For many people, religion is one thing and day to day life is another but for me, it is all so closely connected. I would say that it is because of my religion that I am a vegetarian. It was quite interesting to read that Hinduism did not consider it wrong to eat meat while it did specify what kind of meat can be consumed. However, as Jainism and Buddhism gained popularity, it is said that Hinduism started promoting vegetarianism. I have not read the scriptures myself so ratify this but I am glad my religion made me a vegetarian. I was quite shocked to learn that carnivorous animals have a smaller intestine than humans and that forces the meat to stay in our intestine longer leading to some diseases including cancer. I realized this is not the only aspect of food that Hinduism Touches Upon.
According to Hinduism, one should eat to live and the purpose of life is to attain salvation ie to seek God. Food is generally categorized into three types: Sattvic food which is said to increase purity, longevity, health and taste; Rajasic food that is bitter, salty, sour, hot and burning and supposedly to give unhappiness and diseases; Tamasic food that is supposedly to be foul smelling, dry, devoid of juices and indigestible. It is said that offering food to God before eating helps us avoid the negative effects of the type of food we eat. At this point, I would also like to mention that there is a practice, especially among Brahmins to clean the place, sprinkle some water all around the plate to cleanse the food and also drink some water and then offer the water to the five vital breath (prana, apana, vyana, udana, samanaya) and finally to Brahman imprisoned in the heart. While cleaning the place ensures hygiene, having some water clears the throat and doing this whole ritual while chanting mantras in my opinion, will help kerb any desire to overeat. I say so because doing these rituals after being served the food helps you avoid hogging. Imagine you seeing a plateful of yummy food while your stomach is rumbling, we would quite naturally tend to stuff as much as possible into our wee tummy. On the other hand if you can control that desire and complete the ritual, it certainly gives you the mental power to control how much you eat.
It is not just around the food itself that there are some rules and restrictions but also around how it is prepared. I am not sure which of the Hindu scripts have these prescribed but I was always brought up practicing a few things. Always cook food only after taking a shower, wearing washed and washed cloth, never leave hair lose while cooking (and usually otherwise too) are a few of them. They all pertain to hygiene and cleanliness.
The religion also suggests abstinence from food or certain food types. This is usually done during a fast or vrat, a religious vow. Fasts vary in practice but there are some common fasts in Hinduism. People tend to fast on the eleventh day of new moon (ekadashi) and depending on the deity they pray to, they will fast on different days of the week. Some fasts may not be complete abstinence from food but only from some food types. On Fridays, some avoid anything sour (including tamarind, citrus, fermented food, tomatoes etc.), on Thursdays, some avoid salt, on Saturdays some avoid rice in the evening. To me, these do not just make sense from a religious stand point but also sound right scientifically. Restriction on food types helps me try many other ingredients (for example, I try to take other grains like wheat or barley etc. instead of rice on specific days) which are actually part of a well balanced diet. In some cases, some restrictions like avoiding salt become part of my detox effort. While modern science has been coming up with many 'latest' findings about the benefits of calorie restriction and balanced diet, to me it all looks like our ancestors knew it all along. Fasting also helps us appreciate how lucky we are to have a meal on our plate and ever share what we have so the poor could have some as well. I read on a blog about how the blogger does not believe in fasts as she believes it is quite sexist as most of the fasts are to be done by women and I could not help but smile sympathetically. The most important point is that these habits can help us have a balanced diet and healthy weight and life. It is my opinion that as men usually went away for work in those days and women were at home, it was much easier for them to control what they were eating so most fasts were by women. Honestly, I would say gender, no bar.
In ancient times, sanyasis (people who give up material living and seeking God) were expected to beg for food. I think this must have been for two reasons, first being they should not have interest in pleasures of eating and focus on God and also because by begging for food that is important for one's survival, I think one sheds their ego and surrenders.
In essence, we eat to live and it is important that we eat healthy as it is said that the God resides in us and we should keep him happy. Eat well, live long and prosper!