There are many advantages of a plant-based diet. As the congregational health leader in our local church, I want all our members to adopt a vegan diet. I’m encountering resistance, however, and it would help if the Adventist Church had a specific recommendation on this issue.
There’s robust evidence in the scientific literature confirming the benefits of a plant-based diet. It’s important to understand that the term “plant-based” does not necessarily infer a meat-free diet, but rather a diet comprising mainly vegetables, legumes, grains, fruits, and nuts. Specific examples of popular plant-based diets include the Mediterranean diet and also the DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension). Both encourage increasing fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy, as well as less red meat, substituted with poultry and fish instead. These diets have been shown to decrease heart disease, strokes, and high blood pressure.
Many studies show the incontrovertible benefits of balanced vegetarian diets with the above benefits, as well as a decrease in some cancers. These include the total vegetarian diet, which has no animal products whatsoever (often referred to as vegan); the ovo-lacto vegetarian diet, which includes dairy and eggs; and the pescatarian diet, which includes fish. Adventist Health Study 2¹ showed increased longevity and significant health benefits with all these diets.
Widespread pollution of the rivers and oceans poses real danger to the consumption of fish. Also, if dairy products are consumed, they should be low-fat and used in moderation to minimize saturated fats. Total vegetarians need to be intentional about supplementing vitamin B12, which is not present in plant sources. Additional supplementation of vitamin D and calcium may be needed as well.
Because of all these caveats, the Adventist Church has a very specific recommendation on diet and nutrition, along with lifestyle practices in general, as recorded in the General Conference Working Policy:
“The church advocates that positive steps be taken to develop a healthful lifestyle, and encourages a balanced vegetarian diet. It requires of its members the nonuse of alcoholic beverages and tobacco. . . . The church encourages the avoidance of flesh foods. The use of coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages and all harmful substances are discouraged. Physical well-being and clarity of mind are usually interdependent; clarity of mind is essential for discernment between right and wrong, between truth and error.”²
The words “balanced vegetarian diet” take into account that we are a world church, and not all territories and regions have access to fortified foods and true dairy equivalents for essential nutrients, such as B12.
The Adventist health message is wholistic. It involves exercise, sleep, water, fresh air, sunshine, temperance, balance, and most important, trust in God—not just diet. Ellen White’s wise and gracious counsel informs our service: “We don’t make the health reform an iron bedstead, cutting people off or stretching them out to fit it. One person cannot be a standard for everybody else. What we want is a little sprinkling of good common sense. Don’t be extremists.”³
¹ https://adventisthealthstudy.org/studies/AHS-2 ² General Conference Working Policy 2016-2017 (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2016), p. 355. (Italics supplied.) ³ Ellen G. White, Sermons and Talks (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), vol. 1, p. 12.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.
Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.