In recent years, vegetarianism has become increasingly popular in the United States and abroad. In fact, about 6 million U.S. adults follow a vegetarian eating plan as a healthier approach to diet and nutrition, according to the American Dietetic Association (ADA). In response to the growing interest in a vegetarian diet, the ADA for the first time in 2003 created a food guide specific to this group.
History of Vegetarianism
In the mid-1850s, following the Great Disappointment of 1844, the Millerite believers began to examine what they might have missed concerning the coming of Christ. In addition to their studying of doctrinal matters, they also began to look at health and lifestyle issues.
In 1848, the injurious effects of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea were first brought to the attention of these early Adventists. However, it wasn’t until 1863 that Ellen G. White experienced a more comprehensive health vision that included abstention from meat as well. At first she was reluctant to share the information, feeling she lacked the medical language with which to communicate it. In addition, it went “directly across [her] own ideas,” and it took her more than a year to put them into practice in her own life, though by August 1864, she had included a section on health in Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 4. 1
People who did not otherwise have access to health information welcomed the simple and practical instructions about sunlight, water, fresh air, exercise, cleanliness, and a vegetarian diet, applying them immediately with good results. The content of the health vision was eventually discussed with doctors H. S. Lay and then John Harvey Kellogg, who were impressed with the insight and overall coherency of the message and spoke about it at the General Conference in 1897. Kellogg asserted that the principles of health reform had “stood the test of time—a whole generation” and was delighted over the fact that scientific journals had reported discoveries that confirmed what Adventists were teaching.
Benefits of Being Vegetarian
A vegetarian diet can be beneficial for health. Scientific reports show that a vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and colon cancer.
In research presented to the National Institutes of Health, studies of Seventh-day Adventists showed less heart disease and fewer cases of cancer than the general population. Men had lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure and their overall cancer death rate was about half of the general population. The overall rate of death from cancer was also lower for women. Including more beans and lentils in the diet also appeared to decrease the risk of colon cancer and prostate cancer.
Recent data has shown 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.
Researchers believe this longevity and quality of health is because the diet is mostly made up of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and meat, alcohol, coffee and tobacco are avoided.
In addition to the health benefits, people may choose to be vegetarian because of religious reasons, or because they’re concerned about the well-being of animals or the environment. For example, a recent United Nations study concluded that raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gases than all the cars, buses, trucks, boats, planes, and trains in the world. Also, worldwide, 130 times more animal waste than human waste is produced each year, much of which winds up in rivers and streams untreated. 2
For some, being vegetarian reflects their ethical approach to addressing world hunger. They believe vegetarian food choices could help alleviate global hunger by increasing efficiency in food production. Eating plant foods rather than the animals that eat plant foods is more efficient.
Types of Vegetarians
Being vegetarian in its broadest definition means avoiding foods from animal sources. Plant sources such as grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables and fruits are the core of the diet. However, there are a number of variations. Here are the most common categories:
Lacto-ovo vegetarians—those who eat egg and dairy products along with grains, fruits and vegetables, but don’t eat meat, poultry and fish. Most vegetarians in the United States are lacto-ovo.
Lacto-vegetarians—those who avoid meat, poultry, fish and eggs.
Vegans—those who avoid eating all animal products, including eggs, milk and cheese.
Tips for Starting a Vegetarian Diet
Most dietitians advise starting out slowly by trying just a few new recipes or ingredients a week. Here’s a few ideas:
• Browse a vegetarian cookbook and try one new recipe a week.
• Attend a seminar or class featuring vegetarian cooking.
• Visit a health food store and try some of the soy or gluten-based products.
• Invite some vegetarian friends over for a potluck dinner. Ask them to bring their favorite entrée. You can supply the salad and dessert.
• Start by making one or two meals a week meatless. Have a veggie burger instead of a hamburger. Or try spaghetti with tomato sauce instead of meat sauce. Or try a pizza with more veggies and no meat.
For more information about the vegetarian diet, go to www.sdada.org/position.htm.
1 Herbert Douglass, Messenger of the Lord, (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1998), chap. 24, www.whiteestate.org.
2 Stewart Rose, The Vegetarian Solution (Summertown, Tenn.: Healthy Living Publications, 2007), www.vegofwa.org.