Nutrition: The Islamic Perspective
Allah created man (Adam) from a handful of dust that He took from all over the earth and, therefore, any replacement for wear and tear in the human body should be obtained from the same organic source that man belongs to, i.e. plant and fruit growing out of dust (land). It is estimated that almost three to five million cells (above) die everyday in our body, and to replace or repair them we need to consume food that is organic.
Health issues of modern times never fail to form the subject of an interesting discussion. Every day we face strange new diseases: indeed, we are more depressed and distressed than ever before. Are people so much more unhappy than they were one hundred year ago, or even ten years ago? It’s true that we are facing unprecedented adversities these days because of high pressure, or the absence of family support, or media influence. We are unresponsive to remedies or spiritual counsel by our scholars. Why are we forced to turn more and more to medication for solace? How long shall we allow the multi-billion-dollar drug industry to grow without seeing an end to human suffering?
Allah (swt) created man (Adam) from a handful of dust that He took from all over the earth and, therefore, any replacement for wear and tear in the human body should be obtained from the same organic source that man belongs to, i.e. plant and fruit growing out of dust (land). It is estimated that almost 3 to 5 million cells die everyday in our body, and to replace or repair them we need to consume food that is organic. This includes everything that is not contaminated or processed, or is a natural product devoid of pesticide, chemical fertilizer or any other food item that is not genetically modified. So eggs, chicken, fish and meat are organic too. But since they are fed with chemically treated feed and their productivity or growth being induced with hormone (progesterone) they are no more organic. Thus, we are deprived of genuine ‘spare parts’ for our bodies – or so to say – from an organic source, i.e. naturally grown products. One of the major causes of degenerative diseases, anxiety and depression is the chemical imbalance of our brain and body chemistry due to unmet nutritional requirements.
There is direct relationship between our food and mood. There are four different neurotransmitters that play a vital role in the brain to keep you emotionally stable. Serotonin is one of them: if you are low on serotonin you will tend to become negative, obsessive, worried, irritable, and sleepless or you can say lack of serotonin leads to depression, whereas if you have high levels of serotonin you are a most confident and happy person. Now you must be wondering how one can boost his serotonin level in the brain. In fact, the repair tools we need for this crucial effort are shockingly simple. There are specific foods and nutrients that the brain needs to correct its malfunction just in twenty-four hours. Precious serotonin is synthesized in the body from tryptophan – an amino acid (protein building block). So a high protein diet like turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, beef, cheese, are good sources to boost serotonin and as a vegetarian you may use nuts, seeds, milk, pumpkin and banana. However, they contain less tryptophan than animal derived food. But that is not enough. You need healthy fats too to make tryptophan readily available to the brain.
Surprisingly, our ancestors ate gobs of butter or home-made ghee: something which we no longer eat. They had lesser health problems associated with heart disease, cancer and depression than we have today. But make sure you avoid those hydrogenated oil (transfatty acid) readily available in junk food, chips and processed cookies. Also avoid drinks that are most likely to deplete our serotonin levels. Stimulants like caffeine and aspartame (sugar substitute) found in diet cola are the foremost enemies of serotonin.
Consume more fruits and vegetables – the sole natural source of vitamins and minerals – to facilitate the tryptophan synthesis. Other factors like sunlight or bright light and physical exercise may also boost your serotonin level. Is it not simple to be happy? But, alas, how difficult it has become for our generation to be just that: happy!
Certainly, the Qur’an mentions what to eat and what is nutritious for human beings, but if you ponder over some verses, even the placement of some ayahs; you’d learn about proper eating habits. Sadly, our food habits are merely cultural or based on desire.
The Qur’an mentions fruit and meat in Surah Waqiah (56: 21-22). Fruit is mentioned before flesh or meat: that means we should eat fruit before our meals (meat) and not after the meal. Research shows that fruits contain enzymes to digest itself, so eating fruit after a meal burdens our digestive system and the fermentation of fruit causes burping and a delay in the digestive process.
Our meal must be full of raw food i.e. salad or uncooked food, and we should begin with raw food and then the cooked or fatty food so that we may not consume more heavy food. Also remember more dishes at the dining table are most likely to invite more diseases, and so it is wise to eat one dish at a time as our ancestors used to eat. Similarly, Allah (swt) mentions dates and pomegranates together in Surah Ar-Rahman (55: 68): dates contain zinc and pomegranates contain magnesium. And zinc facilitates magnesium absorption in blood. So a proper combination of food is also important for our health. We know protein is acidic in nature and carbohydrates alkaline, with both needing different kinds of gastric juices. Eating a mixed kind of food puts unnecessary burden on our digestive system.
Some Qur’anic verses speak about the importance of – among other things – meat (6:118), dates (6:141), milk (16:66), olives (95:1), pomegranates (6:141), figs (95:1), seafood (5:99), fish (16:14), etc. Allah (swt) says:
“It is He who sends down water from the sky with which He brings up corn, olives, dates and grapes and other fruit.” (16: 11)
Milk and honey are also mentioned:
“In cattle too you have a worthy lesson. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, between the intestines and the blood: pure milk, a pleasant beverage for those who drink it.” (l6: 66)
Referring to honey, we read:
“From within their (i.e. the bees’) bellies comes forth a fluid of many hues that provides people with a cure (of illnesses).” (16: 69)
“Eat of these fruit when they ripen.” (6:141) (Of course, that does not imply chemically induced ripening).
“And from it (i.e., the earth) we produce grain for their sustenance.” (36:33)
All the foods mentioned in the Qur’an are highly nutritious and have great healing properties provided they are consumed in their original (organic) form. Dates, by themselves, constitute a complete nutritious diet. Our Prophet (pbuh) and his companions sustained their lives for months eating nothing but dates.
Honey has antiseptic properties for ulcers and a soothing effect for bronchitis and cough, whereas olives are great for people suffering from coronary heart disease. Recent studies show that ginger (mentioned in Surah Insan: 76) has many medicinal benefits. Dr. Jameel Qudsee at his ‘Diet in Quran’ Research Foundation – where extensive studies are done on all foods mentioned in the Qur’an – conducted clinical trials of ginger on a group of pregnant women and concluded that the pregnant women who were given a small amount of ginger had negligible symptoms of nausea, vomiting and morning sickness compared to those given a placebo. Similarly, ginger is rich in potassium and fiber – good for those suffering from spastic colon (IBS), muscle cramps and anxiety depression.
To abstain from eating without a valid reason is contrary to health protection. Hence, Islam does not approve of it. Healthy nutrition means having a balanced diet in order to maintain the balance that God has established in all matters. So make sure your diet is well balanced and includes carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Healthy nutrition means a diet balanced in quantity. Eating too much is contrary to Islamic teachings. In the Qur’an we read:
“Eat and drink, but avoid excess.” (20:81)
The major cause of diabetes and coronary heart disease is obesity: a by-product of excessive eating. Going by Islamic eating etiquettes, the preference is always for wholesome food. An example is the Prophet’s (pbuh) preference for wholesome bread, as reported in a hadith that says that Umm Ayman once refined some flour to bake bread for the Prophet (pbuh). He asked her what she was doing, and she replied: “This is a type of food which we used to make back home, and I thought of baking it for you.” He said: “Put it (the bran) back in; then make the dough.” So, complex carbohydrate is better than refined carbohydrates.
One of the major causes of irritable bowel syndrome is a diet devoid of its fiber content (characterized by a group of symptoms in which abdominal pain or discomfort is associated with a change in bowel pattern, such as loose or more frequent bowel movements, diarrhea, and/ or constipation.)
Finally, we may conclude that healthy nutrition may put a smile on your face. You can’t change your food habits overnight, but certainly, gradual change will definitely release you from the clutches of those costly anti-depressant drugs. Don’t follow your desires, but follow Allah’s (swt) command and eat what is nutritious.
Say ‘no’ to junk food and refined sugar, and take what is organic, fresh and natural.