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Underscore: Have Adventist Vegetarians Turned Into Carbotarians?

Underscore: Have Adventist Vegetarians Turned Into Carbotarians?

Story by Grace Virtue

Have Adventist Vegetarians Turned Into Carbotarians?

White rice, cheesy pasta, breads, cakes, pies, ice cream, pizza and chips. Have these become all too common foods at your church potlucks? In your home?

Although it is well known that many Seventh-day Adventists abstain from eating meat as a way to retain good health, a growing number today might be better classified as carbotarians—a modern term to describe those with a diet too high in processed foods.

Whereas vegetarianism is widely regarded as a healthy lifestyle, carbotarianism can have the opposite effect; it is directly correlated with higher caloric intake and weight gain, which can lead to diabetes and other lifestyle-related illnesses.

Adventists aren’t the only ones at risk. According to several recent studies, people who frequent church pews might be as much as 50 percent more likely to become obese.1

Why the Diet Dilemma?

Although he doesn’t believe the majority of vegetarian Adventists can be considered carb-heavy eaters, John Kelly, MD, adjunct professor in preventative medicine at Loma Linda University (Calif.), says that for those who are, “It is … perhaps due in large part to the desire for convenience foods. It is noteworthy that fast foods generally fall into the carbotarian dietary pattern.”

Katia Reinert, PhD, RN, North American Division Health Ministries director, shares this view. “The problem we face is that many who call themselves vegetarians believe that the point is not to eat meat and may over indulge in foods that are rich in simple carbohydrates,” she explains. “They may not necessarily eat a variety of fiber-rich foods ... and consume too many calories from desserts, white breads, rice or pasta.”

Jim Sharps, ND, PhD, president and CEO of the International Institute of Original Medicine in Smithfield, Va., sees Adventists falling into “the full spectrum of dietary practices, with the major exception being in regard to eating unclean meats.” While the church has the most complete and well thought-out health principles from the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy, he says, and our diet generally tends to be better than that of the general public, he believes there are other religious and secular groups more “convicted” and “committed” to their dietary principles.

Sharps, who attends Potomac Conference’s Windsor (Va.) church, believes the less-than-healthy diet among some Adventist members is the result of denominational growth and the integration of “the world’s views and practices on diet” rather than vigorous and rigorous promotion of the church’s health message.

Clara Iuliano, a Pennsylvania-based, registered dietitian, agrees. She notes that early Adventists seemed to treat their diet much like a contract with the church, whereas today, members focus less on being diligent to the health message. “The church doesn’t seem to want to talk about food much anymore,” she says. “People are just more lax in their eating habits.”

A Place for Carbs

Nutritionists all agree that some carbs are essential to good health. Government food guidelines report that 45-65 percent of daily caloric intake should come from carbs, which provide the body with energy.

“The main issue with carbohydrates is not that they are bad for us,” Reinert says. “The problem is the quantity that is consumed, how they are prepared and the type that is chosen. We should focus on eating lower glycemic carbs that contain more fiber. That slows the body’s absorption of sugars and does not disrupt our insulin production.”

Dr. Sharps is also quick to point out that carbs are the most important of the three macronutrient groups (the others are protein and fat). They are most commonly found in fruits, vegetables, beans and grains. “Refined carbohydrates are nutrient deficient and lay the foundation for a variety of chronic degenerative diseases,” he says. “Whole grain carbs are better since they contain both a rich amount of essential vitamins, minerals, as well as other macro- and phytonutrients, and they are in the right ratios for optimum bioavailability,” he adds. Oats, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole grain breads, and any fruit and vegetables are complex carbohydrates.

“The issue is to remember that even though they are complex carbs, we still need to consume them in moderation. Serving size is always important as well as how we prepare it,” adds Reinert. She says following the My Vegetarian Plate guidelines (pictured) is a great way to get the right balance.

Karen Jaceldo-Siegl, DrPH, MS, senior nutrition researcher on the Adventist Health Study 2 and assistant professor at Loma Linda University, says no study has been done distinguishing between vegetarianism and carbotarianism. Their study, however, confirms much healthier outcomes for Adventists staying close to our denomination’s vegetarian teachings. For example, they found that mean body mass index was highest in nonvegetarians at 28.7 percent and lowest in strict vegetarians at 24 percent. Nonvegetarians also had more than twice the incidence of type 2 diabetes (and four times higher than strict vegans). Studies of cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and the metabolic syndrome also showed the same trends: the closer the participants were to a strict vegetarian diet, the lower the health risks in those areas.
December2014VisitorCover_400pxRead more articles from the December issue

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Underscore: Have Adventist Vegetarians Turned Into Carbotarians?
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Read the December Bulletin Board

Getting Back to Basics

Influenced by the Bible and Ellen G. White writings, Adventists have traditionally made a healthy diet a focus of their teaching. However, Sharps says that White does not address diet from a macronutrient standpoint. “She addresses diet from a vegetarian standpoint and, more specifically, from a whole food, unprocessed, unrefined vegetarian standpoint consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains prepared in the simplest manner to ‘impart a strength, a power of endurance, and a vigor of intellect that are not afforded by a more complex and stimulating diet,’” he says, citing Diet and Foods (p. 296). “When you look at all that she says about diet, one would conclude that it should be a very high complex carbohydrate, low fat, low protein diet.”

Dr. Sharps echoes Iulano’s concern that church leaders are not paying enough attention to “the best system known to man for promoting both outrageous health as well as for preventing and reversing all chronic degenerative diseases,” he says.

In the meantime, Iuliano, a member of Pennsylvania Conference’s Hamburg church, stresses that individuals must take control of their health. “The closer the food is to the way it is grown, the better it is going to be. That should be the goal,” she says. “Start by identifying what needs to be changed immediately—like reducing salt and sugar—and remember that the health message stresses diet and meal planning around what is simple and doable.”


1. Scott Stoll, MD, “Fat in Church,” Fox News, Jan. 4, 2013,


If we follow your listed recommendations; only 45-60% in complex carbohydrates that still leaves entirely too high amounts of fat and protein being consumed. We still refuse to realize the benefits of high complex carbohydrate, low fat ( 15% ) and low protein ( 15% ) Pritikin has showed the benefits and Dr. Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic and Dr McDougall, PCRM, and others confirm it. We are too stubborn to holding the government guidelines hands while trying to improve. Government guidelines cannot be expected to help for they mirror the whole population which are dying of disease.
Wake up SDA's for we are dragging out feet to hang on to
being like all the world around us.

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