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Diet and its Impact on Our Health: A Baha’i Perspective

March 11, 2015, in Articles > Baha'i Life, by

During the Fast, I often find myself contemplating my diet – more often than not, with a mouth full of saliva as I watch the clock tick closer and closer to sunset!

It is a time as good as any to reflect on something we, as a society, are making increasingly complex as the years roll on: our diet. It seems that there is a new fad diet every couple of years and everyone you ask has a varying opinion about the best diet for your health (or the “fastest way to lose ten pounds” as it is often titled by the media).

But what do the Baha’i scriptures say about health? What do the central figures of the Faith recommend regarding our diet? As Baha’is, we look to the Baha’i Writings to guide us on all matters of life. But how much are we guided by the Writings as to what we put into our mouths three or more times a day?

As a medical doctor, I advise and treat patients with complex chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer – diseases which are often, ultimately, the cause of their early demise. It is the sad reality that these chronic illness, which are becoming increasingly prevalent, will very likely affect the majority of us in the years to come, or are doing so already with or without our knowledge. There is, however, an increasing body of medical knowledge that suggests that a large proportion of these diseases can be prevented and even reversed by lifestyle changes – in particular, changes in our diet.

To get a sense of how large a role diet plays in our health, we can look at what Abdu’l-Baha says about the causes of disease:

…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.

Abdu’l-Baha, “Some Answered Questions”, pp. 257-59

He goes on to state:

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.

Baha’u’llah puts it even more simply: 

Treat disease through diet, by preference…

J. E. Esslemont, “Baha’u’llah and the New Era”, 5th rev. ed, p. 106

Although the concept of this equilibrium requires a lot of further reflection, to me, the fact that the Baha’i Writings regard diet as a potential treatment for disease clearly indicates that we can prevent disease by choosing the correct diet.

Indeed, Abdu’l-Baha states elsewhere:

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.

“Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha”, sec. 134, pp. 152-156

In this quote from Abdu’l-Baha, we get a sense of what a healthy diet is – one based on “simple foods”. In fact, Baha’u’llah similarly tells us:

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.

Kitab-i-Badi, translated from the Persian

The question of what constitutes an ideal diet is perhaps a question for another day. But it is clear from all the quotes above that working towards improving our diets is something we should be prioritising when considering what we can do for our health.

But why does all of this matter so much, as Baha’is? After all – some might argue – we all have to die eventually, so we might as well enjoy our food and not worry so much about our health!

Right?

To that, Shoghi Effendi has said:

…you should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It, the body, is like a horse which carries the personality and spirit, and as such should be well cared for so it can do its work!”

In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 23 November 1947 to an individual believer

Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says:

Although ill health is one of the unavoidable conditions of man, truly it is hard to bear. The bounty of good health is the greatest of all gifts.

Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha”, sec. 132, p. 151

While ill health is often unavoidable, our diet is the best way to ensure that we can live a long and healthy life. This gives us the greatest opportunity to fulfil our purpose in this world – to serve others, and in doing so, develop our own spiritual qualities.

And so, by maintaining our physical health, we are also ensuring our spiritual health. After all, as the saying goes, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything!

Posted by

Anis

Discussion 10 Comments

What a timely article for me. For the past 3 years I have been paying more attention to what I eat…as I am among the millions of people classified as pre-type 2. I have been able to maintain my blood with diet and lifestyle…but had back away from fasting…as so much advice is around eating small, regular, healthy foods.

I am so excited to be fasting this year…and my energy is abounding! Counter-intuitive perhaps…but of course my spirits is soaring and my health is benefiting too!

Thanks for this article.
Bobbi

Bobbi (March 3, 2015 at 3:59 AM)

Helpful article but what about meat consumption? I ve once read an answer by Abdul-Baha where he says it is somehow necessary as every element ultimately goes over in another.
What from a Baha’is perspective would you say?
As you might see, I am a fresh new Bahai with a lot of questions 🙂

Philipp (March 3, 2015 at 3:01 PM)

Hi Philipp
Meat or no meat? Dunno – but what I have read it seems that Abdul Baha favoured a vegetarian diet. Unfortunately i still enjoy a good steak
But what I really wanted to say is that this is my 55th fast and I believe that this practice has been the most beneficial act towards my present good health
Every year, when the fast is due to start, I get quite excited. A wonderful time for me

Aaron (March 3, 2015 at 7:46 PM)

Thanks for sharing Bobbi, I’m glad you found the article useful!

And great question Philipp – I am actually writing another article at the moment which covers the topic of meat consumption so I’d suggest you look out for it!

Anis Ta'eed (March 3, 2015 at 12:12 AM)

Dr Anis
I really am looking forward to reading your very next article on diet – as soon as my mum forwards it to me. Being a vegetarian for the last 20 + years (since diagnosed with cancer), I notice that I have actually not had a single cold – as I have tried to abide by Abdul’ Baha’s healthy eating plan – so much so that the Melbourne or Tasmanian weather doesn’t ever seem to affect me.

I eat simple food, such as nuts, pulses (lentils and stuff), fruit, legumes, brown rice …anything brown and anything grown in the ground, I suppose. I avoid using oil as someone said it is carcinogenic when fried. So people scoffing big “fatty” vegetarian meals – minus meat – to me anyway….. are not truly vegetarian either, if it affects their well-being and if they are visiting doctors like the normal mob.

I strongly believe that by paying attention to the “simple” eating habits as mentioned in your article, it has actually improved my vitality so much so, that I won the “wo/ man of the match” award recently at the ripe age of 64 (noting that you too are soccer mad) My cancer friends can also vouch the impact this so-called simple diet has on me….those cancer friends who I have encouraged to keep to this diet, and who are still alive as a result.

In case you think I am a stick in the mud, I also indulge in coffee/ cake and enjoy restaurant meals. I even eat occasional fish. but nothing too fast and definitely, no meat. I exercise, meditate/pray and seek medical professional help – gp, oncologist, as well as dangle in naturopathy.

So I am interested in your next article, Dr Anis, hopefully about meat consumption and will it focus on chugging down milk?? Now would be really interesting to know – not that I do that personally! Thanks again.
Faezeh
ps don’t give all your good ideas away, as you will have no more patients and therefore no more $$$ if everyone listens to the Bahai Writings:)

Faezeh Parkes (March 3, 2015 at 5:16 AM)

Great that this topic is addressed – but I am surprised that the emphasis on a vegetarian diet is not mentioned as there are several quotes from Abdul Baha on this? There is more and more research scientific evidence of the benefits to health of a whole food plant based diet, and the harms of meat and dairy foods on health.
“The food of the future will be fruit and grains. The time will come when meat is no longer eaten. Medical science is yet only in its infancy, but 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 taking only this natural food.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 296
Besides health issues a vegetarian diet is also showing kindness to animals and protecting the environment as a large proportion of green house gases are generated from the meat and livestock industries.

Dr Wakinyjan Tabart (GP) (March 3, 2015 at 4:23 AM)

I wholeheartedly agree with you Dr. Tabart 🙂 As I mentioned above I am currently writing a separate article which more specifically addresses the topic of meat consumption and actually uses that quote (along with many others).

Anis Ta'eed (March 3, 2015 at 4:32 AM)

Moderation is one key factor. As to meat, medicine and science show that grass fed organic meat is very important for health. It provides amino acids not found anywhere else. It also provides proteins that cannot be maintained by plants alone. Each day we should consume half of our body weight number in grams of protein. In other words if you weigh 150 pounds, you should consume 75 grams of protein. Impossible to do on a strictly vegetarian diet. This is straight from my ND’s mouth and she’s the only person to get me on a true path to optimal health. I know.. I tried. I was anemic. I was b12 deficient. I got an autoimmune disease ans then another. Eating grass fed organic meat 2-3 times per week made all the difference. All of the quotes above make me think of all the toxic GMO food being consumed. Eating organically is the only hope of being healthy.

Debbie (April 4, 2015 at 3:21 AM)

There’s more to healthy eating than just eating more veggies. Though most people on the SAD (Stereotypical American Diet) would benefit from such a switch. When you consider the changes to both animal and vegetable farming practices that have occurred, veggies (and animal foods) just aren’t what they used to be. The nutritional content of food isn’t the same as it used to be!

Am I the only one that finds the terminology used in the Writings, when it comes to medicine, interesting? For example: “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.”

In case anyone is interested, this would refer to what some would call the energetics of medicine. A person’s constitution, their illness, and even the herbs (a predominant part of health care at the time) would come under categories of hot or cold, damp or dry (sometimes earth, air, fire, and water; or there are also the terms melancholy, sanguine, phlegmatic, and choleretic). If a person had a damp condition they would be given drying remedy. Diuretic herbs would be an example of such a drying remedy and oedema would be a damp condition. Bitters are cooling and drying. Cayenne would be warming, as is ginger.

It’s interesting that the Writings refer to foods being used as medicine, that it is preferable to use a single herb and avoid drugs, but that drugs can be used if necessary, yet the general approach to health care these days is usually quite the opposite.

The Herbwalker (June 6, 2015 at 5:12 AM)

Thank you so much for your comments. I also read about using single herbs. Are you aware of any herbs for phobias such as driving? I have tried many things and nothing has worked.

Josie (May 5, 2016 at 6:29 PM)

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