism.

Practice moderation in all things.

 Life is sacred, and the practice of compassion is a virtue.


(Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant)

Selective fasting with meat and fish. Typically seen in the Catholic or Orthodox Church, less with Protestants.

Dedication to God is furthered by mindful self-discipline.


(Seventh Day Adventist)

Meat, fish, alcohol, coffee, tea, drugs, and anything that pollutes the body is discouraged.

Focus on cleanliness and purity as a way to honor God.


Beef prohibited. Meat and fish restricted. Fasts on holy days.

The cow is sacred. Consuming dairy is not considered a violation of this idea.)


Meat must observe Halal rules of slaughter. No pork, carnivores, or some birds. No alcohol. Long periods of fasting. Coffee discouraged.

Improper eating habits get in the way of spiritual growth.

 Fasting properly enhances it.


No killing or eating animals of any kind. No eggs, dairy only from approved sources. Root vegetables also discouraged. Non-harm is paramount.

Ahimsa (practiced of non-harm) is considered supremely important.


Meat must observe Kosher rules of slaughter. Pork and shellfish off-limits. Meat and dairy cannot be eaten together.

Certain animals are considered unclean and not fit for consumption. Laws outlined in Jewish scripture.


No Tobacco, Alcohol, or drugs. Moderation strongly encouraged in diet.

Mormons value clarity of mind, as it is necessary to serve God. Therefore, addictive materials are to be avoided as much as possible.


Meat, fish, and anything unnatural is off-limits. Tea is permitted, coffee and alcohol are not.

Eating animals is considered unclean or unnatural.


No Halal or Kosher meat. Many Sikhs are vegetarian. No alcohol, drugs, or tobacco.

Sikhs seek oneness with God, and therefore try to remove anything that may disrupt this.

Talking About Religious Dietary Restrictions

two Muslim boys wearing taqiyah

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The key thing to understand when dealing with religious dietary restrictions is that everyone has a different starting viewpoint. Things that seem unimportant or even silly to one person can carry great spiritual significance to someone else.

Always be respectful of other people’s diets and choices. This is good practice even if they aren’t based in religion. But it is especially important when it comes to matters of faith.

If you are preparing food for someone who may have religious dietary restrictions, it is a good idea to ask. If you are ever in doubt, it is best not to assume.

people preparing dumplings

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women drinking glasses of white and red wine

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Also, don’t ever assume that someone lives by a specific set of rules just because that person is a member of a certain religion or ethnicity. They may belong to a denomination that adheres to a variation of those laws, or they may have their own personal preferences.

And obviously, don’t ever make fun of people for their diets. The way they eat is an important part of how they live life, especially if they are trying to honor their spiritual duties in the process. Going by basic rules of respect and openness will always stand you in good stead.

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