Welcome back to “Healthy Tips for Elders.” In the last issue of Elder’s Digest, we talked about the number one secret for true longevity: regular physical activity. I must re-emphasize its importance. Physicians worldwide often prescribe physical activity to their patients. It’s amazing how science continues to catch up with inspired counsel, who stated decades ago, “A walk, even in winter, would be more beneficial to the health than all the medicine the doctors may prescribe.”a Also, the American College of Sports Medicine announced the publication of a new book, Exercise is Medicine,b promoting this principle. If you are not yet physically active on a regular basis, you can start walking today. Better yet, join the North American Division’s physical-activity initiative InStep for Lifec “Glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20) and try this number-one secret for a long, abundant life.

Now, let us focus on Secret #2: healthy diet. There is plenty of counsel and research on what constitutes a healthy diet. Much information seems contradictory. Some people claim that a healthy diet is a vegan diet. Others promote a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. Others cite data suggesting we must have some fish since it is a good source of omega-3. What really constitutes a healthy diet?

First, science agrees that eating red meat will contribute to premature death. Recently the Washington Post reported the results of a major research study involving over 500,000 Americans. The study concluded, “Eating red meat increases the chances of dying prematurely, according to the first large study to examine whether regularly eating beef or pork increases mortality.” In this study, researchers found that “those who consumed about four ounces of red meat a day [the equivalent of about a small hamburger] were more than 30 percent more likely to die during the 10 years they were followed, mostly from heart disease and cancer. Sausage, cold cuts and other processed meats also increased the risk.”d The evidence is clear. 

However, this same article encourages people to consume chicken and fish which, according to this study, seems to decrease the risk for premature death. But looking at previous data from the Adventist Health Study, we see different results. For instance, Adventist men who consumed a vegetarian diet, including eggs and dairy products, had 61 percent fewer heart disease deaths compared to men who ate meat regularly. The greater benefit was for vegetarians who used no meat, fish, milk, or eggs. Compared to the general population, these men were 86 percent less likely to die of heart disease. Because heart disease is the #1 killer worldwide, this finding is significant. But the benefits go beyond heart disease. Adventist vegetarians between 30 and 50 years of age were found to have four times less risk of death from all causes, compared to those who eat meat.e This seems to be a great advantage for longevity, doesn’t it? (We need to note that the Adventist Health study continues to report its findings, and new results will soon be available.)

It is a mistake to conclude, however, that by staying away from meats and eggs and dairy, you will live a long, healthy life. One can be “vegan” or vegetarian and still have a very unhealthy diet. Many “good” vegetarians regularly indulge in ice cream and desserts, consume high-sodium processed meat substitutes, enjoy fried foods and sauces high in saturated fats, and do not eat enough fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and nuts. If we have a diet high in unhealthy fats and sugars without the life-giving nutrients of plant foods, we may not reap the benefits of a long, productive life for God after all. Phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and natural omega-3 fatty acids contained in plant-based foods are shown to be the true contributors to longevity. 

Isn’t it time to make healthier choices in your diet? You can start today by remembering that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). 

a Ellen G. White, Counsels on Health, 57.
b https://www.acpm.org/members/030609.htm#15 (American College of Preventive Medicine).
c www.InStepforLife.com
d http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/ article/2009/03/23/AR2009032301626_pf.html
e Neil Nedley, Proof Positive (Nedley Publishing, 1998), 84.

Katia Reinert Family Nurse Practitioner at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland, USA.