The selected works of Mahatma Gandhi

Key To Health


Table of Contents

About This Book

Written by : M. K. Gandhi
Edited by : Bharatan Kumarappa
Foreword by : Morarji Desai
First Edition : 3,000 copies, December 1954
Fifteenth Re-print : 5,000 copies, March 2011
Total : 69,000 copies
ISBN : 81-7229-040-3
Printed and Published by : Jitendra T. Desai
Navajivan Mudranalaya,
© Navajivan Trust, 1954


Chapter 04: Food

Whilst it is true that man cannot live without air and water, the thing that nourishes the body is food. Hence the saying, food is life.
Food can be divided into three categories : vegetarian, flesh and mixed. Flesh food include fowl and fish. Milk is an animal product and cannot be any means be included in a strictly vegetarian diet. It serves the purpose of meat to a very large extent. In medical language it is classified as animal food. A layman does not consider milk to be a animal food. On the other hand eggs are regarded by the layman as a flesh food. In reality, they are not. Nowadays sterile eggs are also produced. The hen is not allowed to see the cock and yet it lays eggs. A sterile egg never evolves into a chick. Therefore, he who can take milk should have no objection to take sterile eggs.
Medical opinion is mostly in favor of a mixed diet, although there is a growing school, which is strongly of the opinion that anatomical and physiological evidence is in favor of man being a vegetarian. His teeth, his stomach, intestines etc., seem to improve that nature has meant to man to be a vegetarian.
Vegetarian diet besides grains, pulses, edible roots, tubers and leaves, includes fruits, both fresh and dry. Dry fruits include nuts like almonds, pistachio, walnut etc.
I have always been favour of pure vegetarian diet. But experience has taught me that in order to be perfectly fit, vegetarian diet must include milk and milk-products such as curd, butter, ghee, etc. This a significant departure from my original idea. I excluded milk from my diet for six years. At that time, I felt none the worse for the denial. But in year 1917, as a result of my ignorance, I was laid down with severe dysentery. I was reduced to a skeleton, but I stubbornly refused to take any medicine and with equal stubbornness refused to take milk or buttermilk. But I could not build up my body and pick up sufficient strength to leave the bed. I had taken a vow of not taking milk. A medical friend suggested that at the time of taking a vow, I could have in my mind only the milk of cow and buffalo; why would the vow prevent me from taking goat's milk? My wife supported him and I yielded. Really speaking, for one who has given up milk, though at the time of taking the vow only the cow and the buffalo were in mind, milk should be taboo. All animal milks have practically the same composition, though the proportion of the components varies in each case. So I may be said to have kept merely the letter, not the spirit, of the vow. But that as it may, goat's milk was produced immediately and I drank it. It seemed to bring me new life. I picked up rapidly and was soon able to leave the bed. On account of this and several similar experiences, I have been forced to admit the necessity of adding milk to the strict vegetarian diet. But I am convinced that in the vast vegetable kingdom there must be some kind, which, while supplying those necessary substances which we derive from milk and meat, is free from their drawbacks, ethical and other.
In my opinion there a definite drawbacks in taking milk or meat. In order to get meat we have to kill. And we are certainly not entitled to any other milk except the mother's milk in our infancy. Over and above the moral drawback, there are others, purely from the point of view of health. Both milk and meat bring with them the defects of the animal from which they are derived. Domesticated cattle are hardly ever perfectly healthy. Just like man, cattle suffer from innumerable diseases. Several of these are over-looked even when the cattle are subjected to periodical medical examinations. Besides, medical examination of all the cattle in India seem to be an impossible feat, at any rate for the present. I am conducting a dairy at the Sevagram Ashram. I can easily get help from medical friends. Yet I cannot say with certainty that all the cattle in the Sevagram Dairy are healthy. On a contrary, a cow that had been considered to be healthy by everybody was found to be suffering from tuberculosis. Before this diagnosis was made, the milk of that cow had been used regularly in the Ashram. The Ashram also takes milk from the farmers in the neighborhood. Their cattle had not been medically examined. It is difficult to determine whether a particular specimen of milk is safe for consumption or not. We have to rest content with as much safety as boiling of the milk can assure us of. If the Ashram cannot boast of fool-proof medical examination of its cattle, and be certain of the safety of its dairy products, the situation elsewhere is not likely to be much better. What applies to the milch cattle applies to a much grater extent to the animals slaughtered for meat. As a general rule, man just depends upon luck to escape from such risks. He does not seem to worry much about his health. He considers himself to be quite safe in his medical fortress in the shape of doctors, voids and hakims. His main worry and concern is how to get wealth and positive in society. This worry overshadows all the rest. Therefore, so long as some selfless scientist does not, as a result of patient research work, discover a vegetable substitute for milk and meat, man will do on taking meat and milk.
Now let us consider mixed diet. Man requires food which supply tissue building substances to provide for the growth and daily wear and tear of the body. It should also contain something which can supply energy, fat, certain salts and roughage to help the excretion of waste matter. Tissue building substances are known as proteins. They are obtained from milk, meat, eggs, pulses and nuts. The protein contained in milk and meat, in other words, the animal protein being more digestible and assimilable, are much valuable than vegetable proteins. Milk is superior to meat. The medicos tell us that in cases when meat cannot be digested, milk is digested quite easily. For vegetarians milk being the only source of animal proteins, is a very important article of diet. The proteins in raw eggs are considered to be the most easily digestible of all proteins.
But everybody cannot afford to drink milk. And milk is not available in all places. I would like to mention here a very important fact with regards to milk. Contrary to the popular belief, skimmed milk is a very valuable article of diet. There are times when it proves even more useful than whole milk. The chief function of milk is to supply animal proteins for tissue building and tissue repair. Skimming while it partially removes the fats, does not affect the proteins at all. Moreover, the available skimming instrument cannot remove all the fats from milk. Neither there is any likelihood of such an instrument being constructed.
The body requires other things besides milk, whole or skimmed. I give the second place to cereals-wheat, rice, jowar, bajra etc. These are used as the staple diet. Different cereals are used to staple in different provinces in India. In many places, more than one kind of cereals are eaten at the same time, for instance, small quantities of wheat, bajra and rice are often served together. This mixture is not necessary for the nourishment of the body. It makes it difficult to regulate the quantity of food intake, and puts an extra strain upon digestion. As all these varieties supply starch mainly, it is better to take one only, at a time. Wheat may well be described a the king among the cereals. If we glance at the world map, we find that wheat occupies the first place. From the point of view of health, if we can get wheat, rice and other cereals become unnecessary. If wheat is not available and jowar, etc. cannot be taken on account of dislike or difficulty in digesting them, rice has to be resorted to.
The cereals should be properly cleansed, ground on a grinding stone, and the resulting flour used as it is. Sieving of the flour should be avoided. It is likely to remove the bhusi or the per carp which is a rich source of salt and vitamins, both of which are most valuable form the point of view of nutrition. The pericarp also supplies roughage, which helps the action of the bowels. Rice grain being very delicate, nature has provided it with an outer covering or epicure. This is not edible. In order to remove this inedible portion, rice has to be pounded. Pounding should be just sufficient to remove the epicarp or the outer skin of the rice grain. But machine pounding not only removes the outer skin, but also polishes the rice by removing its pericarp. The explanation of the popularity of polished rice lies in the fact that polishing helps preservation. The pericarp is very sweet and unless it is removed, rice is easily attracted by certain organisms. Polished rice and wheat without its pericarp, supply us with almost pure starch. Important constituents of the cereals are lost with the removal of their pericarp. The pericarp of the rice is sold as rice polishings. This and the pericarp of wheat can be cooked and eaten by themselves. The can be also made into chapattis or cakes. It is possible that rice chapattis may be more easily digestible than whole rice and in this form a lesser quantity may result in full satisfaction.
We are in the habit of dipping each morsel of chapati in vegetable or dal gravy before eating. The result is that most people swallow their food without proper mastication. Mastication is an important step in the process of digestion, especially that of starch. Digestion of starch begins on its coming into contact with saliva in the mouth. Mastication ensures a thorough mixing of food with saliva. Therefore, starchy food should be eaten in a relatively dry form, which results in a greater flow of saliva and also necessitates their thorough mastication.
After the starch supplying cereals come the protein supplying pulses-beans, lentils etc. Almost everybody seems to think that pulses are essential constituent of diet. Even meat eaters should have pulses. It is easy to understand that those who have to do hard manual work and who cannot afford to drink milk, cannot do without pulses. But I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that those who follow sedentary occupations as for instance, clerks, business men, doctors and those who are not to poor to buy milk, do not require pulses. Pulses are generally considered to be difficult to digest and are eaten in a much smaller quantity than cereals. Out of variety of pulses, peas, gram and haricot beans are considered to be the most and mung (green grams) and masoor (lentils) the least difficult to digest.
Vegetables and fruits should come third on our list. One would expect them to be cheap and easily available in India. But it is not so. They are generally considered to be delicacies meant for the city people. In the villages fresh vegetable are a rarity, and in most places fruits are also not available. This shortage of greens and fruits is a slur on the administration of India. The villagers can grow plenty of green vegetables if they wish to. The question of fruits cannot be solved so easily. The land legislature is bad from the villager's standpoint. But I am transgressing.
Among fresh vegetables, a fare amount of leafy vegetables must be taken everyday. I do not include potatoes, sweet potatoes, saran etc, which supply starch mainly, among vegetables. They should be put down in same category as starch supplying cereals. A fair helping of ordinary fresh vegetables is advisable. Certain varieties such as cucumber, tomatoes, mustard and cress and other tender leaves need not be cooked. They should be washed properly and eaten in raw in small quantities.
As for fruits, our daily diet should include available fruits of the season, e.g. mangoes, grapes etc. should all be used in their season. The best time for taking fruits is in early morning. A breakfast of fruits and milk should give full satisfaction. Those who take an early lunch may have a breakfast of fruits only. Banana is a good fruit. But as it is very rich in starch, it takes the place of bread. Milk and banana make a perfect meal.
A certain amount of fat is also necessary. This can be had in the form of ghee or oil. If ghee can be had, oil becomes unnecessary. It is difficult to digest and is not so nourishing as pure ghee. An ounce and half of ghee per head per day, should be considered ample to supply the needs of the body. Whole milk is also a source of ghee. Those who cannot afford it should take enough oil to supply the need for fat. Among oils, sweet oil, coconut oil, and ground nut oil should be given preference. Oil must be fresh. If available, it is better to use hand-pressed oil. Oil and ghee sold in the bazaar are generally quiet useless. It is a matter of great sorrow and shame. But so long as honesty has not become an integral part of business morals, whether through legislation or through education, the individual will have to procure the pure article with patience and diligence. One should never be satisfied to take what one can get, irrespective of its quality. It is far better to do with ghee oil altogether than to eat rancid oil and adulterated ghee. As in the case of fats, a certain amount of sugar is also necessary. Although sweet fruits supply plenty of sugar, there is no harm in taking one to one and half ounces of sugar, brown or white in a day. If one cannot get sweet fruits sugar may become a necessity. But the undue prominence given to sweet things towards nowadays is wrong. City folk eat too much of sweet things. Milk puddings, milk sweets and sweets of other kinds are consumed in large quantities. They are all unnecessary and are harmful except when taken in very small quantity. It may be said without any fear of exaggeration that the partake of sweet meals and other delicacies, in a country where the millions do not get an ordinary full meal, is equivalent to robbery.
What applies to sweets, applies with equal force to ghee and oil. There is no need to eat food fried in ghee or oil. To use ghee in making puris and laddus is thoughtless extravagancy. Those who are not used to such food cannot eat these things at all. Those who do eat them I have often seen fall ill. Taste is acquired, not born with us. All the delicacies of the world cannot equal the relish, that hunger gives to food. A hungry man will eat a dry piece of bread with the greatest relish, whereas one who is not hungry will refuse the best of sweetmeats.
Now let us consider how often and how much should one eat. Food should be taken as a matter of duty-even as a medicine-to sustain the body, never for the satisfaction of the palate. Thus, pleasurable feeling comes from satisfaction of real hunger. Therefore, we can say that relish is dependent upon hunger and not outside it. Because of our wrong habits and artificial way of living, very few people know what their system requires. Our parents who bring us into this world do not, as a rule, cultivate self-control. Their habits and their way of living influence the children to a certain extent. The mother's food during pregnancy is bound to affect the child. After that during childhood, the mother pampers the child with all sorts of tasty foods. She gives the child a little bit out of whatever she herself may be eating and the child's digestive system gets a wrong training from its infancy. Habits once formed are difficult to shed. There are very few who succeed in getting rid of them. But when the realization comes to man that he is his own bodyguard, and his body has been dedicated to service, he desires to learn law of keeping his body in a fit condition and tries hard to follow them.
We have now reached a point when we can lay down the amount of various foods required by a man of sedentary habits, which most men and women who read this pages, are.

Cow's milk2 lbs.
Cereals (wheat, rice, bajra in all)6 oz.
Vegetable leafy3 oz.
Vegetable others5 oz.
Vegetables raw1 oz.
Ghee1 1/2 oz.
Butter2 oz.
White Sugar1 1/2 oz.

Fresh fruitsaccording to one's taste and purse. In any case it is good to take two sourlimes a day. The juice should be squeezed and taken with vegetables orin water, cold or hot. All these weights are of raw stuff. I have notput down the amount of salt. It should be added afterwards according totaste.
Now, how often should one eat? Many people take two meals a day. The general rule is to take three meals: breakfast early in the morning and before going out to work, dinner at midday and supper in the evening or late. There is no necessity to have more than three meals. In cities some people keep on nibbling from time to time. This habit is harmful. The digestive apparatus requires rest.