What should we eat?
We are all aware of the importance of a healthy diet, however, this raises the question of what we should eat. In school, we learn that we must have a balanced diet which includes protein, carbohydrates, dairy, fruits and vegetables in a particular ratio. This has been scientifically proven to be the most effective intake of food to have an efficient life. However, this leads us to ask the question: Are there any alternatives to this diet? Is there anything we should avoid eating? What exactly should we eat?
How much should we eat?
One point which must be noted before moving on to what we should eat is that we should know how much to eat.
God Almighty states in the Holy Qur’an:
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِنْدَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ
“O children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every time and place of worship, and eat and drink but exceed not the bounds; surely, He does not love those who exceed the bounds.”The Holy Quran (7:32)
In the Five Volume Commentary, it states:
“The words, exceed not the bounds, signify: (1) that one should not overeat oneself and (2) that one should not always use the same kind of food, but should vary it from time to time. Animal foods, vegetables, fruits, etc. should all be eaten in proper quantity and proper proportion.”
It is also stated that one should stop eating whilst some of his hunger remains.
Many people in first world countries have adopted the diet of gluttony and eating in excess, which has caused obesity rates to significantly increase with the UK having over a quarter of all citizens that are obese, the USA and Canada having even higher rates. However, all this extra food has significantly more disadvantages than first meets the eye.
Firstly, weight gain which is one of the most common things to see here, in the west is not necessarily bad, however, has a whole host of medical, physical and social problems which may arise; this includes high blood pressure (hypertension), high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea, breathing problems, many types of cancer, low quality of life, mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety and other mental disorders, body pain and difficulty with physical functioning.
Secondly, overeating can cause impaired brain function and make one feel nauseous. Others include; excessive gas and being bloated as well as feeling drowsy. Other than those, there are many more. We must not forget to eat enough for basic cognitive function and to prevent the weakening of our immune system which can also lead to our bodies being at higher risk of diseases and cancer. Also, we may face difficulties studying and being able to complete simple tasks as we will not have enough energy. It will also be significantly harder to build muscle or put on weight.
A few recommended foods
I will now mention two items recommended for consumption; the first one is milk. In the Holy Qur’an Allah states:
وَمِنْ ثَمَرَاتِ النَّخِيلِ وَالْأَعْنَابِ تَتَّخِذُونَ مِنْهُ سَكَرًا وَرِزْقًا حَسَنًا إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَةً لِقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ
“And surely in the cattle too there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of what is in their bellies, from betwixt the faeces and the blood, milk pure and pleasant for those who drink it.”The Holy Quran (16:68)
Milk has all the nutrients to sustain and grow a baby for the first few years of its life.
The second is honey which has also been mentioned in the Qur’an:
ثُمَّ كُلِي مِنْ كُلِّ الثَّمَرَاتِ فَاسْلُكِي سُبُلَ رَبِّكِ ذُلُلًا يَخْرُجُ مِنْ بُطُونِهَا شَرَابٌ مُخْتَلِفٌ أَلْوَانُهُ فِيهِ شِفَاءٌ لِلنَّاسِ إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَةً لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“Then eat of every kind of fruit, and follow the ways of thy Lord that have been made easy for thee. There comes forth from their bellies a drink of varying hues. Therein is cure for men. Surely, in that is a Sign for a people who reflect.”The Holy Quran (16:70)
Honey has also been scientifically proven to have significant health benefits as well as being a better and more important cure, for a plethora of minor aliments than many man-made medicines. Being a good source of antioxidants, having antibacterial and antifungal properties, healing wounds, being a phytonutrient powerhouse, providing help for digestive issues and soothing a sore throat are just some of the many benefits can attain through the use of honey.
What is forbidden?
The Holy Qur’an lays out many of the things which are forbidden for us to eat, all of which have great wisdom behind them. Allah the Exalted states:
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ وَالدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ الْخِنْزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ
“Forbidden to you is the flesh of an animal which dies of itself, and blood and the flesh of swine; and that on which is invoked the name of one other than Allah”The Holy Quran (5:4)
Breaking up this verse into several categories makes it easier to see what exactly is forbidden and the wisdom behind each of these prohibitions.
Firstly, it states that:
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ
“Forbidden to you is the flesh of an animal which dies of itself,”
Though generally speaking everything that is dead is ميتة in its specific sense, the word signifies an animal that has died of itself without being properly slaughtered. Remnants of an animal at the time of its death allow a chance of recovery for the animal, which creates a greater chance of bacteria being able to cultivate inside the body, causing the meat to rot at a quicker rate. Residual blood in meat increases the concentration of haemoproteins and haemoglobin in meat. Haemoglobin is a powerful promoter of lipid oxidation. This explains why gas stunning that resulted in less blood loss exhibited significantly higher levels of lipid oxidation.
The verse then goes on to forbid the consumption of blood. It states:
Consuming more than a few drops may actually make one nauseous and result in vomiting. Significant ingestion may lead to hemochromatosis. This is the condition of excess iron in the body. As we all know, the excess of anything is a bad thing.
“and the flesh of swine”
“The Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" states in his book The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam that “The Arabic word for swine is ‘Khinzir’ which is a compound of ‘Khanz’ and ‘Ara’, which means: I see it very foul[…] Thus, the very name that God Almighty gave to this animal at the beginning points to its uncleanness” He later goes on to state “Everyone knows that it eats filth and is utterly shameless. Thus the reason for the prohibition of its flesh is obvious, as by the law of nature its flesh would have a foul effect on the body and the soul of one who eats it.”
وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ
“and that on which is invoked the name of one other than Allah”
Although this does not have an effect on the meat itself in any physical manner, it does however affect a person spiritually. If a person is able to slaughter animals without invoking the name of Allah upon it, arrogance begins to cultivate within a person and may lead them to worse forms of idolatry. At first, he would feel that there is no harm in it. However, he would gradually start to feel that he does not require Allah. Whatever he is doing, he is doing it himself. The Holy Qur’an then moves on to some specific conditions about how an animal can die. The following examples are used to explain to man the types of deaths which make an animal forbidden. Allah the Exalted states:
وَالْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَالْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَالْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَالنَّطِيحَةُ
“and that which has been strangled; and that beaten to death; and that killed by a fall; and that which has been gored to death; and that of which a wild animal has eaten, except that which you have properly slaughtered; and that which has been slaughtered at an altar.”The Holy Quran (5:4)
“and that which has been strangled;”
This is derived from خنق. They say خنقۃ i.e. he squeezed his or its throat that he or it might die; he squeezed his or its throat so that he or it died; he strangled or throttled or choked him or it. اختنق or انخنق means, he or it became throttled or strangled or choked. منخنقۃ شاة means, a goat or sheep strangled or throttled.
“and that which has been beaten to death;”
This is derived from وقذہ. They say وقذہ i.e. he beat or struck him or it violently till he or it became relaxed and was at the point of death; he broke his or its skull, wounding the brain; he beat him or it till he or it died. شاة موقوذة means, a goat or sheep beat to death either with a stick or staff or stones, etc.
“and that been killed by a fall”
This is derived from ردی . They say الرجل ردی i.e. the man perished. بحجر رداہ means, he threw stones at him and hit him. تردی means, he or it fell or tumbled down into a well or a pit. It also means, he or it fell down from a mountain, or a height and died. ردیۃالم means, that (a goat, etc.) which falls from a mountain or a height, or falls down a well, or a pit and dies.
“and that which has been gored to death”
This is derived from نطح. They say نطحه
i.e. he (a ram, etc.) smote him or it with his horn. النطیحۃ means, a sheep or goat smitten with the horn and so killed. These four words all refer to a manner of death which is painful for the animal, if Muslims are prevented from eating such animals then they will actively avoid letting these things occur to animals. They are also forms where blood is left in the body which has negative effects for the various reasons listed above.
فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ فِي مَخْمَصَةٍ غَيْرَ مُتَجَانِفٍ لِإِثْمٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
“But whoso is forced by hunger, without being wilfully inclined to sin, then, surely Allah is Most Forgiving and Merciful”The Holy Quran (5:4)
This last part of the verse shows the sheer mercy of God as He will not allow a person to die of hunger, If only prohibited food is available then they may consume it but only however much is necessary.
The Holy Qur’an in several places prohibits the consumption of alcohol
God Almighty states in the Holy Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّمَا الْخَمْرُ وَالْمَيْسِرُ وَالْأَنْصَابُ وَالْأَزْلَامُ رِجْسٌ مِنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَانِ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
“O ye who believe! Wine and the game of hazard and idols and divining arrows are only an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. So shun each one of them that you may prosper.”The Holy Quran (5:91)
He further states:
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَنْ يُوقِعَ بَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةَ وَالْبَغْضَاءَ فِي الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ وَيَصُدَّكُمْ عَنْ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَعَنِ الصَّلَاةِ فَهَلْ أَنْتُمْ مُنْتَهُونَ
“Satan desires only to create enmity and hatred among you by means of wine and the game of hazard, and to keep you back from the remembrance of Allah and from Prayer. But will you keep back?”The Holy Quran (5:92)
Allah the Exalted states:
يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِنْ نَفْعِهِمَا
“They ask thee concerning wine and the game of hazard. Say: ‘In both there is great sin and also some advantages for men; but their sin is greater than their advantage.’”The Holy Quran (2:220)
In the five-volume commentary we read:
“The clause, their sin is greater than their advantage, embodies a very important principle. A thing should not be adopted simply because it contains some advantage nor should a thing be condemned simply because it is harmful in certain respects. On the contrary, both sides should be carefully weighed and a thing should be condemned only if its harm outweighs its advantage. It is in fact a great characteristic of Islam that it never condemns a thing wholesale but frankly and freely admits even the smallest good that may be found in it. Islam prohibits certain things not because it considers them to be devoid of all good, for there is nothing in the world which is wholly bad, but because their evil outweighs their good. This is why, while prohibiting the use of intoxicants and games of chance because of their great harm, Islam has not failed to acknowledge the few advantages they possess.”
Alcohol not only causes a complete loss of one’s senses but also causes dehydration and weight gain. Besides these factors, it has the potential of causing one to develop an addiction which further increases the previous factors along with the disadvantages of addictions.
An interesting story is recorded that when the revelation making drink unlawful was received, the Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" sent for a companion and ordered him to proclaim the new commandment in the streets of Medina. In the house of an Ansari (a Muslim of Medina) a drinking party was going on. Many persons had been invited and cups of wine were being served. One large pot had been drunk and a second one was going to be broached. Many had lost their senses, and many more were on the way to lose them. In this condition they heard someone proclaim that drinking had been forbidden by the Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" under a command of God. One of the party stood up and said,
“It looks like a proclamation against drinking; let us find out if this is so.”
Another stood up, struck the earthen pot full of wine with his staff, broke it to pieces and said,
“First obey, then inquire. It is enough that we have heard of such a proclamation. It is not meet that we should go on drinking while we make inquiries. It is rather our duty to let the wine flow in the street and then inquire about the proclamation”(Bukhari and Muslim, Kitab al Ashriba)
This Muslim was right. For, if drinking had been forbidden, they would have been guilty of an offence, had they gone on drinking? On the other hand, if drinking had not been forbidden and they stopped drinking they would not lose much.
Intermittent fasting is another practice carried out by Muslims, mainly during the month of Ramadan, as stated earlier it is important to know how much to eat. Intermittent fasting has many benefits for the body. For example, a study in ‘The Lancet’ found that fasting can cure diabetes. In an experiment, 149 people were taken off their medication and ate only 825 calories daily for 3 to 5 months. 46% of them were cured of their diabetes after a year compared to 4% of those who used conventional treatments.
When one fasts brain development is encouraged due to the body switching from using glucose as a source of energy to fat. This is called intermittent metabolic switching. It teaches the cell to create new metabolic pathways to deal with cellular stresses. This process can enhance cognition and motor performance and protects neurons against dysfunction and degeneration in animal models of stroke epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Fasting can cure depression through changes in hormone levels, as well as cancer as it promotes DNA repair of those healthy stem cells which are affected during chemotherapy. On top of all of this, it can also increase life span. All of this has been stated in The Qur’an over fourteen hundred years ago. Allah the Exalted states:
وَأَنْ تَصُومُوا خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
“And fasting is good for you, if you only knew.”The Holy Quran (2:185)
What do people of other religions eat?
Most Hindus are vegetarian, and will not eat beef at all, however, is this actually healthy? Islam states we must not eat anything in excess but we must eat all types of foods (those which are permissible) including greens and meats as food affects our moral qualities. The Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" has stated in ‘The Philosophy of the Teaching of Islam’ that:
“Experience also shows that different types of food affect the intellect and the mind in different ways. For instance, careful observation would disclose that people who refrain altogether from eating meat gradually suffer a decline of the faculty of bravery; they lose courage and thus suffer the loss of a divinely bestowed praiseworthy faculty. This is reinforced by the evidence of the divine law of nature that the herbivorous animals do not possess the same degree of courage as do carnivorous ones. The same applies to birds. Thus, there is no doubt that morals are affected by food. Conversely, those who are given to a diet consisting mainly of meat and eat very little of greens suffer a decline of meekness and humility. Those who adopt the middle course develop both types of moral qualities.”
Those who follow the religion of Judaism are only permitted to eat kosher food. In terms of meat, they are only out to eat those animals which have split hooves. It is not permissible to consume meat and dairy products within one hour of each other. This is, however, different to what Islam states as there is no requirement made to separate meat and dairy nor is there any requirement on whether the animal is split-hooved or not.
Addressing missionaries on the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" states:
“Most importantly these include the missionaries who should exercise or at least walk very regularly in order to take care of good health and to inculcate hard working skills in them. If they are unable to go out for a walk due to time constraints or any other reason they should specially take out time for at least some exercise… So firstly, it is essential for the devotees of life and missionaries to undertake exercise. Secondly, in these western countries unhealthy junk food is also very common which must be avoided. These factors must be considered and taken care of! If they are single and live by themselves, they can at least find some time for exercise while living in mission house and should know techniques of cooking healthy food. I am not only advising Jama’at members I exercise regularly on the exercise cycle/ other machines and Allah Almighty is enabling him to continue it on regular basis.”
In conclusion, as well as being a necessity of life, food can also be considered a luxury. The danger with luxuries is that too much of them can also be harmful. The Holy Qur’an and Islam constantly emphasize that man must choose the middle path and not transgress. The same principle applies to food. For this reason, Islam has a specific method for slaughtering, specific foods that one should eat and specific amounts of how much one should eat. May Allah enable us to understand the teachings of Allah and may Allah continue to increase His blessings upon us. Āmīn