Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Underscore: Men and Diet: Can Diehard Carnivores Become Vegetarian or Vegan?

Story by Tim Allston

Loma Linda University’s (LLU) Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2), which includes 26,346 Seventh-day Adventist men, recently published updates about its findings on meat-eating’s link to prostate cancer, the second most common male cancer.

The research team found that men who adopt a vegan diet (no dairy or eggs) are a third less likely to develop prostate cancer.

Gary Fraser, MD, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at LLU and principal investigator of AHS-2, says they found that, “Vegan diets showed a statistically significant protective association with prostate cancer risk.”

In addition, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer listed processed meat as “carcinogenic” or cancer causing, and red meat as “probably” carcinogenic.

Interestingly, these findings come some 120 years after Seventh-day Adventist church co-founder Ellen G. White counseled, “Flesh was never the best food; but its use is now doubly objectionable since disease in animals is so rapidly increasing. People are continually eating flesh that is filled with tuberculous and cancerous germs. Tuberculosis, cancer and other fatal diseases are thus communicated” (Ministry of Healing, p. 313).

Despite this and other evidence from many Seventh-day Adventist proponents of a plant-based diet, 48 percent of the 96,000 members enrolled in AHS-2 identify as “non-vegetarian.”

Change is Difficult

“Eating meat is a tough habit to change; I’ve been there personally,” confesses Leah Scott, Health Ministries director for the Allegheny East Conference (AEC) and coordinator for the Columbia Union. She says it was her husband who “suggested that we progressively lean toward a vegetarian diet after we were married. To this day, both of our sons practice a vegetarian diet and many of their friends ... recognize the value of a plant-based diet for better health.”

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Other respondents confirm their meat eating began in childhood. Randy M. Nims, pastor of Pennsylvania Conference’s New Castle church, shares, “I ate meat from birth to about age 10; then my parents were baptized and we became vegetarian. Probably around 16-17 years old, I had friends that I ate meat with. During college years until about age 39, I ate meat.”

The pattern was reversed, however, with Pastor Dean Cinquemani of Ohio Conference’s Christ Our Righteousness church in Olmsted. “I was raised vegetarian with the exception of fish—we were big into fishing—until I was 11, then was mostly vegetarian when at home. At 17 I became a full-time meat eater and did so for about 23 years.”

Polly Dengel, a member of his church and an internist at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland says, “Along with every other way, we use food as comfort—not very differently from using alcohol or drugs. We love whatever comfort foods we grew up with, including meat and dairy; desserts especially use dairy and eggs.”

It doesn’t help, she opines, that “we have had the ‘protein thing’ pounded into our heads for so long without being taught how to use vegetables as protein. Men think they need protein for muscle building/maintenance and can’t get their heads around any other way to get protein (other) than meat.”

Pastor Cinquemani suggests another concern: “Despite our health message, I think we have done a bad job where it relates to food intake. Early on we put a lot of emphasis on Levitical laws as a guide—making it a religious issue—while it has really always been a better, healthier way to live. As a result, I think many men may still see it as a control issue and miss the practical realities of a vegetarian diet.”

Eating to Live

His church now runs a health outreach series called “Eating to Live.” The free classes, which include cooking demos, a lecture and meal led by “Dr. Polly,” draw some 60 to 80 registrants seeking to adopt healthier lifestyles, and she’s had to add a second class.

“We began teaching the Forks Over Knives diet at our community center, and Dr. Polly did a wonderful job helping us understand the health issues associated with eating meat,” says Pastor Cinquemani. “Now I am trying to lose weight and take better care of myself. Heart disease and diabetes run in my family, and I want to prevent them from taking hold, if at all possible.”

Nims says his return to vegetarianism occurred after he fell and got a concussion. “That emotional strain was the worst I ever had. I felt like I was face-to-face with my mortality. I prayed more than I had ever prayed before.

“While in prayer, I felt God was challenging me to examine myself. One of those areas was caring for my body temple so He could dwell in me more than He currently was,” Nims explains. “So, I quit eating meat ‘cold turkey.’ I believe the decision had to be the Holy Spirit. Anything else will be filled with failure(s).”

Sources of Success

White wrote that “In order to know what are the best foods, we must study God’s original plan for man’s diet. Grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables ... prepared in as simple and natural a manner as possible are most healthful and nourishing.” (Ministry of Healing, pp. 295, 296).

At the annual, two-week AEC fitness camp, Scott serves a gourmet vegan menu and shares this counsel through daily lectures. Some 60 attendees, including a handful of men each year, experience positive results. “Many men have success reducing meat consumption, resulting in reduced weight, lower cholesterol, an improved LDL/ HDL ratio and lower blood pressure. We have also seen a difference in their attitudes toward taking care of their health and reducing meat consumption. As a result, these men motivate other men to do the same!”

So does Pastor Cinquemani.  “I would and do encourage men to join me in the struggle; living healthier and longer is a good thing,” he says. “Also, I encourage them to be honest about the struggle.

Scott concurs. “The journey to a plant-based diet is not always a sprint, but often a marathon! Take it in stride.”

Nims agrees, adding, “There are stages to change: contemplating, making preparations, even being active in making change. But, it always comes back to ‘my reason’ for wanting change. Men must pray that the Lord reveals what He wants of them, and, when He answers, He will give them the strength to persevere.

“In order to have the ability to make these changes with sustainability, we need a power that we don’t have in and of ourselves,” Scott concludes. “That power comes from the One who said,  ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:9).


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