Just ask a few of your friends what constitutes a healthful, balanced diet, and you will likely hear a wide variety of answers! Let’s examine three possible responses:
Which one is closest to being correct? Obviously, your answer will depend on your perspective and the part of the world you live in! In reality, because of the many variables to consider, there is no simple answer to this question.
It might surprise some readers to consider that the third option might be the best response for certain individuals. Or the first or second response might seem to be best—while enjoying lots of foods like French fries, catsup, cakes, pastries, ice cream (even soy varieties), etc. These kinds of foods are usually high in fat, salt, and sugar, and low in dietary fiber. Just because a dish does not contain any animal products does not guarantee it’s healthy.
A recent publication in The Lancet underscored the pivotal role that what we choose not to eat plays in the 11 million deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years in 2017. Most of these were associated with inadequate intake of healthful foods, rather than the excess consumption of unhealthful ones.1 The authors suggest that addressing these dietary imbalances could prevent one in five deaths worldwide.
For decades most Seventh-day Adventist nutrition education has focused on cutting down on fat and cholesterol by eliminating red meat. While not always consistent, we also frequently urge a reduction in refined carbohydrates (sugar)—until we arrive at the fellowship meal dessert table! We warn about excessive sodium, too—until soups, chips, and popcorn are served.
While our efforts have been helpful to many, perhaps we should refocus attention on the foods we just don’t get enough of in most of our diets, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, milk or milk substitutes, nuts, seeds, and quality polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The conclusion of the Global Burden of Disease 2017 study (195 countries), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,2 suggests that nonoptimal intake of the “good stuff,” along with too much red meat, processed meat, and sodium, and too many sugary drinks, is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world.
This recent publication should serve as a clarion call for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to continue its health and nutrition education efforts in every corner of the earth. This challenge can best be accomplished by observing the following four principles:
Because we cannot earn our way to heaven by making all the best choices (there is no such thing as righteousness by diet), we must rely on God’s mercy and grace for our salvation and the power to make healthful choices. When we fully grasp this truth, we will not allow differing dietary practices to divide the church. Eating should bring us together in fellowship. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
. . . Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (Rom. 14:17-20).
When we gratefully accept the gift of health God has given us, focus our lifestyle choices on what is wholesome, and cheerfully yield our desires and appetites to Christ, we can rejoice in the blessings of a balanced, joy-filled life that will reflect a lovable and loving relationship with all.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Fred Hardinge, Dr.P.H., R.D., F.A.N.D., now retired, previously served as an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.