Gandhian Diet: A Closer Look On Mahatma Gandhi’s 154th Birthday
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Everybody knows Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more popularly referred to as Mahatma Gandhi or Bapu, as the Father of the Indian Nation. Mahatma Gandhi was a pioneer of non-violent resistance against British rule in India, known the world over today as Satyagraha. He was a political and social leader who initiated plenty of reforms in the Indian public sphere, beginning with self-reliance and Swadeshi to caste reforms with stalwarts like BR Ambedkar. But what many don’t know about Mahatma Gandhi is that along with his experiments with truth, he also focused on finding out what the perfect diet for human health, specifically Indian public health, should be. 

“As a searcher for truth I deem it necessary to find the perfect food for a man to keep body, mind and soul in a sound condition,” Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India, published in 1929. “I therefore still seek information and guidance from kindred spirits.” This search for the best diet for Indians and humans everywhere led Mahatma Gandhi to tailor a system of nutrition that is today known as the Gandhian Diet. On his 154th birth anniversary, let us take a closer look at what the Gandhian Diet was all about. 

Video Credit: YouTube/Tarla Dalal

Mahatma Gandhi And His Experiments With Diet And Nutrition 

A study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research in 2019, marking the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, explains in depth how the Indian National Congress leader came up with his idea of food, diet and nutrition. Given that Mahatma Gandhi was a Gujarati vegetarian, exploring the benefits of vegetarianism as a central focus of a healthy diet was but natural for him. But vegetarianism isn’t the only thing Mahatma Gandhi propounded as a way of healthy life for people. Instead, as the study shows, the Gandhian Diet proposes lifestyle and dietary changes that are today considered to be ideal, globally. 

“Anyone who goes through Gandhiji's works like Diet and Diet Reform or Key to Health would understand that he believed in a minimalistic approach to diet, as in everything else,” the study states. “He propagated that one should consider food as energy and even a medicine that is required to keep our body healthy and fit for work and, hence, one should take only what is required in minimum quantity and should refrain from eating to appease taste buds.”  

How did he reach his conclusions? Well, growing up with a religious mother, Mahatma Gandhi was no stranger to fasting to cleanse the body or eating sattvic meals. Throughout his life, Mahatma Gandhi travelled the world and came across many cultures and cuisines. Within India, his extensive touring of the nation to promote the Indian struggle for independence brought him in touch with millions of Indians, their food culture and diets. From exploring raw food to understanding what Indian farmers grow seasonally and locally, Mahatma Gandhi’s understanding of Indian food and diet was perhaps as in-depth as that of a nutritionist or food scientist today. 

The Salient Features Of Gandhian Diet: Benefits To Know About 

So, the very concept of Gandhian Diet encompasses everyday concerns that Indians face even today, from hunger and malnutrition to food security and growing risks of lifestyle disorders. To say that the Gandhian Diet is still very relevant for Indians and humans everywhere would not be an understatement. So, if you want to know more about the Gandhian Diet and what its main features and benefits are, then read on. 

Food Security 

Mahatma Gandhi once wrote that “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” So, food security in a country ridden with frequent famines and epidemics was one of his key concerns. Laying emphasis on locally grown quality foods, from millets and grains to seasonal vegetables and fruits, Mahatma Gandhi believed that the key to food security in India was synonymous to small farmers across India and the village systems they were a part of should get rewarded for their hard work through fair pricing and market opportunities. This, he believed, would also give India’s urban population access to quality foods that are homegrown instead of being imported. 


As a proponent of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi’s support of vegetarianism was lifelong and staunch. After reading Henry Salt’s Plea For Vegetarianism in the 1880s in London, Mahatma Gandhi revealed that while he had been a vegetarian by tradition since birth, he was now a vegetarian by choice. His argument in support of vegetarianism was based on the health benefits of eating plant-based foods, but also by the moral explanations on preventing animal cruelty and helping the planet survive in harmony with the beings it supports. 

Supporting Millets 

Within the ambit of vegetarianism, Mahatma Gandhi lay extreme importance on energy foods like milk, cereal grains, millets and lentils. During his lifetime, eating wheat and rice was as common as eating millets like sorghum or jowar and pearl millets or bajra. So, while the idea that millets provide incredible amounts of plant-based proteins and nutrients may be only recently recognised by people around the world, the Gandhian Diet was always in support of regular consumption of the same as staples. 

Against Starch And Sugar 

“… Gur is any day superior to refined sugar in food value, and if the villagers cease to make gur as they are already beginning to do, they will be deprived of an important food adjunct for their children,” Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Harijan in 1935. To find that Mahatma Gandhi was already proposing that Indians should reduce their consumption of refined sugar and starches in the 1930s while experts around the world are now saying the same is nothing short of astonishing. The Gandhian Diet clearly believes that overconsumption of refined sugar and starches can lead to many health concerns, which is in complete tandem with global health experts today. 

Healthy Oils 

Today, health experts recommend that instead of using refined vegetable oil or animal fat for cooking, it is best to depend on seed oils like sesame oil, groundnut oil and mustard oil. But did you know that the Gandhian Diet has always recommended that we eat these healthier oils as a part of healthy diets? In fact, Mahatma Gandhi believed that ghee, coconut oil, groundnut oil and sesame oil are much healthier options than hydrogenated vegetable oil or vanaspati.  

Proteins For Strength 

As mentioned before, Mahatma Gandhi believed that eating plant-based sources of protein, like lentils and legumes was very important for muscle health. But more than that, he also believed that consuming milk and eggs (yes, he did recommend it in works like Key To Health and Diet And Diet Reform) is equally important. Contrary to many Indian vegetarians, Mahatma Gandhi did not consider eggs to be “flesh foods” as sterile eggs were already available during those times.  

Seasonal And Fresh Produce 

As mentioned before, the Gandhian Diet is based on the foundation of using seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables to improve public health in India. In fact, this recommendation by Mahatma Gandhi is one of the many that are now supported by global health experts and even institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO). Again, the focus for Mahatma Gandhi was on ordinary fresh vegetables and greens instead of exotic or imported ones. He also believed that consuming fresh nuts and seeds is also great for health. 

What To Drink 

A firm teetotaller, Mahatma Gandhi not only recommended that one should avoid alcohol consumption but also believed that drinking tea, coffee or cocoa was unnecessary. In fact, his argument was that even tea contains tannins, which can hinder nutrient absorption, so apart from caffeinated drinks even chai should be avoided. Instead, the Gandhian Diet highlights healthy infusions like honey and lemon-infused water and ginger water.