Disclaimer: This article contains pro-plant-based rhetoric and discussions of animal abuse in parts – reader discretion is advised. This is my own personal view which I have formed from my own research and is not the view of every Sikh as each of us may follow a different Maryada.
– Written by Fitbysinghuk (Pviter Singh) –
I’m a 21-year-old biomedical sciences student from Leeds. I first became interested in nutrition when I was 10 years old and decided to adopt vegetarianism. As a young Sikh I saw the vegetarian lifestyle as something to be encouraged and many of the elder Sangat I look up to also adopted a similar way of life. My interest in nutrition was further developed in the second year of my degree where I learned about the link between food and the human condition. As I read the works of Dr. Neal Barnard and like-minded researchers, I was blown away by the fundamental importance of nutrition on the human condition and more so about how good nutritional practices were not at the forefront of the Populous conscious.
I am in no two minds about it, Sikhi has certainly shaped the way I think about food and more candidly I would say it has changed my life. Prior to taking a serious interest in nutrition and fitness, I was overweight due to living a largely sedentary lifestyle and showed no signs of stopping. The change I made to now leading a health and wellbeing centered lifestyle and blogging about fitness on Fitbysingkuk where I encourage others to do the same, was inspired by the Gurbani below:
“Kabeer, Kill only that, which, when killed, shall bring peace …” – Ang 1364
This quote, for me, alludes to Bhagat Kabeer Ji telling us to kill our egos and our sense of self to connect back to the divine. But this pangati is a double edge sword as it also discourages the consumption of meat. I couldn’t ignore what bani was telling me. This quote along with the quote below strengthened my beliefs in a plant-based lifestyle.
“Keep your heart content and cherish compassion for all beings; this way alone can your holy vow be fulfilled” – Ang 299
The second pangti speaks volumes as compassion is one of the five virtues all Sikhs should espouse. In today’s time of animal abuse in the form of cows being hung upside down and skinned alive in abattoirs or male baby chicks being gassed alive or incinerated at birth, its impossible for us as Sikhs to exercise compassion and continue to support the meat industry. Setting aside the negative health consequences of meat (which are discussed below) the very fact that these animals are subjected to such terrible fates which we subsidise, unsettles me.
Both the ethical and health argument, in tandem, encouraged me to follow my current lifestyle. There are a plethora of foods that are detrimental to our health. As such you may be questioning why I’ve chosen to focus on meat. Here are some shocking empirical statistics about meat Meat and animal products:
- The world health organization has deemed processed meat to be a group one carcinogen.
But what does this mean in real terms? A group 1 carcinogen is a chemical or agent for which there is strong evidence that they cause cancer. When I first learned about this I thought to myself “I can’t grow if I keep shooting myself in the foot by continuing to eat meat”
- Saturated fats (sources from meat and dairy) is a key risk factor to cardiovascular disease.
- The number of people who die from cardiovascular disease is equal to four jumbo jets crashing every hour, of every day, every year
I have a routine that I follow to make sure my nutrition is keeping me at my physical and mental peak. First, I always eat home cooked meals. It is certainly the simple option to eat out, however, Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj states in their 52 humans not to be lazy! This human empowers me to be more conscientious about what I eat. Certainly, preparing a home-cooked meal is lengthy but nutritionally speaking it is worth it! Part of what I call ‘good nutritional practice” is to track what I eat. I have tracked my nutrient intake for the past 322 days, in counting, with an app called “myfitnesspal” Its a more conscious and mindful practice to track what you eat as opposed to the opposite which is mindless eating. Through doing this I realized I wasn’t getting enough vitamin A and Iron. So I challenge you to also track what you eat as well. Food is our fuel and we should be putting the best quality food into our bodies. Tracking your food can be a challenge but I find it takes the guesswork out of nutrition. It tells me where I’ve been slacking and the next day I can make up for it. For example, yesterday I only consumed 43% of my daily vitamin A needs. I saw this on the app and today I had a carrot – a single carrot is all I needed to get 1252% of my daily recommended Vitamin A. in this way I can make sure my body is getting all the nutrients it needs.
I was raised by my very open-minded grandparents – even if they didn’t always share my particular opinions, they always supported me. An example that comes to mind is when I chose to adopt veganism. The research shows ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in heart failure and diabetes cases. This led to my curiosity in our attitude towards health and fitness in the Sikh/Punjabi sphere. When women become pregnant, they are told to drink lots of milk and when you decide to stop eating meat and animal products you may very well be met by comments such as “ why don’t you eat properly and “poor thing doesn’t eat properly” as I did. Let’s address a few of these points.
Research actually shows that dairy consumption has been linked to breast cancer (and the recurrence of) as well as colon cancer. As for eating properly, some may consider meat or animal products to be part of a hearty meal in our community however it is anything but! Diabetes has increased in the Punjabi community and the widespread narrative is that sugary foods are to blame. A study by the British journal of nutrition in 2012 showed us that carbohydrate consumption was INVERSLY related to diabetes risk whereas, just one serving of processed meat per day can increase one’s risk of developing diabetes by 51%. Thus, if we want to be healthier as a Panth, let’s steer towards a whole food plant-based diet and away from a heavily processed unhealthy diet. For it is by eating processed foods like meat, which leads to these patterns of diabetes and heart failure that we are seeing too much of in the path.
In summation, I believe a lot is to be done with regards to fitness and nutrition in the Punjabi community. These conversations need to be had in Gurdwara’s and Sikh households up and down the country. In doing so, a better understanding of our own health and nutrition will benefit us personally on a physical level and also on a panthic level. Let’s eat well and stay fit – this is what is means to be ready upon ready.
NB: this is an opinion piece and is no way a substitute for medical or nutritional advice. Prior to undertaking a new diet, you should consult a dietician or general practitioner