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Diet and the Foods We Eat

 

In light of the upcoming holidays, which often lead to over-eating and thoughts of diets in the New Year, some of my life coaching clients have asked what the Baha’i Writings have to say about diet.  I’ve put together the following compilation to respond to their questions.

Are there specific dietary laws in the Baha’i Faith?

  • . . . there is nothing in the teachings about whether people should eat their food cooked or raw; exercise or not exercise; resort to specific therapies or not; nor is it forbidden to eat meat.  (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual 18 December 1945 in Health and Healing, p. 38-9).

What guidance is given on what to eat?

  • . . . the food of man is cereal and fruit.  Some of the teeth of man are like millstones to grind the grain, and some are sharp to cut the fruit.  Therefore he is not in need of meat, nor is he obliged to eat it.  Even without eating meat he would live with the utmost vigour and energy.  For example, the community of Brahmins in India do not eat meat; notwithstanding this they are not inferior to other nations in strength, power, vigour, outward senses or intellectual virtues.  Truly, the killing of animals and the eating of their meat is somewhat contrary to pity and compassion and if one can content oneself with cereals, fruit, oil and nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and so on, it would undoubtedly  be better and more pleasing.   (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, From a tablet to an individual believer, in Health and Healing, p. 8).
  • . . . All the teeth of man are made for eating fruit, cereals and vegetables.  These four teeth (the canines), however, are designed for breaking hard shells, such as those of almonds.  But eating meat is not forbidden or unlawful, nay, the point is this, that it is possible for man to live without eating meat and still be strong.  Meat is nourishing and containeth the elements of herbs, seeds and fruits; therefore sometimes it is essential for the sick and for the rehabilitation of health.  There is no objection in the Law of God to the eating of meat if it is required.  So if thy constitution is rather weak and thou findest meat useful, thou mayest eat it.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, From a Tablet to an individual believer, in Health and Healing, p.  9.)

What will be the food of the future?

  • Fruit and grains.  The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten.  Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground.  The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Ten Days in the Light of Akká, p. 8-9, found in Health and Healing, p. 29.)

How much should we eat?

  • In all circumstances they should conduct themselves with moderation; if the meal be only one course this is more pleasing in the sight of God; however, according to their means, they should seek to have this single dish be of good quality. (Bahá’u’lláh, From the Kitáb-i-Badí, found in Health and Healing, p. 2.)


What happens when we overeat?

  • But man hath perversely continued to serve his lustful appetites, and he would not content himself with simple foods.  Rather, he prepared for himself food that was compounded of many ingredients, of substances differing one from the other. With this, and with the perpetrating of vile and ignoble acts, his attention was engrossed, and he abandoned the temperance and moderation of a natural way of life.  The result was the engendering of diseases both violent and diverse. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 152-3).

How can I know which food is best for me?

  • In matters of health, particularly regarding diet and nutrition, the House of Justice advises the friends to seek the help and advice of experts and doctors.  This is what Bahá’u’lláh has recommended and He does not indicate which school of thought or practice they should belong to. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual 19 June 1977 in Health and Healing. p. 48-9).

What’s the relationship between diet and disease?

  • The outer, physical causal factor in disease, however, is a disturbance in the balance, the proportionate equilibrium of all those elements of which the human body is composed.  To illustrate:  the body of man is a compound of many constituent substances, each component being present in a prescribed amount, contributing to the essential equilibrium of the whole.  So long as these constituents remain in their due proportion, according to the natural balance of the whole – that is, no component suffereth a change in its natural proportionate degree and balance, no component being either  augmented or decreased – there will be no physical cause for the incursion of disease.

For example, the starch component must be present to a given amount, and the sugar to a given amount.  So long as each remaineth in its natural proportion to the whole, there will be no cause for the onset of disease.  When, however, these constituents vary as to their natural and due amounts – that is, when they are augmented or diminished – it is certain that this will provide for the inroads of disease.

This question requireth the most careful investigation. . . (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 153).

  • . . . it will be clearly seen that the incursion of disease is due to a disturbance in the relative amounts of the bodys component substances, and that treatment consisteth in adjusting these relative amounts, and that this can be apprehended and made possible by means of foods. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 154-5).
  • But the principal causes of disease are physical, for the human body is composed of numerous elements, but in the measure of an especial equilibrium.  As long as this equilibrium is maintained, man is preserved from disease; but if this essential balance, which is the pivot of the constitution, is disturbed, the constitution is disordered, and disease will supervene.

For instance, there is a decrease in one of the constituent ingredients of the body of man, and in another there is an increase; so the proportion of the equilibrium is disturbed, and disease occurs.  For example, one ingredient must be one thousand grams in weight, and another five grams, in order that the equilibrium be maintained.  The part which is one thousand grams diminishes to seven hundred grams and that which is five grams augments until the measure of the equilibrium is disturbed; then disease occurs.  When by remedies and treatments the equilibrium is reestablished, the disease is banished.  So if the sugar constituent increases, the health is impaired; and when the doctor forbids sweet and starchy foods, the sugar constituent diminishes, the equilibrium is reestablished, and the disease is driven off.

Now the readjustment of these constituents of the human body is obtained by two means – either by medicines or by aliments; and when the constitution has recovered its equilibrium, disease is banished.

All the elements that are combined in man exist also in vegetables; therefore, if one of the constituents which compose the body of man diminishes, and he partakes of foods in which there is much of that diminished constituent, then the equilibrium will be established, and a cure will be obtained.  So long as the aim is the readjustment of the constituents of the body, it can be effected either by medicine or by foods. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 257-9).

Can diet be used to treat illness?

  • Treat disease through diet, by preference, refraining from the use of drugs; and if you find what is required in a single herb, do not resort to a compounded medicament. . .  (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 106, in Health and Healing, p. 3).
  • At whatever time highly-skilled physicians shall have developed the healing of illnesses by means of foods, and shall make provision for simple foods, and shall prohibit humankind from living as slaves to their lustful appetites, it is certain that the incidence of chronic and diversified illnesses will abate, and the general health of all mankind will be much improved.  This is destined to come about. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 156).
  • The Báb hath said that the people of Bahá must develop the science of medicine to such a high degree that they will heal illnesses by means of foods.  The basic reason for this is that if, in some component substance of the human body, an imbalance should occur, altering its correct, relative proportion to the whole, this fact will inevitably result in the onset of disease.  If, for example, the starch component should be unduly augmented, or the sugar component decreased, an illness will take control.  It is the function of a skilled physician to determine which constituent of his patient’s body hath suffered diminution, which hath been augmented.  Once he hath discovered this, he must prescribe a food containing the diminished element in considerable amounts, to re-establish the bodys essential equilibrium.  The patient, once his constitution is again in balance, will be rid of his disease. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,  p. 154).
  • It is therefore, evident that it is possible to cure by foods, aliments and fruits; but as today the science of medicine is imperfect, this fact is not yet fully grasped.  When the science of medicine reaches perfection, treatment will be given by foods, aliments, fragrant fruits and vegetables, and by various waters, hot and cold in temperature. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 259).

Conclusion

In matters of diet, as in medicine, the Universal House of Justice feels that the believers should be aware that a huge body of scientific knowledge has been accumulated as a guide to our habits and practices.  Here too, as in all other things, the believers should be conscious of the two principles of moderation and courtesy in the way they express their opinions and in deciding whether they should refuse food offered to them or request special foods.

There are, of course, instances where a believer would be fully justified in abstaining from or eating only certain foods for some medical reason, but this is a different matter and would be understood by any  reasonable person.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice 24 January 1977, in Health and Healing, p. 48).

What are your thoughts about diet and food?  Post your comments here: