By Naini Setalvad
Mahatma Gandhi believed that a man is what he eats. here are his own experiments, not just with truth, but with food
Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology and experimentation on food was deep and profound. The year 1901 was a turning point in his life. He had fallen severely ill and only through correcting his diet and lifestyle was he able to gain backs his health and vitality. This fuelled a desire in him to read and study food and health. His conclusion was that a man is what he eats, and his thoughts are influenced significantly by what he eats. The whole process of assimilation and elimination of food is manifested ultimately as one’s genetic and spiritual blueprint. Food, and the thoughts with which it is consumed, creates personality. Every iota of self is built by choices through food. Most of the extracts from the Mahatma’s writings in Harijan, Sevagram and Young India dwelt on simple living and sound eating habits.
The Gandhi food regimen:
• He advocated three meals a day. Early breakfast, midday lunch and early dinner. Nibbling in between is harmful to the digestive system.
• He strongly believed in vegetarianism. In his magazine, Young India, he affirmed that vegetarians enjoyed better health than meat-eaters as the consumption of meat brought with it all the defects of the animal with it. He said being vegetarian supported ahimsa, but that did not necessarily mean that meat-eaters were lesser human beings.
Vegetarianism, according to him, is one of the priceless gifts of Hinduism, though the choice of one’s diet is not to be based on faith. It is a matter for everyone to reason out for himself. Abstaining from alcohol, drugs and meat is a great aid to evolution of spirit, but it’s by no means an end in itself. Many eat meat, but live a life which is pure. Others who abstain can be himsic and selfish. Vegetarians feel that they have licence to overeat, and tend to eat much more than their non-vegetarian counterparts, causing innumerable health problems. Their tendency to consume excessive dairy products and lentils leads to disease.
Having lived for six years on fruits and nuts, Gandhiji endorses the proposition that fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts should form the main part of the diet. These foods can generate and maintain health effectively. He believed in eating seasonal foods. He strongly felt that the consumption of banana and milk formed a complete meal.
• Leafy vegetables such as sarson, suva, tops of carrot, turnip, and radish play an important role in maintaining health, he revealed. Cooking them, he asserted, was a waste of good vitamins. It is good to eat salads raw – onions, tomatoes, carrot leaves, etc. Two ounces of salad serves the purpose of eight ounces of cooked vegetables. Neem and tamarind (high in vitamin C) are beneficial, and to make them tastier, he recommended grinding them together in the form of chutney. Consumption of uncooked edible greens are recommended to prevent diseases.
• Grains: Rice is an important cereal grain, a staple diet for half the human race. Unpolished (brown) rice has greater food value than cultivated polished rice, containing more proteins and adequate amount of vitamin E for growth. It is sweet and rich in taste. Wheat that is hand pounded by stone or stone chakki (panchaki atta) is superior to the fine flour found in the bazaar. Sieving flour should be avoided as rich salts and vitamins are removed. Branless wheat is as bad as polished rice. It is pure starch. Loss of nutrients occurs when the bran is removed. Mills, he stated, could never compete with unpolished grains. Combining grains, in his point of view, was unhealthy. With his characteristic vehemence, he said that it was criminal negligence to eat deteriorated polished grain, in the bargain paying a heavy price of losing one’s health.
• Milk and milk products: Though he vowed never to consume milk and its products, he was forced to rethink his decision when he fell ill due to weakness. In his words, consuming milk “seemed to bring me new life!” He also wrote, “My experience has shown me that there is no light and nourishing diet equal to that of milk, especially for a person who is weak.” Cow’s milk is superior to buffalo milk as its fats are more easily digestible. Skimmed milk is a better option than whole milk. The quantity of milk and its products should be minimum, just enough for vitamin requirement. When milk or curd is consumed, avoid eating any other protein.
• Fat: if ghee is consumed, oil is unnecessary. Hand pressed oils should be preferred to refined oils. “There is no need to eat food fried in ghee or oil. It is thoughtless extravagance!” he exclaimed. He wrote this in Harijan, supporting the proposed ban on the harmful Vanaspati as it was being projected as ghee, which was untrue.
• Condiments: Common salt (rock salt, sea salt) may be rightly called ‘king’ of condiments. The body requires small amounts, and therefore, it must be taken in minimal quantities. Condiments, including salt, destroy the natural flavour of the foodstuffs. It’s best to sprinkle a little, after cooking, to add taste.
• Sugar: white sugar is extremely harmful. Sweet fruits supply enough sugar to the body, was Gandhiji’s view. “To partake of sweetmeats in a country where the millions do not even get an ordinary full meal is equivalent to robbery,” he wrote in Young India. Jaggery, in small quantities, is preferable, as it is more superior to refined sugar in food value. The minerals present in jaggery are lost during refining. He wrote that ‘all foodstuffs are richer if taken in their natural form as far as possible.’
his health, as he believed, ‘Man’s body is the temple of God’. Can we too learn to worship our body?
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