Where’s the Balance?
By Allan R. Handysides and Peter N. Landless
With the increasing evidence supporting a vegan diet, why do you still talk about a well-balanced vegetarian diet and include only a lacto-ovo diet in that concept?
Your question is well taken and is on a topic to which we have given much honest thought and discussion among ourselves as health ministries leaders.
To be perfectly frank, we believe both a well-balanced vegan diet (no meat, eggs, or dairy products) and a well-balanced lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (no meat but does include dairy and eggs) are both excellent diets. Writing as we do for a global church, however, we must keep in mind that a much greater problem exists in many world regions compared to others when it comes to implementing a well-balanced vegan diet. To be well balanced, the vegan diet must contain vitamin B12 supplementation, as well as sufficient amounts of vitamin D and calcium. A vegan diet can also increase the risk of developing osteoporosis as one grows older. The lacto-ovo vegetarian diet can also be problematic if it contains too much saturated fat and therefore results in poorer cholesterol profiles and higher body mass indexes. A careful management of either diet, however, can easily overcome these drawbacks.
Currently the Adventist Health Study II (AHS2) has not been able to demonstrate conclusively superiority of one over the other. The numbers are small, and longer-term follow-up is required; plus, benefits in cholesterol, weight, and potential secondary benefits for diabetes have not resulted in a clear advantage in the all-cause mortality category.
Proponents of the total plant-based diet often quote Ellen White in support of their beliefs. Much of her commentary was reacting to people promoting strict diets in her time. Statements such as “The time will come when we may have to discard some of the articles of diet we now use, such as milk and cream and eggs”* were in the context of refuting the need to give up dairy and eggs rather than of a prophetic statement. Additionally, she used many statements encouraging the use of moderate amounts of dairy. Her principal message was against flesh foods.
"There has been far too much argument and debate over these two types of diets. What we need to focus on is balance."
We also urge caution when considering the use of what we would term “homemade drinks.” For example, North Americans can freely purchase fortified soy milk, yet in many parts of the world health promoters produce and sell “soy milks” that are actually “sugar bean juice.” Such drinks are without a nutrient content comparable to that of regular low-fat dairy. We cannot recommend such homemade drinks any more than we would recommend a fruit “drink” over a fruit “juice.”
We believe that there has been far too much argument and debate over these two types of diets. Instead, what we need to focus on is balance. Balance extends to more than the food on our plate; it also involves relationships with others as well as tolerance of one another’s differences. As the Bible so plainly puts it, life consists of more than food and drink (Luke 12:22-24).
When the grace of Jesus fills our hearts and lives, we are able to live joyfully and at peace with ourselves and with others. What we should strive to achieve are the health benefits of a peaceful, warm, and loving relationship with all God’s children—regardless of their dietary convictions.
* Ellen G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.
Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist,
is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist,
is an associate director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.