Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Sikhs: Dietary Guidelines

alcohol and narcotics

Sikhs spend their lives looking to become one with God, and discovering the holy within themselves. Because this spark of holiness is within us all, a Sikh considers one of their first duties is to look after their body and care for it as the container of their soul. To this end, Sikhs avoid any substance that has been seen to do any damage - temporary or permanent - to their bodies.

For this reason, alcohol, tobacco and all narcotic or intoxicating drugs are banned substances for Sikhs, both under general consensus and more specifically in the Guru Granth Sahib. Any baptised Sikh who is found to have taken any of these substances will not only have to do a penance in front of their entire community, but may even have to face the shame of being rebaptised all over again to wash away their transgression.

eating meat

One area of prohibition that is still often debated is the injunction to refrain from eating some meats (kutha). Translations of the Guru Granth Sahib seem simply to forbid the eating of meat that has been ritually slaughtered or prepared for another religion - such as kosher or halal meat. This certainly ties in with the Gurus' aim to remove unnecessary ritual from their lives, and in fact is one of the four founding taboos in Sikhism (smoking tobacco is another one).

However, beyond this point things become slightly confused. For some Sikhs, this prohibition extends to cover all meat and meat products, no matter how the animal is slaughtered, and may even include eggs, fish, milk and other dairy products too. For others, the meaning is much more limited and all meat apart from halal, kosher, beef and pork products may be eaten.

In the free kitchen of the gurdwara (langar), vegetarian food is always served, but this is on the basis that it is easier to feed people with vegetarian food when you do not know their religious affiliations or dietary restrictions. The Gurus had various opinions on eating meat, but it can generally be concluded that whether to eat meat is largely a personal decision for a Sikh.

It may be possible for a Sikh patient to be fed by the langar when friends and family visit, and this might be the best option because it allows patients to maintain their links with their community and continue to eat their usual foods. However, if this is not possible (for example, because of a medically restricted diet or hospital policy), then it is probably best to follow the example of the gurdwara and stick to vegetarian options when serving Sikhs.


Fasting may apply only to older Sikhs or those from rural areas. Although the Gurus did not specifically call for their followers to fast at any particular point, some older Sikhs like to fast during the full moon or during certain holidays. They say that this helps them to concentrate the mind on what is holy. This is not a central tenet of the Sikh religion.

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