SYMPOSIUM ON DIET, HEALTH & RELIGION

11:09 am Health Care, Medicine

A symposium on Diet, Health & Religion, second in the series was held at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan on 5th September, 2012. The Chief Guest was Shri J Veeraraghavan, Chairman, Bhavan’s KM Munshi Institute of Educational Leadership and Management.

Welcoming the gathering, Shri Ashok Pradhan, Director, BVB said that the purpose of this symposium was to examine the relation between what we eat, how it affects our health and how all religions look at this aspect. Nature is also related to our health. Nature tells us what to eat. For example, summer vegetables have a high content of water. Speaking on fasting, he observed that not eating on certain days cleanses our body.

Shri J Veeraraghavan delivered the keynote address.

  • All religions regard food as holy and sacred. Our Vedas mention that all living things come from food.
  • In Christianity, there is a prayer “… Lord give us today our daily bread…”.
  • All religions place a great emphasis on moderation in diet. One should not overeat. Fasting is common to all religions. Besides physical health, fasting also helps in gaining control over oneself and for spiritual advancement.
  • Functional requirement of food for each person differs. It is for each person to decide on what is required for him.
  • Each religion has some specific restrictions about food. Some of these restrictions may be historical or geographical, while some may have spiritual aspects.
  • Bhagwad Gita says that the universal spirit – God or Brahman – is bound to nature. There are 3 types of bonding: Satva, Rajas and Tamas. Food is also classified into three: Satvik, Rajasik and Tamasik.  No one is pure Satva or Rajas or Tamas. There is a mix with one being predominant.
  • Extreme foods – very hot or very cold – are liked by Rajasik people, who are very active and energetic.
  • Satvik foods are sweet and simple foods.
  • Tamas people are very sleepy and lazy. They don’t take fresh foods, which increases laziness.
  • The relation between one’s values and food is not unidirectional. There is a bidirectional relationship.

Prof Sunil Kumar, Member, Managing Committee, Ramakrishna Mission, spoke on how Hinduism regards food and diet.

  • Hinduism recognizes that people are different because of their ‘ahaara’, which means not just diet or food we eat, but everything that our mind intakes through our 5 sense organs!
  • We are nothing but the food we eat. The subtlest part of the food that we eat goes to form the mind, and therefore the purity and quality of all ahaara not just food is important.
  • Hinduism classifies all foods as Satvik, Rajasik and Tamasik. The Satvik prefer not to eat meat.
  • Purity of food is directly linked to purity of mind.
  • Hinduism gives one the freedom to follow your culture.
  • Austerity and self control along with Satvik food, which is fresh, simple and wholesome, is recommended.
  • Gur or jaggery is preferred to white sugar.
  • We say no to refined flour.
  • Salt should be taken in moderation.
  • Brown rice and seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables should be preferred.
  • Hinduism does not restrict eating eggs. Milk is considered a Satvik food.
  • Hinduism does not prohibit use of alcohol, but it recognizes the harmful effects of alcohol.

Dr Shridhar Dwivedi, Dean & Principal, Professor of Medicine/Preventive Cardiology, Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Hamdard University said that according to Islam we are the mere custodian of this body – we have to pass on this body to Allah in the same state as we received it.

  • Islam prohibits all what is detrimental to health.
  • Alcohol is prohibited.
  • Tobacco, gutka, paan masala should also be avoided as they destroy the physical as well as spiritual body.
  • There are no regulations in Islam regarding salt, refined flour, white sugar, and raw vegetables.
  • It does not prohibit eating garlic and/or onions.
  • Islam forbids the eating of pork.
  • Halal meat is preferred.
  • Muslims by and large follow rigid dietary guidelines (no pork, no alcohol) and are required to wash specific parts of the body before offering namaz.
  • Further they observe ‘roja’ for one month during the holy month of ‘Ramadan’, which is again a very healthy practice, if followed as per the strict tenets of Islam.
  • Islam offers perhaps the best prescription – Avoid anything which is detrimental to health.

Sister Prabha Verghese said that we all have a need for harmony and balance in our life.

  • We need a balanced diet. There is a common saying – What you eat is what you become. So, a balanced diet is required for a balanced personality.
  • Christianity believes that all food is a gift from God, so it should be used with great love.
  • The foundation of a healthy body – physical, spiritual and mental – is healthy food. Fasting with good intentions and high motives reduces ego and increases godliness. It brings us closer to God.
  • Some people choose to fast on particular religious holy days. Catholic Christians fast and abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
  • Some but not all Catholics also abstain from meat on all the Fridays of the year. Christianity forbids alcohol and tobacco.
  • It places no restrictions on garlic and/or onion.
  • Anything which is healthy for the body is recommended in moderation.

Dr AK Merchant of the Baha’i faith said, the Baha’i religion is less than 200 years old and diverse.

  • Baha’u’llah says: “Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from the wondrous bounties…”.
  • Whatever science has said is healthy for us is welcome.
  • Majority of Baha’is are vegetarian.
  • There is no restriction as such regarding foods.
  • The Baha’i teachings permit the eating of all foods.
  • There is nothing in the Baha’i teachings about whether people should eat their food cooked or raw, nor is it forbidden to eat meat.
  • Moderation is essential.
  • One should eat only when hungry and at a fixed time to allow the body to digest food.
  • Alcohol is strictly prohibited. This includes when alcohol is taken as a drink as well as in cooking.
  • Only medically prescribed drugs should be used.
  • Tobacco and smoking are not strictly prohibited but are highly discouraged.
  • If two diametrically opposite foods are on the plate, choose only one.
  • Baha’is believe that living a simple life, abstaining from the use of alcohol and mind–altering drugs is beneficial to spiritual development, greatly reduces illness and has a good effect on character and conduct.
  • If a person can live on a purely vegetarian diet, it would be most beneficial.
  • Why certain foods are available in certain seasons have a scientific basis.
  • Food should be eaten in a healthy state of mind.
  • Whole wheat and gur are preferred to refined flour (maida) and white sugar.
  • Mother’s milk is the best food for the child. A child who has been breast-fed has a better power of resistance.
  • Most importantly, we should show courtesy to people of other religions i.e. we should be mindful of the eating habits of other religions.
  • Fasting is very important. The Baha’i calendar has 19 days of fasting from March 2-20, which ends with the Baha’i New Year.

Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar said that Judaism regards body as the temple of soul.

  • Mere absence of disease does not mean a healthy person.
  • In Judaism, mental, physical and spiritual well-being is very important.
  • For each meal, there is a prayer, which should be said from the core of your heart. Food is not only what we eat, it is also what our body absorbs through eyes and senses.
  • The traditional Jews observe dietary restrictions or Kashrut or ‘keeping kosher’ as prescribed by Judaism.
  • Food that is consumed according to Jewish laws is Kosher. This means that they eat only those fish, fowl, and animals allowed in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14: specifically, fish with scales and fins (no shell fish), domestic fowl (chicken, turkey, etc., no birds of prey), and animals whose hooves are parted and who chew their cud.
  • Moreover, fowl and animals must be slaughtered in a specific way, every drop of blood must be drained out from the meat and poultry, meat cannot be eaten with dairy products.
  • Evening food should be taken before sunset.
  • All fruits and vegetables are allowed but should be carefully examined for insects. He said that waste of food should be made a crime.

Shri J Jolly spoke on the injunctions in Sikh scriptures, which speak about spiritual evolution of soul and earning livelihood with honesty and hard work.  Fundamentally, human is composed of body, mind and soul. A healthy body is dependent on the subtle mind, which in turn is dependent on the soul.

  • We must take good care of the body as it is the temple of God – nurture it well. One should not overeat or oversleep.
  • If we are inclined to sensual gratification, our life is cursed.
  • Gurbani does not believe in fasting or observing rituals or religious baths. What is essential is keeping the mind clean, by continuously remembering God.
  • Sweets should not be eaten in excess, the lesser we eat, more better it is for us as it reduces disease.
  • Gurbani says that we should not fight over whether we should eat or not eat meat. A person becomes vegetarian as he evolves spiritually.
  • We should not read religious scriptures and at the same time be involved in hurting others.
  • We should avoid foods that bring suffering to a body and which creates evil currents in the mind.
  • Sikhism does not restrict one to be a vegetarian but with spiritual advancements one automatically shifts towards vegetarianism.
  • Sikhism says big NO to alcohol.
  • Smoking is considered as a cardinal sin.

Samani Charitra Prajna said that the core principle of Jainism is Nonviolence. Food is the main source of energy to survive.

  • Bhagwan Mahavir talked about two types of diet – Hitkari (Beneficial) and Mitkari (Moderate).
  • Jains are vegetarins, lactovegetarian. Many Jains are now vegans. Many avoid root vegetables in their diet.
  • Among the seven prohibited addictions, alcohol is one.
  • Also, beverages and drugs that contaminate our mind are prohibited. Anything which distorts the mind, which produces negative emotions are prohibited by the Jain religion.
  • Jainism believes in fasting as a means to purify the mind and body.
  • Jains observe several days of fasting, where they abstain from food, only water can be taken but not after sunset.
  • There are many ways of fasting like abandon of all kinds of food for a day or more, unodari – that means eat less than hunger, ras parityag – give up food like butter, milk, oil for few days etc.
  • No meals should be taken after sunset. If stomach is heavy at the time of sleep, one cannot sleep soundly.
  • In Jainism, there is a mention of abstinence from night eating. Acharya Hemchandra, in Yoga Shastra, says that the digestive system becomes inactive after sunset.
  • So this time is not suitable to eat.
  • Any food which supports spirituality is recommended.

Dr Shikha Sharma

Eating a balanced diet is important. There is a lot of diversity that we can bring in our food.

  • All vegetables and fruits are a treasure of vitamins and minerals.
  • So if we start eating only one kind of food, these vitamins and mineral are lost leading to deficiencies.
  • A balanced diet is thus not in terms of carbohydrates, but one which has 7 colors and 6 tastes.
  • Fasting acts like a brake on unlimited eating and helps us to come back to our natural rhythm.
  • Our diets may also differ according to blood groups. Each blood group represents a specific genetic profile.

o   Blood group B – should not eat sugary foods as they are very sensitive to high sugars. They should avoid refined flour, white sugar, white rice and breads. Eat more of chana, kala chana and moong dal.

o   Blood group A – should avoid heavy meals. They are low in acid levels and are prone to indigestion. They should eat lean fish, soya, wheat and green vegetables.

o   Blood group AB – There are no restrictions for this blood group. They can have a mixed diet.

o   Blood group O – people with blood group O should not eat too much of acidic food as their body is very acidic. They should avoid tea, coffee, fried food and sour foods.

  • It is important to understand our body and eat food which is in accordance to our body.

Dr KK Aggarwal

As medical fraternity, we must know what dietary religious practices are.

Most religions agree that fasting is good for health. Pot belly obesity, diabetes, hypertension and paralysis are all linked to metabolic syndrome which is characterized by insulin resistance which can be traced to refined carbohydrates, which are white sugar and refined flour. Any food, which is refined is bad for health.

The body has a circadian rhythm. The digestive fire is weakest between 6 and 10 pm, i.e. enzymes for digestion are at lowest levels. Foods that are mismatched should not be combined together. A predigested food such as curd should not be mixed with an undigested food, it will lead to indigestion. Ayurveda recommends against eating fermented food at night. Alcohol is also fermented and so should not be taken after sunset. Alcohol is an evening drink (evening is the period before sunset and with sunset, the night starts. Alcohol is beneficial to the body if it is taken before sunset. About 80% of Indians may have vitamin D deficiency. So, 60000 units of vitamin D should be taken with milk once a month.

Consensus

  • Eat less or in moderation.
  • Eat seasonal and locally grown vegetables.
  • Eat variety and color.
  • Any food that is prohibited by doctors is injuries to health and should not be taken.
  • Food is a gift from God.
  • Eat only when hungry.
  • Most religions have some restriction on combination of food.
  • Avoid alcohol, as per the regulations of your religion.

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