The Vegetarian Diet

What is the vegetarian dietary lifestyle?


A balanced, well planned vegetarian diet is very beneficial for health.

For more than 130 years Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) have practiced a vegetarian dietary lifestyle because of their belief in the wholistic nature of people. Whatever is done in eating or drinking should honor and glorify God.

The recommended lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which includes the generous use of whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables and fresh fruits, a moderate use of legumes, nuts, low-fat milk, and low-fat milk products, satisfies this principle. Dairy products should be low-fat. Examples are milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and ricotta, jack, and mozzarella cheese. Eggs should be used sparingly. In addition to advocating the avoidance of all meat, fish, and fowl (especially beef, lamb, shellfish, and pork, those high in cholesterol and fat), coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco products should be excluded.

Has any research been done?

Since 1954 more than 250 articles have been published in scientific journals on Adventist lifestyle and health. In the 1960s Loma Linda University, in cooperation with the National Cancer Institute, began to study the health of SDAs. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, data on the Adventist lifestyle was collected and analyzed under contract with the National Institutes of Health. Adventists, in general, have 50 percent less risk of heart disease, certain types of cancers, strokes, and diabetes. More specifically, recent data suggests that vegetarian men under 40 can expect to live more than eight years longer and women more than seven years longer than the general population. Adventist vegetarian men live more than three years longer than Adventist men who eat meat.

Researchers believe this added length of life and quality of health is, in general, a healthier lifestyle, particularly the dietary intake of more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as the avoidance of tobacco, alcohol, tea, coffee, and meat.

What does current research demonstrate?

Vegetarians have reduced risks of certain diseases because of their increased consumption of whole grains, dried beans, nuts, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Vegetarians are exposed to fewer carcinogens and mutagens because they do not eat meat. Current evidence demonstrates that the more closely a person follows the lacto-ovovegetarian diet the lower the risks of major diseases.

Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts are often less expensive than meat. Plant foods use fewer resources from the environment.

Vegetarians typically enjoy a greater variety of foods, ethnic dishes, and exciting menus.

A significant correlation exists between the frequent long term consumption of high-fat, high-cholesterol animal-based foods and the incidence of fatal heart disease, certain types of cancer, strokes, and diabetes.

A diet containing a variety of grains and vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts containing high dietary fiber protects from diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, many forms of cancer, and other chronic diseases. Research on these protective effects is ongoing and exciting.

Are there any guidelines I can follow?

In 1989, the National Academy of Sciences recommended that people eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables every day and six or more servings daily of a combination of whole grains, cereals, and legumes. In 1991 the World Health Organization recommended the consumption of at least 400 grams (14 ounces) of fruits and vegetables including at least 30 grams (1 ounce) a day of legumes, nuts, and seeds. In 1992 the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled its Food Guide Pyramid in which the bulk of the diet was to be plant-based. The pyramid suggested an intake of 11-20 servings daily from breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables.

In 1995 the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated for the first time that “vegetarian diets are consistent with the dietary guidelines for Americans and can meet the RDA for nutrients.” Lacto-ovovegetarians should give special attention to their intake of protein, iron, and zinc.

Any special consideration for a total plant-based diet?

The 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that those who choose foods of only plant origin must supplement the diet with vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc. Adequate intake of these nutrients are even more important for growing children and pregnant and lactating women.

What we recommend

We support the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Dietary guidelines for Americans. Next to tobacco and alcohol, foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol (such as meat) are the greatest risk factors in decreasing life expectancy from atherosclerosis, cancer, and premature death.

We recommend that all meat, fish, and fowl be eliminated from the diet and the use of egg yolks be limited to three or less per week. Foods of animal origin are no longer viewed as dominant items in a healthy diet. The Adventist Health Study clearly reveals a significant advantage for those who choose a meat-free, plant-based diet over those who select primarily a meat-based diet.

We recommend the generous use of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and a moderate use of low-fat dairy products (or nutritional equivalent alternatives), legumes, and nuts; a very limited use of foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and salt; and abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and coffee, tea, and other caffeine containing beverages.

We recommend the following vegetarian food pyramid shown below. Plan meals starting at the base of the pyramid.

The Vegetarian Food Pyramid shows foods in groups based on the nutrients they provide. Each group is necessary for adequate nutrition.

Follow the Vegetarian Food Pyramid to make daily choices. The number of servings are based on caloric need. If you are sedentary, choose the lower numbers, such as six servings of grains. If very active, choose the 11 servings of grain products. Examples of serving sizes follows:
Food Group Recommended Servings What Is A Serving
Grains 6-11 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup cooked rice, cereal, or pasta, or 1 cup dried cereal
Fruits and Vegetables 3-5 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked fruits and vegetables
Dairy or Alternatives 2-4 1 cup milk or its equivalent or 1 cup cottage cheese or 3/4 cup low-fat yogurt
1 cup low-fat dairy milk or 1 cup fortified nonmilk
Legumes, Nuts, Seeds 2-4 1/2 cup cooked dried beans or peas, 1 egg, 1 ounce of tofu, 1/4 cup nuts, seeds, 2 tablespoons nut butter, 2 egg whites

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