Abstaining from meat — or vegetarianism — was a hot issue in the early church and is still debated and widely practiced today. The same principles of Christian liberty apply here. Whether we agree with the practice of vegetarianism or not, however, within its realm are several issues related to healthy eating that warrant a look.
In 1997, the American Dietetic Association issued a Position Statement about vegetarianism: “It is the position of The American Dietetic Association (ADA) that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Vegetarianism can be practiced in many patterns, including the two major patterns: lacto-ovo-vegetarian pattern, which is based on grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy products, and eggs, and excludes meat, fish, and poultry; and the vegan pattern (total vegetarian), in which all animal products are excluded from the diet. Even within these patterns, considerable variation may exist in the extent to which animal products are avoided. Of course, there are also many people who cut back on all meat or just red meat for various reasons, including expense.
As mentioned before, plant sources of protein can be combined to give an adult plenty of complete protein. Pregnant women, children and teenagers are another story, however. If a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet is adopted, chances are very good, even for people in any of these groups, that all the nutrients they need can be supplied, including protein. However, for vegans, who get no animal sources of protein, several nutrients could be deficient in the diet for any of these three groups. Adequate protein is extremely important for all pregnant women, children, and teenagers, in whom so much growth is taking place.
In addition to protein, nutrients that vegans should be careful to get enough of include vitamin B12, vitamins A and D, calcium, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. Although most of these nutrients (except vitamin B12) are available in plants or can be converted to these nutrients in our bodies from plant sources, the vegan diet does not usually provide enough of them to support good health in most adult vegans, much less pregnant women, children or adolescents.
However, the diets of many children and teenagers today would make a vegan diet look nutritious! When French fries, soft drinks and cookies are the mainstays of the diet, there’s much room for improvement. A pregnant or breast feeding woman who is a vegan should be under careful supervision from her obstetrician. Vegan parents should also have a pediatrician carefully watch the growth and nutritional status of their children. Several good resources about vegetarian nutrition are available, including the American Dietetic Association Web site: www.eatright.org.
If you’d like to dig deeper into my journey of discovering God’s plan for health and wellness, check out my book, Made For Paradise: God’s Original Plan for Healthy Eating, Physical Activity, and Rest.