On the occasion of Gandhiji’s 150th birthday, I would like to draw your attention to his remarkable foresight in the field of nutrition. I have greatly admired his belief in the power of diet.
What is truly exemplary is that all his diet-related experiments were actually performed by him either on himself or were based at his ashram. For Gandhi, who always practiced what he preached, there was little room for mere theoretical knowledge and second-hand information. His experimentation with diet began early.
At the age of 18, he began eating only unfired (uncooked) foods. Ever since then, he continued to experiment with his diet for as long as he lived.
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The range of Gandhi’s experiments in the arena of diets was tremendously varied, including facets like the kind of vessels to be used for cooking, the quantity of water required for cooking, various ways of making bread, etc. His interest in the use of orange peels for preparing jams and murabbas was quite in tune with the way we think about sustainable diets today.
The regimen of eating only two meals a day within a restricted window of time, which is a variant of the recent trend called Intermittent Fasting, is actually something that Gandhi advocated all along.
Many chronic diseases that are prevalent today are the result of overeating or excessive consumption. While addressing the London Vegetarian Society in 1931, he explained quite simply that choosing to be a vegetarian does not give one the license to overeat.
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He emphasised the benefits of eating sparingly, never in excess of what the body requires, and to err on the side of eating less rather than more. On the occasions that he invited friends to share a meal, he would never press them to overeat. In fact, he would advise them against eating any more than what they required.
As a practicing vegetarian, he urged people to look beyond the physiological dimension and to engage with the moral implications of vegetarianism. He believed that vegetarianism built the spirit and not just
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Gandhi’s interest in therapeutic nutrition is also quite fascinating. He was forever working on foods to make them better suited to those recovering from an illness.
The instance when he nursed Kasturba back to health post-surgery was a remarkable episode of his faith in the diet as a healing medium. Kasturba had lost a lot of blood after a surgery and the doctor had advised her to eat meat broth.
When Kasturba refused to do so, she was asked to be taken away from the hospital as the doctor believed it was impossible for her to recover. Gandhi took her back home and nursed her back to health by feeding her dal, milk and greens.
Other pieces of Gandhi’s advice, such as never discarding rice water, eating unpolished rice, avoiding processed foods, using jaggery over refined sugar, are all valid today, more than a 100 years later.