Nutrition is one of the issues about which Adventists have consistently had a great deal to say.
Nutrition is too large a subject to be covered in so short a space. This is simply an overview, some principles to keep in mind in trying to find the diet that is ideal for you and for your body. Finding your ideal diet will take time, thought, patience, and, if possible, input from people who know their stuff.
One important thing to remember in any discussion about diet is that everyone is different. There isn’t one “miracle diet” that works exactly the same for every person.
There are principles that can be universally applied, but it’s important to remember that diet is not one-size-fits-all. What works for another may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for another. With this in mind, we must be careful not to dictate the food choices of others—or allow others to dictate our choices.
The original diet given to humans in Eden was “ ‘every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it’ ” (Gen. 1:29),1 which is a bit different from the modern diet, even a vegetarian one. This diet includes only nuts, legumes, fruits, grains, and vegetables with seeds.
In Genesis 3:18, when God told Adam and Eve to leave the garden, he told them that they would “ ‘eat the plants of the field,” which is taken by many to mean that at that point they began eating leaf, root, and tuber vegetables (plant parts that do not have seeds.) After the flood God broadened the menu even further: “ ‘Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it’ ” (9:3, 4). It is clear, however, by the injunction to take different numbers of “clean” and “unclean” animals, that there was a difference, even then. Leviticus 11 provides a more detailed description of what may and may not be eaten.
We can learn many things from this. One of them is, of course, what the human diet was originally meant to be. Another is that diet is not a moral issue. Morals do not change; whereas what God told us to eat changed several times.
Another thing we can take from this is that our needs as a race changed as the earth worsened. When Adam and Eve left Eden, which was perfect and provided them with perfect nutrition, the world was no longer perfect, and so provided them with imperfect nutrition. God told them what to eat to compensate, at least partly, for this lack.
After the flood, which destroyed the world and probably rearranged the topsoil entirely, God again told them how to supplement their diets to compensate for the lacking nutrients. Now, thousands of years later, the earth continues to “wear out like a garment” (Heb. 1:11) and the earth provides us with poorer nutrition than ever. Now we may sometimes need to supplement our diets with additional vitamins and nutrients to obtain optimal health.
Different sources provide slightly different nutritional information, but not too different. Often the amount of different foods required each day are organized into a pyramid. The base of the pyramid is grains, since that is what we require most, and the ascending layers of foods we need less:
1. Bread, rice, cereal, and pasta are all grains or grain products. We should eat six to 11 servings of these every day. It’s best if we eat a variety of grains, as opposed to only one kind, and at least half of our grain intake should be of whole grains. Jesus Himself referred to the importance of grains in our diet when He called Himself “ ‘the bread of life’ ” (John 6:35). He should be the base of our spiritual pyramid in the way that bread is the base of our nutritional pyramid.
2. Next are fruits and vegetables. Ideally, we should eat three to five servings of vegetables each day. Fruit is on the same layer with vegetables, and we should have two to four servings per day.
3. Milk, yogurt, cheese—two to four servings daily. A vegan diet excludes this part of the pyramid. In a vegan diet, it’s very important to be sure you have enough calcium, which is found in foods such as tofu, rhubarb, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, okra, white beans, baked beans, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts, sesame seeds, bok choy, and almonds. Vitamin B12 may be deficient, so vegans should consume flaxseed oil, walnuts, and other foods that are sources of B12. Even then, they may need to supplement, as well.
4. Protein group, two or three servings daily. This is on the same level as the previous item. In a vegetarian diet this consists of beans, nuts, and products made from beans and nuts, such as vegetarian meat analogs that are often made from soy protein and may be fortified with B12. This food group also includes eggs.
5. Fats, sugars, and oils used sparingly. Fat and sugar are both necessary parts of our nutrition, but for the most part, a balanced diet will provide the body with plenty of both. There are certain oils that contain nutritional value in their own right, but oils should never be overused.
Portion control is a constant battle for many people, and the way food is packaged and sold does not help. Many people do not eat terribly unhealthy things; they simply eat too much of them. It’s difficult to eat “about 15 potato chips” when the entire 16-ounce bag is staring you in the face. Temperance is an important element of diet. Most of us eat foods we don’t even need. We just feel like eating and so we do. Stop and think about how you’re feeling. Are you eating because you actually need food or because it’s sitting in front of you? Don’t eat food you don’t need.
Any gardener will tell you that good soil grows good food. Anyone who has tasted food fresh from a garden knows that food tastes best when it’s picked ripe. The problem with food you buy at the average grocery store is that most of it is grown hundreds of miles away, picked while green and chemically ripened to sell on store shelves. Much of it is genetically altered, and there is no way to tell what has and has not been genetically altered. In the case of meat, there is almost no way to know how the animal was raised, how healthy it was, or how it was killed. As much as possible, it’s important to know where your food comes from. Even if you’re not in a position to grow your own food, farmers’ markets and places that sell local foods are becoming more available. Even things like flour and cornmeal can often be bought locally. This way you know exactly where your food came from and who grew or raised it.2