Christian Churches of God
(Edition 1.1 19970712-19970725)
There is often a conflict in what is seen as a sane and logical approach according to Scripture and one pursued by people, with what the Bible describes as zeal but not according to knowledge. Such an approach is described as unbalanced. Some would even go so far as to describe it as not being according to a sound mind. This paper tries to give some guidelines on this subject of balance.
Generally speaking, human beings often get fixed ideas, frequently not through informed study and understanding. For example, many of us think we are overweight and go on a diet. The diet we choose may promise us quick and easy loss of weight but we may not understand that it will probably undermine our natural metabolic rates which may result in the rapid regain of the lost weight and more. So we find we have jumped on a merry-go-round of fad diets, each one promising us the slim figure of our dreams. Some believe vitamin supplements will solve most dietary deficiencies; others avoid specific foods, e.g. salt, eggs, dairy foods or other foods or combination of foods. A balanced approach to health is important in all aspects. We must make the most of the scientific, environmental and medical information available to us.
Many of our health problems are due to our way of life. We burn the candle at both ends, so to speak. We don’t get enough exercise, rest, fresh air or we eat ‘on the run’. We eat too much of the wrong things, and not enough of the right things. Our diets are not correctly balanced. Our environment is becoming more and more polluted. The air we breathe is polluted, as is our water. We are causing fruit and vegetables to be contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals and hence a health risk in some areas (see the paper The Food Laws (No. 015)). By adding hormones to chicken feed, we are affecting the value of chicken in our diet. Additives to cattle feed are damaging the quality of beef. In fact, the safest meat to eat today is mutton or range fed beef.
Others damage their health by smoking and those of us who do not smoke often have to bear the consequences (through passive smoking) as well. Our failure to adhere to the biblical food laws is contributing to the imbalance in the food chain. These problems are contributing to an increased incidence of allergic reaction resulting in the necessity to avoid certain substances.
We cannot do a lot about some things. However, we have an obligation to ensure that what we do is the best we know how in the areas over which we do have control.
From some comments arising from the paper Vegetarianism and the Bible (No. 183), it became obvious that there were a few readers who had not understood that one of the issues involved was balance. The Bible warns us about gluttony and drunkenness – neither shall enter the Kingdom of God (1Cor. 6:9-10). The Bible also tells us that there is no sin in eating and in drinking (Deut. 14:25-26). Balance or moderation is the message we are given. We are given some explicit instructions on what we may and may not eat (Lev. 11:1-46; Deut. 14:3-21) and there are very good reasons for these instructions. The paper The Food Laws (No. 015) provides some explanations of these reasons.
The Bible gives us clear instructions on how to live a properly balanced lifestyle. Some of this is spelled out in great detail – see the ordinances in Leviticus concerning clean and unclean foods (Lev. 11), purification after child birth (Lev. 12), diseases (Lev. 13 to Lev. 15), sexual relations (Lev. 18). These are reiterated in Deuteronomy which also deals with the ordering of the nation, crime and punishment, sanitary arrangements, personal hygiene, marriage, tithes, and the consequences of obedience and disobedience. We must also remember that Christ said that not one jot or tittle will pass from the law until all is accomplished (Mat. 5:18). Therefore, these Old Testament laws are as valid now as they were then.
The laws are clear, but the reasons behind them are not always quite so clear. For many, the reason is not important. If God said this is the way it is, then those people accept that fact and will do the best they can to live within those laws. Others like to know why. In many cases common sense will supply the reasons. In other cases we need to look to science. The paper The Food Laws (No. 015) looks to science to show reasons why some foods are clean and others unclean. For instance, doctors, dietitians, nutritionists, and research scientists can explain quite easily why we must not eat the fat from animals. The dangers of high cholesterol diets are now common knowledge. Research has traced the cause of many of the illnesses from which we suffer to our diets. It is important to understand that God has given us a wide variety of food – meat, fruit, grains, vegetables, etc. – none of which should be despised. They were given to us for our nourishment. The God who made us surely knows what we need to ensure healthy bodies.
There does not appear to be much argument with the requirement to eat grains, fruit and vegetables. However, there is considerable argument concerning the eating of meat. This problem does not just concern Seventh Day Adventists, but also many people of all religions or of no religion who abstain from meat for all sorts of reasons. In discussion with a nutritionist working for the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, it seems that those dietitians who advocated high fibre, low fat diets are now saying that variety is the more important factor. In order to develop a diet which contains all the elements of nutrition for a healthy balanced diet, we need to eat a wide variety of foods from all the basic food groups.
There is no one food (except perhaps manna) which contains all the required nutrients. It is only through the eating of a wide range of foods that we can be sure to eat enough of all the vitamins, minerals, trace elements and so on that we require. Vitamin supplements certainly help where a diet is deficient but should not be taken indiscriminately. Excess vitamins can also cause severe health problems.
One of the big issues regarding the eating of or abstinence from meat is that of iron. Iron is extremely important as:
(a) it is the means by which the body is provided with oxygen in the form of haemoglobin in the red blood cells. Lack of iron means decreased red blood cells resulting in anaemia;
(b) the cells which fight infection depend on adequate stores of iron;
(c) it is an essential component in the chemical reaction that produces energy from food.
There are two types of iron in food.
Haem Iron. This is found in red meat, liver, seafood [clean fish] and poultry. Haem iron is up to ten times easier for our bodies to absorb than non-haem iron. Lean red meat is one of the richest sources of haem iron and contains three times as much iron as chicken or fish.
Non-haem Iron. This is found in bread, fruit, vegetables, iron fortified breakfast cereals, beans, lentils and eggs. Non-haem iron is not well absorbed by the body but its absorption can be increased by up to four times by combining meat or a vitamin C-rich food in the same meals (Eating for Vitality - 3 easy steps to an iron-rich diet. A pamphlet provided by the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, March 1996).
While meat and vitamin C-rich foods increase non-haem iron absorption, tea, coffee and milk will reduce the absorption of non-haem iron and, therefore, most vegetarians (as a matter of necessity) abstain from these substances or ensure they are not taken during or close to meals.
It should be noted that vitamin B12 is necessary for the synthesis of nucleic acids, the maintenance of myelin in the nervous system, and the proper functioning of folic acid (another B vitamin). The most serious effects of deficiency are pernicious anaemia and degeneration of the nervous system. Vitamin B12 is manufactured only by certain micro-organisms and is contained only in foods of animal origin. Good sources are meat, particularly liver, fish and eggs (paraphrased from The Concise Medical Dictionary, 2nd Ed., 1985).
A recently released study of the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital shows that strict vegetarians are risking serious health disorders because of the lack of vitamin B12. The study is to be published in full in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The survey was of 245 Seventh Day Adventist ministers. 200 of them had been vegetarians for over 20 years. 77% had B12 intakes below the minimum required and the problem was related to their diet. Mr Hokin, director of pathology at Sydney Adventist Hospital, said that B12 deficiency could cause lethargy, numbness, and tingling of the extremities, and eventually megaloblastic or “pernicious” anaemia, and degeneration of the spinal cord (cf. Canberra Times, Sat. 12 July 1997, p. 5).
The ministers in the study were either lacto-ovo vegetarians – consuming milk and eggs but less than one serve of flesh food per week ‑ or vegans, who refuse all animal products.
The study shows diet rather than mal-absorption or increased excretion was the main cause. Mr Hokin said “this is important as a lot of the textbooks say diet is not the prime cause but many of them come out of the US where there is widespread fortification of foods”.
The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum B12 daily allowance of one microgram per day. Mr Hokin said at least 15 to 20 serves a week of dairy products, eggs and fortified soy milk were required to provide the minimum maintenance intake. Only 23% of the vegetarians in his study met the minimum maintenance intake. Meat eaters take 3-9 micrograms a day building up reserves in the liver. Lacto-ovo vegetarians source their B12 from milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs, but vegans will get none unless they take supplements or eat fortified foods such as substitute meats, soy milk and cereal. In practice, this is not happening even among responsible ministers of religion.
Vegans are most at risk but both classes are seriously at risk. The effect on the spinal column affects also the eyes, and sight problems are endemic with vegetarians especially with the eye muscles and irises. The deficiency actually becomes visible in the eyes over time (see also the paper Vegetarianism and the Bible (No. 183)) for the biblical position on this practice).
Studies such as Randomised study of cognitive effects of iron supplementation in non-anaemic iron-deficient adolescent girls in the Lancet, Vol. 238, 12 October 1996, and Contributions of Haem and Non-haem Iron to Human Nutrition in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 31(4):333-367 (1992), are examples of the type of research being done into nutrition and are available through libraries. This subject is extremely complex and space does not permit analysis in any depth. The point is that God provided us with the foods we need to maintain our health at optimum levels. Fruit and vegetables are known to inhibit cancer. Green leafy vegetables help develop a sound nervous system. Vitamin A (retinol) is essential for growth, vision in dim light and the maintenance of soft mucous tissue. It is found pre-formed in foods of animal origin, especially milk, egg yolk and liver. It is formed in the body from the pigment beta-carotene, present in some vegetable foods, e.g. cabbage, lettuce and carrots.
Lack of vitamins in our diet lead to a variety of illnesses. Some well known examples are that lack of vitamin C leads to scurvy; lack of vitamin B complex leads to conditions such as beriberi, anaemia, degeneration of the nervous system; and lack of vitamin D leads to rickets.
As previously stated, no one food contains all the nutrients that we need so we must have as wide a variety of foods that we can. These, as we all know, include animal products of the ‘clean’ kind (including dairy products and eggs), fruit and vegetables, and grains and cereals. Water should also be taken in generous quantities. The right balance of these foods, together with proper exercise, work, play and rest should provide us with balanced lives.
If we are physically fit and healthy, we go a long way towards being healthy of mind too. However, we are all capable of becoming closed minded; we put the blinkers on and refuse to look at any other argument. How can we know what is true if we don’t read widely and analyse what we read? By the same token, why waste time on reading material we know to be false? It would seem that a degree of discrimination is in order.
Another area of contention is that of wine and alcohol of all kinds. Again, the Bible is clear. Alcohol is permissible (Deut. 14:26) and even recommended (1Tim. 5:23). Medical science states that regular alcohol consumption reduces the risk of heart attacks. Like everything else, it is the abuse of the substance that is condemned, both biblically and scientifically. The paper Wine in the Bible (No. 188) provides an in-depth study on the biblical position and should be read in conjunction with this paper.
It is not suggested that meat and wine must be consumed every meal or even every day. However, by using all the wonderful variety of fruits, vegetables, meats and plants that God has provided for us, we can enjoy the quality of life intended for us. It is interesting to note studies in the USA of people who have lived beyond 100 years old. These people ate meat, drank alcohol and worked hard. It would appear that they have balanced their lives appropriately. Teaching that it is wrong to drink alcohol or eat meat is biblically unsound and, in fact, condemned by Paul (1Tim. 4:1-5; read also the papers The Doctrine of Demons of the Last Days (No. 048) and Vegetarianism and the Bible (No. 183)).
It is important that we follow God’s laws in the use of the foods He gave us in the most balanced and joyful way we know within the limits of the knowledge we have at our disposal.
Obviously, our health problems are not always resolved by diet and balanced living, although this will minimise them. It is important that we seek advice, ensuring that we make fully informed decisions based on all the facts available. Having sought all the information available in order to make our decisions, we should go to God in prayer seeking His guidance and should implement that decision in faith.
The principle of balance needs to be implemented in all aspects of our lives – not just in relation to food, but also in respect of television, the books we read, the kind of entertainment we enjoy, and the way we live our lives. We should consider the value of all our activities and be confident that we are balancing these things with Bible study, prayer and the constant seeking of God’s will for us, seeking first the Kingdom of God.
It is written: You shall not follow after a multitude to do evil (Ex. 23:2).
Following fads and the general trends can also be wrong. Once again there must be balance. But balance is often found in the wisdom of counsel.
Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no counsel, the people fall But in the multitude of counselors there is safety. (KJV)
This safety in counsel includes safety in health and mind.