Sai Baba has often spoken about the effect of food on our health. He has referred to it mostly in a general way, telling us to eat Sathwic foods that are fresh and pure, and that are not too spicy or tasty.
He once said: "The Gita(the Indian religious scripture) defines the nature and tastes of the three types of food eaten by man. The food that promotes love, virtue, strength, happines and cordiality is Sathwic; that which influences, arouses, intoxicates and heightens hunger and thirst is Rajasic; the food that depresses, disrupts and causes disease is Thamasic."
On the 8th of October 1983, Baba gave a discourse in which he was much more specific as to what types of food are injurious to our health. The following excerpt from this discourse are taken from the Sathya Sai Newsletter of Arizona, USA, with their kind permission.
"In this world of ours, man is given to experience wealth beyond description. But, out of all the possible types of wealth, it is one's health which is found to be the most valuable possession. In fact it is said that 'Health is wealth.' Without good health , one cannot succeed in even the smallest of ventures. One can have immense wealth and power, but without health these are of no consequence; only with health can one use wealth and authority for some good purpose. But it is a mistake to feel that one's health confers lasting happiness. For what is the purpose of worldly existence? That you might reach something beyond. Unless you have that distant goal set before you, this worldly existence is meaningless. So why do you need to safeguard your health? Not for your worldly existence, but for the sake of experiencing the Atmananda (bliss of realization of the divinity within). And in order to protect your health, you must follow a certain code of conduct."
"Now, in this creation, the different types of life forms have been classified into 8,400,000 species. Out of these 8,400,000 species 8,399,999 types tend to eat food which is not cooked. They eat instead food which is natural and available in their environment. This food which is available to them in nature, does not seem to change them. So you find that these 8,399,999 species of life forms are enjoying peak health. Of course, it does happen that, because of climatic variations and factors which are beyond our control, some of these life forms do also come to grief. But it is man alone who is subject to the most health related trouble. Any number of human diseases are on the increase. The reason is that man does not like to partake of food as God created it. He is the victim of his tongue, which wants to be satisfied in terms of taste, and so his own likes and dislikes come in the way of what he should eat. Man seeks to change the foods available in nature to suit his tastes, thereby putting an end to the very essence of life contained in them. Because he is exterminating the life-giving forces in the food available to him, he is increasingly subjecting himself to disease. So it follows, again, that if man were to eat foods in their natural state, he certainly would not be so subject to disease."
"Now, it is common knowledge that each body, each system, has the governing factors. All these factors should be present in a proper way - anything less or more is bound to put you into disorder. If you want to know the cause of headaches, it is not the head that is at fault. It is the stomach! This is so regarding all the different organs: the stomach is the key point. The stomach digest whatever is given to it and supplies the essence of it to all the organs. This power of digestion given to the stomach is a God given thing. In fact God resides in a Being as this digestive force, which is what governs all the life processes in the body. In order to revere this aspect of God, what is it that you should offer? This God should be given that which is His own creation, not what is made by man. So, if you give to your stomach whatever is available in the natural state, as given to you by God, everything will be fine."
"We tend to eat too much, which leads us to mental disturbance. A limit should be placed on the food that we take. If that limit is exceeded, we are bound to suffer. Food is a necessity, but it should be in the quantity required for sustenance of the body. Exceed that limit, and disorders come your way. Take for instance the heart, which has a certain capacity to pump blood to the rest of the body. It cannot exceed this optimum point. The body requires a certain horsepower for this heart, and that is what God has given it. So, when you build your body beyond the limits of the hearts capabilities, the heart can't function. That is why there is an increase in heart disease."
"The main idea behind all this is that you should limit the amount of food you take. Whatever the food type, if you eat it in moderation all will be well. Food in excess leads to mental disturbance, but food in limited amounts will give you happiness. Eat so that your hunger may be satiated and your body sustained, and not so that your body is enlarged. Every opportunity is available to us, if we only take care of our food habits. Perhaps certain circumstances beyond your control could lead you to distress, but otherwise there is no reason for you to be subjected to disease. If you wish to live longer, to be of service to society, to experience divinity for longer, then keep your food under check."
"In addition, the types of food that you eat should be nutritious. In this world of today, you eat that which has absolutely no innate power to sustain you. For the upkeep of the body you need protein and vitamins of every kind. One vitamin gives you good eyesight; one purifies the blood; a third strengthens the bones. And for all these, proteins are vital. In fact, protein means 'that which protects you'. And food which is not cooked contains the largest amount of protein. Take for instance, the different types of legumes, like mung and dhal. Even foreigners tend to use these - for example, the soybean. Here, the protein content is great. Now, the way to eat peas, beans or lentils, is to soak them in water and let them sprout. In this way they come to you in all their richness. But,because we are victims of our tongue, tastes, whims and fancies, what do we do? Boil them, and further change them by adding oil and various other ingredients. In the process, we deprive them of their basic contents, and deprive ourselves of what they can give us."
"For another example, take fruits which have nothing but vitamins,and vegetables which can give you any amount of strength. What these give us today could be called artificial vitamins. In the old days, the common practice was to give plants manure in its natural state in the form of cow dung. The resulting vegetables might have been small, but they were rich in content. Today, vegetables are oversized, and they lack their former flavour. What is the reason? Plants are now fed with artificial manure, and they really do not have the innate strength which ought to be there. As a result, there is an increase in the number of cancer cases and heart complaints."
"To this day, no doctor has come up with a solution for the problem of cancer. The cause of all this cancer is something worth knowing. Now, some might say that cancer is a direct result of smoking cigarettes. Others might say that air pollution is the cause. These factors might be contributing in a small way, but they are not the primary cause of cancer. The main cause of cancer is refined sugar. The reason for this is that in the refining of sugar, a lot of chemicals are added. And one of these processing chemicals is the powder of bone, which, when you eat the sugar, may get lodged in any part of the body and create problems."
"In what form was sugar eaten in the good old times? Not in this artificial, synthetic one, but as wholesome jaggery(an unrefined brown sugar). Today you find the artificial creeping into everything that you eat - all merely for the sake of money. Now, if your life span is cut short, who is going to finally enjoy all this money? So try to adopt that path whereby you will truly realize yourself. Emperors, mighty and valorous ones, have all gone, leaving behind their wealth. Don't forget your goal, your identity; safeguard your body."
"It is not this material wealth which is important. It is one's own good qualities which are real wealth. Without these attributes, wealth can give you nothing. So here again, 'Rather than wealth, take care of your health, ' it has been said. And what beyond health? What is the fulfillment that you must seek? To get back whence you have come. Atma(the divinity within) is your destination. Until the time that you reach this destination, spend your time, spend your body, spend all that you have in good deeds and doing good to others."
"Embodiments of Love, what is the sum and substance of all that I have been talking to you about? First, health is of paramount importance. Second, for what purpose, for whose sake? So that you might experience the ananda(bliss) of the Atma. Now, you might have health all right, but still not experience this atmananda. What use then, having this health? Certain people who cannot experience atmananda have good health nevertheless. What type of people are they? It has been said very well that these people are those who tend to reduce the world food supply, and are merely a burden to the herd."
"Try to understand who you are, your own reality. If you can't understand who you are, what is the use of your living in this world? So don't make a distinction between that which is this world and that which is beyond this world. Bring the two together, and understand that you have to realize your own true nature and experience the divine ananda(bliss). And, whatever is given to man, try to further it. Love. Don't allow any room for pettiness or narrow outlook. Try to conduct yourself in such a way as not to injure others. Only then will you be sanctifying your existence."