We have never had so much information thrown at us about what we should or should not be eating. There are endless diets for losing weight, gaining weight, cutting cholesterol, beating arthritis, for avoiding cruelty to animals, with dairy, without wheat, etc etc etc. Ultimately you have to make the choice. Science helps by prescribing certain elements that we all need, but the jury seems to be still out on so many other claims that are made for specific aspects of nutrition. As always yoga may give us some guidance.
In the Bhagavad Gita, (Chap 6), Krishna says to Arjuna: `Yoga is a harmony. Not for him who eats too much, or for him who eats too little.`
There is also the commonsense advice as to quantity:
The stomach should be 1/2 full of food
1/4 full of liquid
Fine if you can tell. otherwise remember the genteel advice of old, `One should always leave the table, feeling one could have eaten a little more`.
Compare that aproach with the `blow out` mentality, and the `Eat as much as you want for a Fiver` measure of a meal. `Never mind the quality, feel the width`.
Sales of preprepared meals, take-aways, and convenience foods are booming. Being involved with the preparation of the food you are going to live by, is being lost. While scientists may say that the nutritional content of these foods remains, what they may well be missing is the prana of love which can go into the preparation of a meal. Even if you choose low fat, reduced salt and sugar etc, factory produced food can never have that vital ingredient.
For that reason alone it is worth trying to include fresh, living (and thereby prana packed) food into your daily diet - salads, fruits and lightly cooked vegetables, including pulses for protein. Organically produced food may not have been proved to be nutritionally better, but its environmental effect make it more yogic than through modern mass production with chemicals.
Meat or Not:
By and large yogis choose a vegetarian diet. This may be for nutritional, moral or ethical reasons, or plain dislike of animal products. However there is guidance again in th writings of yoga. Patanjali lists ahimsa - nonviolence, as one of the yamas, or restaints, which begin to establish us in our yogic life. Yogis would see this nonviolence as extending throughout the whole animal kingdom. Also from the Thirumandiram by Siddhar Thirumoolar, the basis of the ancient system of Saiva Siddhanta, comes an even more direct instruction, and warning:
`The ignoble ones who base flesh do eat,
Death`s agents bind them fast for all to see;
And push them quick into the fiery jaws of hell,
And fling them down there for ever to be`. (Verse 199)
Meat is held to affect the consciousness of the eater with the violence involved in its production. It is also suggested that anatomically our intestine is not designed for regular heavy animal protein intake, which may be a possible cause for the increase in cancers of the intestine in our society. Strict yogis and Hindus will eat no meat, fish or eggs. Milk and milk products are held to be morally alright, not directly involving the slaughter of the animal for its meat. Here you must make your own informed judgement..
Water, 2 litres per day is the recommended intake, excluding coffees, teas, fizzy drinks, including fizzy mineral water, concentrated fruit juices and alcohol, all of which tend to dehydrate the body, or disturb normal digestion. Sip rather than gulp drinks, regularly through the day. When you feel thirsty the body is already dehydrated. Apart from plain water, drink herb and green teas, and even your own urine, all are held to provide health benefits.
Where and When:
Breakfast is important, as are small regular meals through the day. Before eating, pause to give thanks for your food. Try to avoid eating when you are upset, hurrying or over-excited as at parties and social gatherings. Eat slowly, with awareness. Even if you are in a situation where you feel obliged to eat something with which you disagree, such as meat, remember that the way in which you give thanks for the sacrifice which has been made on your behalf is important.
Don`t work. You may lose weight quickly but invariably it goes on again quickly. In the process you risk mal-nourishment, shortage of important elements for long term health. Too often such diets do not retrain your mind set on food. The diet denies you what you want while telling you it is still nice. Diet drinks are invariably sweet tasting. Reeducate your mind to see what we know to be good, well balanced food as being what you like and really enjoy. It may take a while but it can work. In the meantime remember that you only have to be eating 50 calories a day more that you are utilising, and the body will store them as fat. Muscle use is the best calorie burner, even more than aerobic activity, so include some weight resistance work in your daily programme.
My driver enjoying a traditional Thali served on a coconut leaf in Tamil Nadu.