Fulfilling Christ's call to love God, live in community, and serve our neighbor

What is a 'flexitarian,' and why would I want to be one?

Earth Stewards blog March 2017

When you pray and your prayers center on something you desire for yourself, what do you ask God for? Often my prayer is for good health to enjoy the life and people that God has provided. I think most of us have a notion of the priceless value of good health.

Does the prospect of serious health issues strike fear in your heart? They do in mine. We all want to enjoy the life God has given us and be able to participate fully in the joy of being alive. These maladies can severely limit our ability to contribute to God’s Kingdom, to nurture our families and to just be alive. Much time and treasure are given over to fight these scourges.

How can we take the best care of ourselves so as to provide the most significant impact of our lives on God’s world?

Have you ever thought of being a flexitarian for just these reasons? A flexitarian is someone who primarily maintains an ovo/lacto vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat and fish. Essentially the practice largely follows the popular Mediterranean Diet which focuses on eating plant-based foods (fruits and vegetables), replacing butter with olive or canola oil, replacing some salt with spices, reducing red meat consumption to a few times a month, enjoying table fellowship, drinking red wine moderately if desired, and getting plenty of exercise. “Diet” in this context refers to the types of foods habitually consumed.

Extensive, large, longitudinal studies have shown that people who follow the Mediterranean Diet, as well as other traditional food culture diets, effectively prevent heart attack, stroke and premature death, as well as enjoy a reduced incidence of cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Women have also realized a reduced risk of breast cancer by adopting this healthy lifestyle.1,2

Studies are also finding that dietary shifts which focus on a diverse plant based diet are linked to long lived changes in the gut microbiome.3 A healthy gut is essential to optimal nutrient utilization from the food we eat, boosts the immune system and acts as an ombudsman in all sorts of ways that ensure good health. Finally, a National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 individuals reports that the subjects who ate the most red meat were 30% more likely to die of any cause over a 10-year period than those who ate the least red meat.4

I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, & that, not as an aliment so much as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet.
—Thomas Jefferson

What about the issues of obesity and diabetes in our population? The National Institute of Health (NIH), the worlds largest biomedical research institution in the world, reports that about two-thirds of American adults and one-third of American children and adolescents are considered overweight or obese. Obesity heightens the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, osteoarthritis, some types of cancer and stroke.5

The NIH reports that 9.3% of our population have diabetes. The health problems caused by diabetes are heart disease, nerve damage, eye problems and kidney disease.6 The NIH released recommendation of following a plant-based diet as a “cost-effective, low-risk intervention that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They (plant-based diets) may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or obesity."7

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
—Michael Pollan

We’ve spent a lot of time this month on facts and figures. Michael Pollan is a gifted educator, journalist and author. He distilled the idea down to the quote above. By “food”, he means real food, unprocessed food, not “food-like” substances. He advocates staying out of the center of the grocery store because that is where the food-like substances (processed food) are found. Shop the extremities of the grocery store where you will find produce and dairy products. That’s where the food is in our grocery stores. Better yet, get out of the grocery store and head to a farmer’s market or your own garden. We are getting ahead of ourselves on these topics…. Stay tuned throughout 2017 when all of our blogs will focus on food.

The research seems conclusive that a plant-based diet is a healthy way to approach fueling our bodies so that they are as robust as possible. Remember the story from Chapter 1 of Daniel? Daniel, Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have been summoned to King Nebuchadnezzar’s royal court, as fine examples of the Israelite nobility who would serve the ruling Babylonian king. These four men were to receive a royal education and a daily ration of royal food and wine for three years to prepare them properly for the king’s service. Daniel did not want to “defile” himself with the royal rations and asked for a vegetable diet. The palace master had to be convinced because he feared the four young men would not flourish with such a diet and then the king would be angry with him. Daniel proposed a 10-day trial and at the end of it they were found to be in better condition than the other men eating the royal rations. So the four Israelites continued with their plant based diet and at the end of the three years were found to be without equal among their peers.

Do we need more reasons than better health to make following a plant based diet the right choice? As Christians, we have responsibilities to steward all the resources God has so generously provided which includes our body and our food. Next month we will examine other reasons that a plant based diet is a sensible, even optimal, choice.

Additional helpful resources:

Submitted by Helen Bushnell Beets for the Earth Stewards Team

1 http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/adopt-a-mediterranean-diet-now-for-better-healthlater-201311066846

2 http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterraneandiet/art-20047801

3 http://www.cell.com/cell-host-microbe/fulltext/S1931-3128(16)30517-0

4 http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/meatlessmeals/art-20048193

5 https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/Pages/overweight-obesitystatistics.aspx

6 https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes

7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662288/