To choose the right fuel, Sadhguru explains, you must know what kind of machine you are. He discusses many aspects of eating for health and vitality, but warns us not to make food into a religion. Just eat sensibly!

Sadhguru: Every few years, a different theory emerges on what kinds of foods to eat, and there are a whole lot of people who follow it religiously. People talk about “veganism”! We shouldn’t be making food a religion. It is not about what you or someone else believes. It is about eating sensibly.

In the yogic culture, we always consume cooked food within 1.5 hours after it comes off the stove. If it’s any later, inertia will set in.

The first thing to remember is that essentially, food is fuel. If you want to refuel your car, you go to the gas station and choose the appropriate fuel for this particular machine, in order to achieve optimal performance. You could put kerosene into your car and it would actually drive, but it may smoke and cough, and you may not be able to accelerate as you want. This is the situation with most people when it comes to their food choices. To choose the appropriate fuel, you need to know what type of machine you are.

Eating properly is an important aspect of health. If you are interested in your wellbeing and that of your children, you must ensure that the food you eat is fresh. The average American eats processed food that has been prepared three or six months ago. In the yogic culture, we always consume cooked food within 1.5 hours after it comes off the stove. If it’s any later, inertia will set in. If you eat food that creates inertia in the system, you will lose all your dynamism. There is also a correlation between the kind of food you eat and the amount of sleep you need. Generally, doctors advise that everyone must sleep a minimum of eight hours. If you sleep eight hours per night, it means you are sleeping one third of your life.

Ingesting Inertia

People are writing whole books on how everyone must sleep eight hours, and warn of dire consequences if you don’t. These days, I am getting a little lazy and sleep for four hours. But earlier, for twenty-five years, I used to sleep less than three hours per day, and I am healthy. The body needs restfulness, not sleep. One important factor of how much sleep you need is what type of fuel you put into your system. If you put the wrong fuel into your car, it will need a lot of servicing. Similarly, if you put the wrong fuel into your system, it will need a lot of sleep.

There are many aspects that need to be considered in this context. One important factor is that you may be eating food that has a high level of inertia in it. We classify foods as rajas, tamas, or sattva. Tamas means inertia. If you eat food that has the quality of inertia to it, then how can you be active? If you eat dull food, it will make you dull.

Eat What’s Far From You

Your body is just an accumulation of the food that you have eaten, after it has been transformed and assimilated. There is a certain intelligence, memory, and genetic code in the body that determines what the food that you eat is converted into. For example, the same apple, depending on who eats it, becomes part of the body of a woman, a man, or a cow.

In the yogic tradition, we always said you must eat what is furthest away from you, genetically. In that sense, plant life is furthest away from us.

As life evolves, the information and memory an organism carries get increasingly complex. In the yogic tradition, we always said you must eat what is furthest away from you, genetically. In that sense, plant life is furthest away from us. If you must eat non-vegetarian food, we advised the consumption of fish, because among the animals, it is furthest away from a human being, if you look at it from an evolutionary perspective. As the first animal life on the planet is thought to have evolved in water, the first avatara was matsya avatara or the fish.

After a century of saying the best thing to eat is meat, doctors in the West are slowly shifting to a different view today. For some time now, they have been saying that beef is the main cause for most of the cardiac ailments in America. And in the last few years, they are also saying that meat consumption is a cause for cancer. In the yogic culture, we have been telling you for ten thousand years that if you eat foods with a complex genetic code, your system will break down, one way or the other. We arrived at that not by doing million-dollar research, but just by observing what happens in our system when we eat. If you pay enough attention, you will know. Every creature does. A dog just knows what to eat and what not. Human beings do not know because they go by whatever information someone gives them, not by awareness of life.

So, do not make food some kind of a religion. If it is a question of survival, eat what is available. But when survival is taken care of, there is a choice. When you have a choice, you must eat sensibly, what is best for your system. The ideal fuel for your body is what leaves you alert, agile, and active. You could experiment. One day, just eat fruits; another day, just eat raw vegetables; yet another day, you cook the vegetables; then you eat fish, you eat meat – try out everything. With what kind of food you are experiencing maximum levels of energy and alertness, please eat that, and you will be healthy.

When Not to Eat

In any case, especially when you eat too much, it is good to fast once in a way. But if you forcefully go without food, this may cause damage to the system. If you want to fast, you have to prepare psychologically and physiologically, so that you can effortlessly go without food. We have identified certain days of the lunar month when digestion is not at its best. On these two days in the month, known as Ekadashi, which is the eleventh day after the full and new moons, it is best to have only light food or to fast entirely.

Ekadashi was built into your system. So, if you can fast, please do. If that is not possible for you, go on a fruit diet, which is referred to as palahar. Unfortunately, in Tamil, pala means “many,” so Tamil people tend to think that on Ekadashi, they must eat many varieties of things! So they eat a wide variety of snacks, which is worse than the regular food they otherwise eat. No, palahar means fruit diet. The idea is, if you cannot fast, have something that is easily digestible.

If you eat cooked meat, it will take forty-eight to fifty-two hours. If you eat raw meat, it will take seventy-two hours to digest it.

If you eat a fruit, within 1.5 to three hours’ time, it will be fully digested. If you eat cooked vegetables, it will take twelve to fifteen hours to digest them. If you eat cooked cereals and other foods, it will take twenty-four to thirty hours. If you eat cooked meat, it will take forty-eight to fifty-two hours. If you eat raw meat, it will take seventy-two hours to digest it. When food remains in the system for such long periods of time, it will rot and cause unnecessary levels of bacteria. With such food choices, you are causing damage to the system. And then you believe you need medicines, rather than living healthy. You need pharmaceutical products because you are generating poison within yourself.

What you put into your system can make a big difference. To give an example – when I drive in the United States, I make sure I never go to a gas station that has ethanol gasoline. When they first introduced ethanol gasoline about twelve years ago, I said, “I don’t want to put ethanol in my car because the engine is going to rust.” You do not have to be some brilliant scientist to arrive at that – it is just common sense. Now, after it has been used for twelve years, they finally admit it may cause corrosion of the engine. You just have to pay attention to how things work. Most people do not pay attention to anything. For everything, they need a prescription.

If you have been eating the wrong kind of food for too long, the body may have become so lethargic and dense that you cannot notice anything. In that case, fasting will give you a break. It is time we teach people how to pay attention to what is happening in their system. Just ask yourself – is it working well right now or not? This is a simple way to know.

Editor’s Note: Find more of Sadhguru’s insights for your gastronomics in Isha’s new cookbook “A Taste of Well-Being” – now available from Isha Downloads, in major book stores as well as at online stores such as Amazon and Flipkart.

A version of this article was originally published in Forest Flower, December 2016. Download as PDF on a “name your price, no minimum” basis or subscribe to the print version.