Following Dan Buettner’s report on places where health is optimized, reports such as this made regular news: “Most of our health problems are said to be the result of three things: bad food choices, inactivity, and unmanaged stress.
“Therefore, it’s no surprise Seventh-day Adventists live an average of 10 years longer than most Americans. They don’t do any of that.”1
As ministers of the gospel, we have been called to serve. The apostle John says, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2, NKJV). This message of health has been given in order for us to serve more effectively. So, as health professionals, we ask the question: how are you doing? How is your health? To put it more bluntly: Are you fit (physically) to serve? What follows is serious advice that, if followed, can ensure a resounding yes! to that question.
Know your numbers
Ministers often think of numbers: baptism numbers, membership numbers, evangelistic series attendees, tithe and offering figures. These numbers are fine—but there are other numbers you need to know. What is your weight? Your blood pressure? Your cholesterol? Your waist circumference? Your fasting blood sugar? Your body mass index? Yes, those numbers . .
It is important to know your health numbers, even though some may be less pleasing than others. You may have been fighting the battle to be that 154-pound individual that you know is somewhere inside of your 240-pound body—or you may even have given up on trying to lose weight. You may wade in the pools of envy as you see colleagues as thin as beanstalks stack their plates with food while you carefully select from the high-fiber, low-calorie foods section of the menu. You don’t know, they may work out very regularly and have made room for the calories they consume or have some genetic protection as well.
We need to act on our numbers and make every effort to improve them. In guidelines given for the management of high blood pressure (hypertension), for instance, even people with normal blood pressure should engage in healthy lifestyle practices in order to stay healthy.2 Consequently, in order to get fit and remain fit, there are some “givens” in healthful living:
Make wise choices.
Drink adequate volumes of pure water.
Enjoy controlled exposure to sunshine.
Know and trust God (to know Him is to love Him, to love Him is to serve Him).
Get adequate amounts of sleep and rest (including specific vacation time).
Breathe pure, fresh air (sometimes a greater challenge than finding wholesome food!).
Live true temperance (a foundation of the Christian walk leading to a life of grace and balance).
Consume optimal nutrition.
Cherish caring and protective relationships.
Hold integrity close.
Though any one of these areas is worth a long discussion, this article will focus on a very important one: optimal nutrition
Meat or vegetarian?
In the Adventist Health Study-2, 36 percent of the approximately 100,0003 study subjects were vegetarian (either vegan or ovo-lacto).4 Worldwide, approximately 20 percent of Seventh-day Adventists subscribe to some form of vegetarianism.5 Science shows a causal relationship between the consumption of meat and cardiovascular disease—including heart attacks and stroke, cancer—specifically bowel cancer, and also rheumatoid arthritis. The balanced vegetarian diet is unequivocally the most healthful diet.
What about fish? Despite some of the positive outcomes for the pescatarians in the recent AHS-2, we may still want to be selective with the use of fish as food. Much has been writ-ten in the scientific literature about industrial pollutants (as well as sewage pollution), including mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
These are toxic to humans and found in varying amounts in fish consumed around the world, giving credence to counsel received years go: “In many places fish become so contaminated by the filth on which they feed as to be a cause of disease. This is especially the case where fish come in contact with the sewage of large cities. The fish that are fed on the contents of the drains may pass into distant waters and may be caught where the water is pure and fresh. Thus when used as food they bring disease and death on those who do not suspect the danger.”6
Vegetarian or vegan?
What about the question of bovine milk or no milk? A balanced and geographically sensitive diet needs to include the essential vitamin B12.7 It is found only in foods of animal origin, including milk and eggs. In some countries, foods are fortified with vitamin B12. Read the labels: if the soy drink is not fortified with B12, it is not a dairy equivalent food. One can supplement vitamin B12 by mouth or injection and ensure adequate and safe levels for optimal health. In many parts of the world, fortified foods are not readily available. In these areas, dairy products remain a good source of vitamin B12. It is best to use low-fat dairy and use it as a “condiment,” or sparingly. An additional supplement that is useful in vegetarians of all stripes is vitamin D.
Alcohol or fruit juice?
The headline was arresting: “No amount of alcohol is good for your overall health, global study says.”8 The landmark study found alcohol to be the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 world-wide in 2016, accounting for nearly 1 in 10 deaths.9
Although many papers and studies support the cardio-protective effect of alcohol (moderate drinking), this hypothesis is by no means definitive. Alcohol is a known carcinogen, and no safe level of alcohol intake exists, which is known, that may avoid this dreaded health complication; it is now scientifically clear that the safe level of use is zero.
So should people who don’t drink alcohol start to use it? Based on the best scientific evidence, definitely not! Should those who currently drink alcohol quit? Based on the same evidence, unequivocally yes!
Coffee or herbal tea?
Caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive (mood-changing) drug.10 Found in many coffees and teas, it is used more widely than alcohol and tobacco. The scientific literature gives conflicting messages, with some studies showing apparent benefits of caffeine on health and others demonstrating harm. However, the basic pharmacologic characteristics of caffeine have not changed. It can lead to physical dependence which, by definition, results in a withdrawal syndrome when habitual intake is stopped abruptly. Up to 30 percent of caffeine consumers are estimated to be dependent.11 When the intake of caffeine is stopped suddenly, many and varied symptoms may result, including (but not only) headache, tiredness, irritability, lack of concentration, and nausea.
These symptoms may occur within 12 to 24 hours of cessation and may last up to 10 days. Although death from caffeine overdose is not common, it does occur and may be intentional; this situation is more likely with the ingestion of caffeine tablets. With the increasing popularity of caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks, emergency room physicians and toxicologists are noting an increase in caffeine-related problems and symptoms, especially among young people.
Caffeine can be useful as a component of certain analgesics in the treatment of migraine, as well as some other pain conditions. To those who advocate the benefits of the phyto-chemicals and antioxidants found in some caffeinated beverages (such as green tea), decaffeinated alternatives have been shown in some comparative studies to be equally beneficial.
We would do well to prayerfully and consistently apply the temperance principle: “True temperance teaches us to dispense entirely with everything hurtful and to use judiciously that which is healthful.”12
The main reason for emphasizing the careful stewardship of our health, in whatever measure it has been graciously bestowed on us, is that we are saved to serve. Parents should practice health at home, pastors should preach about health at church, and teachers should teach about health at school. “A practical knowledge of the science of human life is necessary in order to glorify God in our bodies. It is therefore of the highest importance that among the studies selected for childhood, physiology should occupy the first place. How few know anything about the structure and functions of their own bodies and of nature’s laws! Many are drifting about without knowledge, like a ship at sea without compass or anchor; and what is more, they are not interested to learn how to keep their bodies in a healthy condition and prevent disease.”13
This practical knowledge is beneficial and helpful for all ages and at all stages of life. Can we determine to eat and drink healthfully, to the glory of God, and follow other health principles? If so, then when asked, “Are you fit to serve?” we can give an honest and resounding yes.
Sidebar: Health Numbers
- Date of birth:
- Current position:
- Number of years in current position:
- Weight (in pounds or kilograms):
- Weight when you started in current office/position:
- Body mass index (BMI: mass in kilograms divided by height in meters, squared):
- Waist circumference (in inches or centimeters):
- Waist circumference when you started in current office/ position:
- Blood pressure:
- Date of last full annual physical examination:
- Fasting blood sugar:
- Fasting cholesterol (lipid profile):
- Date of last colonoscopy:
- Date of last digital rectal examination (males):
- Date of last Papanicolaou (Pap) smear (females):
- Date of last mammography (females):
1 Lorie Johnson, “Secrets to Longevity Revealed in Denomination’s Lifestyle,” CBN News: The Christian Perspective, Feb. 17, 2015, cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2015/february/secrets-to-longevity -revealed-in-denominations-lifestyle.
2 American College of Cardiology, 2017 Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults, June 4,2018, 14, ACC.org/GMSHBP.
3 It took great effort to enlist 100,000 people to join the study across the North American Division. And those who participated in the study could possibly have a greater interest in health than many in the unstudied/untested group, showing the possibility of selection bias.
4 Michael J. Orlich et al., “Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2,” JAMA Internal Medicine 173, no. 13 (July 8, 2013):1230–1238, doi.org/10.1001 /jamainternmed.2013.6473.
5 The 2018 global survey contained responses on diet from more than 54,000 church members representing every division of the world church. The data indicate that 5 percent of Seventh-day Adventists have a diet that is only plant-based (vegan). Another 14 percent add eggs and/or dairy products (lacto-ovo vegetarian), and a further 11 percent have a plant-based diet with the addition of fish but no meat. One-third reported eating meat once a week or less, but 38 percent eat meat daily or several times a week. General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, Global Survey of Church Members, 2018.
6 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 314, 315.
7 “It’s essential that all vegan diets contain a reliable source of vitamin B12. This nutrient is needed to help speed up reactions in your body, and deficiency can cause anaemia and nervous system damage.” “Vitamin B12” The Vegan Society, accessed October 25, 2018, https://www.vegansociety.com/resources /nutrition-and-health/nutrients/vitamin-b12.
8 Sandee LaMotte, “No amount of alcohol is good for your overall health, global study says.” CNN, August 24, 2018, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/08/23 /health/global-alcohol-study/index.html?no-st =1539963952.
9 GBD 2016 Alcohol Collaborators, “Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories,” 1990–2016, The Lancet 392, no. 10152, (September 22, 2018):1,015–1,035, https://www.thelancet.com/journals /lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31310-2/fulltext.
10 John W. Daly, Janet Holmé, and Bertil B. Fredholm, “Är koffein beroendeframkallnde?”Läkartidningen 95, nos. 51–52 (Dec. 16, 1998): 5878–5883.
11 Steven E. Meredith et al., “Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda” Journal of Caffeine Research 3, no. 3 (Sept. 2013):114–130, doi.org/10.1089/jcr.2013.0016.
12 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), 562.
13 Ellen G. White, Counsels on Health (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1957), 38