Bhagavad Gita and the Sattvic Diet: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Fruits

Sri Ramana used to say that of all the yogic rules and regulations, the best one is taking of Sattvic foods in moderate quantities. This view is consistent with that expressed in the Bhagavad Gita, and indeed most of the Yoga Shastras.

The logic is that since food consumed has a major effect on the body and the mind, a Sattvic diet should be adhered to in order to enhance both the health of the body as well as purity, strength, and calmness of the mind. An agitated person will find it difficult to sit quietly and meditate.

A disciplined and one pointed mind is an aid to ones’ learning and education as well as having success in business and other worldly affairs. A clear, pure, and a reflective mind is, of course, essential to self-enquiry which leads to Self-Realization.

The question then becomes, “What is a Sattvic diet? What is the authority for saying that certain foods are Sattvic and lead to good health, mental clarity, poise, and spiritual advancement, while other foods do not?”

There is much yogic literature on this topic and also some disagreement among experts depending on their school of thought and background. Since most Hindus generally accept the Bhagavad Gita as the final word, I will refer to that as my primary source on the Sattvic diet.

We should keep in mind that Sri Krishna, who speaks in the Bhagavad Gita with complete spiritual authority, is also considered the model of exceptional and abundant physical health and perfect mental poise. He is depicted in the ancient writings as slim, active, energetic, graceful, and attractive.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna demonstrates profound insight into not just the spiritual nature, but also human nature and physical nature. By inference, Sri Krishna’s words on food and the Sattvic diet carry much weight for those who study the Bhagavad Gita.

What foods should one minimize according to the Bhagavad Gita?

In Chapter 17 (verses 8, 9, 10), Sri Krishna makes clear the type of foods to be avoided by those who seek good physical and mental health, worldly success, and progress on the spiritual path.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, foods which are too bitter, sour, salty, pungent, dry, and hot can lead to pain, distress, and disease of the body. Further, Sri Krishna says that foods cooked more than three hours before being eaten, foods which are tasteless, stale, putrid, decomposed and unclean should be avoided by spiritual aspirants and those who seek excellent physical and mental health.

What foods should be eaten according to the Bhagavad Gita?

In Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna states, “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it:” (Bg.9.26). To me this seems to suggest that Sri Krishna is sanctioning a diet based on leaves and fruits and water as the best one for spiritual growth. I am no scholar on the Bhagavad Gita, but my liberal interpretation of this verse would be that the Sattvic diet is generally plant based and includes all or most vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, etc.

Because Sri Krishna gave cows sacred status similar to that of a human mother and favored raw butter for personal consumption as a child, one could reasonably argue that dairy products (such as yogurt, milk, kefir, lassi, sour cream, etc.) belong to the Sattvic food category.

Many yogis hold the view, however, that dairy products can only be considered Sattvic if these are obtained respecting the cows and goats who are shown kindness, love, and humane treatment. According to the principle of Ahimsa (nonviolence), any food procured through violence to living beings cannot be considered Sattvic.

Yogic Sattvic Diets

Some yogis that I have met favor a completely raw vegetarian diet with a primary focus on sprouted grains and beans (such as Garbanzo, Blackeyed peas, etc.) along with raw fruits and vegetables. Their diet is essentially vegan and contains no animal products. However, modern science teaches us that since vitamin B12 is missing from a purely vegan diet, supplementation is necessary.

A number of medical and scholarly references can be found on this issue on the web.

Other yogis have felt that a raw vegetarian diet is too limiting and include cooked foods as well as dairy products (milk, yogurt, lassi, etc.) in their diet. This diet, known as the lacto-vegetarian diet, is probably the most wide spread among Indian Hindus and Jains.

A few well known yogis have also traditionally included not only dairy but also eggs and egg products in their otherwise vegetarian diet. This is known as the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.

Although very few Indian yogis include any kind of fish, fowl, or meat in their food, there are exceptions. Buddhist yogis, for example Dalai Lama, do eat meat. A few Hindu yogis also eat meat pointing out that some ancient scriptures sanction meat eating for certain religious rituals.

For most Hindu and Jain yogis, however, there is no convincing argument for eating meat if one wishes to uphold the supreme principle of Ahimsa and follow the philosophy of nonviolence.

What is the best Sattvic Diet?

The general answer from my study is that foods which cause the body to gain health and for the mind to be calm and peaceful constitute the Sattvic diet. To some extent, this requires knowing the needs of one’s own body and being sensitive to the effects of various foods on our system. Foods which are very suitable and nutritious for one person may not be right for another. Common sense and wisdom are the essential ingredients to find the best Sattvic diet for yourself.

In terms of particular foods to be eaten, the yogis and sages have answered this question, but the answers have different variations. One common element of a yogic Sattvic diet is that it is primarily vegetarian. This is true at least for Hindu and Jain yogis.

Within the broad framework of vegetarianism, a number of dietary systems are possible where certain foods are included and some are excluded. In the most liberal vegetarian diets, eggs and dairy products are included. Some people include dairy in their vegetarian diet but not eggs. Some include eggs but not dairy. In the most strict vegetarian diet, eggs and milk are excluded. Supplementation through certain vitamins is needed in such diets, according to modern medical opinion.

My personal experiences

Having experimented with a variety of diets for decades, I feel that a vegetarian diet can be healthy or unhealthy depending on many factors. For example, if I am a lacto-vegetarian and eat too many pizza pieces, the feeling of discomfort is likely to follow. In fact, after experimenting with eating pizzas thousands of times in my younger days, I am fairly certain that this is indeed true. I believe this also holds if one eats bucket loads of ice cream on a frequent basis. So, is lacto-vegetarian diet healthy? It depends on how lacto you are and how often you go lacto with heavy fat and fried lacto foods!

The point is that a vegetarian diet can be either healthy or unhealthy depending on the nature of food eaten as well as the quantity of food consumed.

In Chapter 6, verse 16, Sri Krishna specifically emphasizes moderation in eating and sleeping. He states, “There is no possibility of ones’ becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.”

Clearly, overconsumption of food leads to problems and one can logically conclude that the quantity of food consumed is probably an important element in a diet being considered Sattvic.

Sattvic diet is also a matter of degree. Some diets may be very Sattvic, while others may be moderately Sattvic.

Finally, the thoughts and the emotional balance while eating the food have an effect on our system. This is why in many religions, prayers and showing of gratitude for the food being consumed is offered. This mental state while eating helps the diet become more Sattvic.

What does it all mean?

So what does it all mean and what are the lessons from Bhagavad Gita and our discussion of the Sattvic diet? Here is what I think some of the lessons are. See if you agree.

1. Whatsoever you eat, eat in moderation.

2. Educate yourself on proper nutrition, be sensitive to your body, and see what foods work for you.

3. Emphasize fresh vegetables and fruits and eat a diet which is mostly plant-based.

4. Do not eat foods which are too salty, bitter, or have gone stale and putrid.

5. Regardless of the food being eaten, eat with gratitude, prayerful attitude, and with mental poise.

6. Chew the food carefully and taste it deeply without rushing.

There are literally thousands of great sources on the web and hundreds of books in stores to help you educate yourself on the Bhagavad Gita, vegetarianism, and nutrition. Go do some research and find out for yourself!

That’s my homespun wisdom for today. Like Captain Planet used to say, “The Power is yours!”

Given below are some pictures of plant based dishes that I made keeping the principles of Sattvic food in mind. Wishing you all abundant physical, mental, and spiritual health. Namaste.

31 thoughts on “Bhagavad Gita and the Sattvic Diet: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

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  3. Excellent article dear Harsh-ji, I’ve learned quite a lot about the sattvic diet. I have read some articles here and there, but your article is so clear and comprehensive and it gave such a good picture of this type of lifestyle and diet. Thank you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Dr. Damiana-ji. All your contributions to the site on health living are appreciated. Nutrition and diet is an important topic and understanding how foods affect us can help us select those which are the best for us.

      Like

  4. A good analytical article.
    Even in vegetables onion and garlic are not supposed to be offered to the LORD, hence to offer and sanctify the food they are to be avoided, is my understanding. I follow that and feel extreme rest in the mind. I am able to find this specific change after I started this diet of no onion and garlic.
    Since I like the idea of offering and then eating I tend to avoid those vegetables. They are high stimulants of emotions like anger and irritation, hence I conclude them to deviate one from peace and self inquiry.
    I liked your article very much that it advocates vegetarian diet and would just like to add my experience on following a sattvic diet. Eating less is a key factor to sattvic food. The food being sattvic if it consumed more than what is needed it will ruin the body and mind. 100% true realization sir.

    Yours humbly
    Meena Mani

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Meena-ji. What you say is true, of course. A key to sattvic diet is eating moderately. That is the hard thing for many people who diet.

      Like

  5. Dear Harsha ji,

    I am a new entry to your site. I find your site excellent. I agree with Mrs.Meena mani- I also avoid Garlic and Onion as it is not considered sattvic

    Liked by 1 person

  6. writer is totally bluffing the people he has no spritual or theorticl knowledge. he is taking the matter round & round, that clarify nothing,so it is useless to read even

    Liked by 1 person

  7. dear harsha
    with joy i did read your article
    in my experience the best way finding a real healthy diet is to learn to LISTEN to our body
    i learned it and now am really feeling well all socalled health problems in my life have been at first related to my own wrong treatment and are healing constantly or getting worse only by NOT LISTENING TO MY INNER VOICE and that is the root of all LISTENING TO OUR INNER SELF
    thank you again
    michael bindel from harsha satsangh smiling remember our discussion about VEGAN which my wife sylvie did for three years unluckily she is the rare expection due to karmic reasons noradrenal stress sympton lead to NEED of real meat not the nowaday meat
    good luck on your further way!
    namaste

    michael

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Harsha

    again read your profound article specially your mentioning of B12 what is special in your article
    INSIGHT TOLERANCE IN TOUCH WITH TRUTH because whats so important the attitude with which we eat the upbring of plants and animals if in LOVE AND DEVOTION wonderful
    because its TRUE what we take in we become MODERATION great and all this is true to every field in life would like to share the Grace i had to LEARN with you best way? via email???
    let me know if you are interested “i” due to Grace had the chance to get involved in the true KABALAH the true jewish spirituality AND feeling seeing that of course SADGURU BHAGAVAN SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI explains exactly the ssame TRUTH
    what i did and all humans who want to become HUMANS should do ongoing LEARNING not the mental stuff the SPIRITUAL TRUTH a n d giving their best putiing this in practice moment to moment but his is not possible without accepting our little self fully LOVING OURSELF is the necessity to learn to LOVE G-D etc
    so let me know if you are ready….

    sincerely yours
    NAMASTE SHALOM

    you know what real shalom real peace means really?
    harmony “abobe and below” harmony in our self being ONE iwht SELF

    baerlibrum
    michael

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good article. I feel one should study his body and it’s reaction to different food (combinations) and come to a diet plan, even if he is vegan also. Around the globe we can see different creeds of people who avoid taking some or other food due to their beliefs & practices. And science is not yet proved that one particular diet is superior to other and keeps away all diseases.

    I used to belief that ‘Puttu’ (steam cake, Kerala specialty) and Banana fruit combination is very satwic and natural for our body. But recently I heard a talk by one naturopath and he was explaining we should not mix carbohydrate + fruits!! He was talking about a variety of veg combinations which should not be taken simultaneously, which can act harmfully to your body. Like onion as pointed out by someone.

    So if we go through different school of thoughts, we will get confused. But by simply observing our body reaction to each food, we should decide what to and what not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Observing body reaction is good in general to determine the foods that are suitable. But some reactions may take many years to manifest. So it is not a foolproof method. Alcohol and smoking have been shown to cause several diseases. Likewise red meat is cancer causing, no doubt about it from many scientific studies.

      Not all vegan and vegetarian food is suitable. There is a whole category of ‘junk food’ that is harmful to the body. They range from potato chips to ice cream and chocolates. Then there is coffee, tea, cola, and other beverages.

      Buddha has unfortunately become a justification to some for eating meat. Many Buddhists have fallen into this trap. But the Buddha was born a Kshatriya who later lived as a monk (sanyasi) who begged for food in India. According to this dharma, any food that is offered must be accepted. A beggar has no choice in picking and choosing what he eats. Some experts I spoke to have told me that many families felt blessed to give him food when he came for alms. They prepared the best meals for him which in some cases meant meat which was considered a luxury. He, of course, had to accept whatever was given to him. This could be how meat was introduced in the sangha. In modern times, Ramana Maharshi followed a similar dharma. On some rare occasions, spoiled food was given and was accepted. But he was initially known in Tiruvannamalai as Brahmana Swami. So meat was never offered (to the best of my knowledge) to him since Brahmins never eat meat.

      Therefore there are a lot of factors that determine diet.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: If You Eat Meat, Are You Really A Yogi? | Full Power Yoga

  11. Pranams …
    We thank you for the earnest efforts of yours in bringing to the masses the salient aspects of Satvik food .
    Please continue with such articles…
    Namasthe sir

    Liked by 1 person

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