By Arundhati Bhanot October 2002 Gandhi followed a diet patter n that most nutritionists consider an ideal diet. But, to what extent is that diet practical for a modern individual? NATURE CURE, THE GANDHIAN WAYUrlikanchan, in Maharashtra, was the outcome of Mahatma Gandhi’s commitment to nature cure and a measure to bring to the poor an inexpensive way to keep healthy.This nature cure sanitarium was set up by Gandhi and his close friends and associates, Balkoba Bhave, social reformer Manubhai Desai and Dr Dinshaw Mehta, in the year 1946. Gandhi believed that disease is an attempt by the body to get rid of the toxins. These toxins can be eliminated by fasting, eating and drinking natural food, cleansing of the bowels by enemas, baths, hydro therapies and massages. The ashram has a spacious compound that can house as many as 180 persons. Room rents, treatment and food costs are kept low, abiding by Gandhi’s aim to cater to the poor. There is a specific diet pattern and a diet schedule that needs to be adhered to by the residents. Here, various kinds of treatments are available, including foot/arm bath, woollen pack, sunbath, spinal bath, acupressure, neurotherapy and tub bath. Gandhi had started Urlikanchan on an experimental basis and had witnessed a great success in treating people of various ailments. Many years later, people are once again awakening to the curative potential of Nature. GANDHI’S DIETARY ADVICEDiet must include milk and milk products such as curd, butter, ghee. · Condiments such as chillies, pepper, turmeric, coriander, mustard and fenugreek should be avoided, unless prescribed by a doctor. · Cereals, specially wheat, should be an important part of the diet. Sieving the flour should be avoided. Prefer unpolished rice to polished rice, which is more nutritious. · Starchy foods should be eaten in a relatively dry form to ensure greater flow of saliva for mastication. · People leading sedentary lives can do without pulses. · Fresh leafy vegetables should be taken everyday. · Daily diet should include seasonal fruits. The best time for taking fruits is early in the morning. · Food should also have a certain amount of fat. It can be obtained from ghee or oil. Oil is not as nourishing as pure ghee. · Although sweet fruits supply plenty of sugar, there is no harm in taking one or two ounces of sugar, brown or white, in a day. · Avoid taking tea or coffee. Food is a matter of choice. We usually eat what we feel is best suited to have an adequate supply of energy and keep us healthy. But it rarely goes beyond that. Unless one has the resolve of a Gandhi. For Gandhi, food was not something that just satiated hunger. It was an integral part of shaping the human consciousness. Which is why he carried out a number of experiments to find the perfect diet. Though Gandhi is associated with vegetarianism and milk, he actually abstained from milk for a period of six years, considering it an animal product. In 1917, when he was bed-ridden, doctors compelled him to take milk. He, however, did not want to break his vow of not consuming cow’s milk. Thus began his now-famous goat-milk diet. And the idea seems to be catching on. Available data suggests that over 440 million goats worldwide produce an estimated 4.8 million tons of milk, consumed locally or converted into cheese. This clearly shows a growing preference for goat’s milk. According to a comparison made by Dr P.P. Bose, who has been studying dietary habits, the xanthine oxidase in cow-milk is capable of damaging the heart and arteries. On the other hand, glycerol ethers are higher in goat’s milk, which is an important source of nutrition for an infant. Goat’s milk also has greater amounts of vitamin A, as well as minerals, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, chlorine and manganese. Gandhi emphasised wheat and rice in a diet, with cereals holding the second place. He felt that cereals should be taken relatively dry for mastication and proper digestion. This was followed by fruits and vegetables. He stressed that fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables should be eaten raw. Commenting on Gandhi’s views on diet, Dr Bose says: ‘Gandhi’s concept of diet fits the recommended food pyramid, which is essential for good health.’ A food pyramid begins with fat and oils at the top, whose consumption should be the least. Then milk and poultry products, followed by fruits and vegetables. The base represents cereals, with maximum amount of water content. ‘Gandhi,’ explains Dr Bose, ‘was far ahead of his time. What he proclaimed 50 years ago is now being promoted as the ideal diet pattern.’ Gandhi expressed his preference for jaggery over sugar. Because, as Dr Bose explains, ‘sugar goes directly into blood, raising the sugar level, and the excess sugar gets converted into calorie or fat. Jaggery, however, takes more time to masticate, thus resulting in a slower rise in sugar level’. Gandhi did not think it necessary to eat pulses if milk was included in the diet. ‘He consumed small quantities of pure ghee,’ informs Dr Bose. ‘Since this was derived from milk, it was more like an unsaturated fat, which is not cholesterol forming.’ For Gandhi, the welfare of people living in the villages was the first priority. So, he worked with many nutritionists to derive a diet-chart that gave maximum nutrition at minimum cost. Even Gandhi’s concept of fasting, which revolutionalized non-violent resistance, had its health benefits. ‘Occasional fasting,’ says Dr Bose, ‘is indeed beneficial for the body and restores normal functioning of the digestive system.’ Gandhi, however, did eat meat as a growing boy. In his book, Diet and Diet Reforms, he recalls how he came to believe that meat eating could make the entire nation strong and drive the British away. What convinced him to adopt vegetarianism was Henry Salt’s Plea for Vegetarianism, Howard Williams’ The Ethics of Diet, a biographical history of the literature of human dietetics from the earliest period to the present day, and Dr Anna Kingsford’s The Perfect Way in Diet. While talking about the moral basis of vegetarianism, Gandhi wrote: ‘Man was not born a carnivorous animal, but born to live on fruits and herbs that the Earth grows.’ Today, though there are arguments about whether Homo sapiens were by nature carnivores or herbivores, research indicates that vegetarianism may not only lead to a healthier life, but a longer life as well. Gandhi believed that a man becomes what he eats. The grosser the food, the grosser the body. Dr Michael Brown and Dr Josef Goldstein, heart specialists from the USA and winners of Nobel Prize for medicine, say: ‘All flesharian food cause many diseases such as constipation, piles, gall bladder stones, colon cancer, indigestion, ulcer and kidney failure.’ To study the interrelation between diet and personality traits, an experiment was conducted on prisoners at Gwalior jail. According to the results, inmates put on a vegetarian diet over a period of six months began to refrain from aggressive behaviour. On reverting to a non-vegetarian diet they showed a behaviour change for the worse. In his book Zen Macrobiotics, Georges Ohsawa, a Japanese physician who combined the ancient eastern nourishing way with western science to evolve the basic rules of nutrition, goes to the extent of saying that if Gandhi had been a meat eater, he would have become a cruel revolutionary instead of an apostle of non-violence. Far-fetched? Perhaps. After all, we have had meat-eating sages and wise-leaders. But going by dietary research, vegetarianism has more pros than cons. In one of Gandhi’s dietetic experiments, he, along with a group of volunteers, were put on a raw food diet. He believed that proper mastication of food could reduce food intake. Thus, help the economy, and reduce the violence one committed to sustain life. Though the experiment failed and many volunteers showed a marked deterioration of health, and Gandhi himself fell sick, he continued to express faith in the value of uncooked food. This indicates that raw food alone may not be the fastest ticket to health. Especially when combined with fasting and marginal health care. But it could add a great deal to our diet. Dr Ann Wigmore, founder of the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, says: ‘The easiest way to add living enzymes to the digestive tract is to eat ripe fruits, uncooked organically grown vegetables, sprouts and wheatgrass.’ To pave way for equal distribution of food, Gandhi proposed that all members of the community should share the available food resources. Those who could afford animal proteins such as milk, cheese, eggs or meat, should avoid pulses and leave them for those who could not afford anything else. He expressed his desire to introduce food reforms in the villages by making available the simplest and the cheapest food. Gandhi said: ‘When food submerses the body, and through the body the soul, its relish disappears, and then alone does it begin to function in the way nature intended it to.’ It took Gandhi 35 long years to evolve a healthy diet that helped him to keep fit and wage a war that required all his energy and determination.
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