a christian perspective on the world today

Eating Like Eden

When I first decided to cut out meat from my diet 15 years ago, it wasn’t simply a matter of choosing beans over beef or finding the right tofu scramble recipe. Back then, embracing a plant-based lifestyle was a radical act, a personal revolution against the status quo of food culture. My decision was driven by a growing understanding that the choices I made at the dinner table rippled outwards, affecting animals, the environment and my own health in profound ways. I acknowledged the suffering of animals in industrial farming, recognised the toll that livestock farming takes on our planet’s ecosystems and welcomed the physical benefits of nourishing my body with whole, plant-derived foods.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. 

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.

Genesis 2:8,9 NIV

The deeper I delved into the world of plant-based eating, the more I discovered its benefits and the more attuned I became to its ethical and environmental implications. But my commitment found its deepest roots in a spiritual connection. I was drawn to the concept of returning to the purity of humanity’s origins—the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 2-3)—where a diet devoid of animal products was not only the norm but was the initial intention for humanity.

It seemed to me that this ancient diet, rich in fruits, grains, nuts and legumes, was designed to sustain not just our bodies, but our souls as well.

getting technical

Fast forward to the end of 2023, I stumbled upon a Stanford University study that confirmed my decisions. As someone who geeks out on analysing studies, I was thrilled about the quality of the research done and its focus on veganism. The study enrolled 22 pairs of adult twins. In each pair, one twin was randomly assigned to follow a vegan diet, while the other continued with an omnivorous diet. Remarkably, 78.6 per cent of these twins lived together during the trial, minimising environmental variation.

This eight-week trial was divided into two phases. In the first four weeks, participants received three free meals daily, complemented by additional food or snacks as needed to meet their caloric requirements. They also participated in educational sessions focused on selecting healthy foods. For the remaining four weeks, participants took control of their diets, applying the knowledge from the educational sessions to their meal planning. Researchers assessed their nutritional intake at several points throughout the study, offering a comprehensive look at the dietary impacts.

During the self-managed phase, notable differences emerged between the diets of the vegan and omnivorous participants. On average, vegans consumed 174 fewer calories, 10 grams more fibre, 309 milligrams less cholesterol and 9 grams less saturated fat in their diets. They also had higher iron intake but significantly lower vitamin B12 and protein levels. The study noted the importance of B12 supplements for those on a vegan diet long-term and suggested the potential need for increased protein intake, given that the vegan participants’ intake hovered around the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

The results of this innovative study were striking. The vegans had LDL-cholesterol levels that were 13.9 mg/dL (0.36 mmol/L) lower than their omnivorous twins. This reduction translated to a roughly 20 per cent decreased risk of cardiovascular disease if maintained throughout a lifetime. The vegan participants also exhibited lower fasting insulin levels and experienced a weight loss of 1.9 kg compared to their siblings on the omnivorous diet. Across all measured biomarkers, the vegans did not fare worse than the omnivores, suggesting that a healthy vegan diet can significantly reduce cardiovascular risk factors, even when genetics are meticulously controlled.

you have the power to change

This study felt like validation, a scientific nod to the significance of my dietary choices, affirming that eating habits have profound effects that go beyond genetics. This study is also a testament to the power of diet over genetic predispositions. By meticulously controlling for genetic and environmental factors, the research provides compelling evidence of the cardiovascular benefits of a vegan diet. The implications are profound, especially in a Western society grappling with rising rates of heart disease and obesity. It challenges the notion that genetics are destiny, offering a blueprint for mitigating risk through dietary choices.

The dietary differences observed in this study shed light on key nutritional considerations for anyone considering a vegan lifestyle. The critical takeaways were the importance of fibre (which plays a critical role in heart health) and the attention to nutrients that may be lower in a vegan diet (such as vitamin B12 and protein). These findings underscore the necessity of thoughtful dietary planning to ensure nutritional balance and health benefits.

As the conversation around plant-based diets and health continues, this study adds a critical piece to the puzzle. Not only does it confirm the health benefits of a vegan diet, but it also highlights the importance of dietary education and planning. For individuals considering a transition to a vegan lifestyle, this research offers both motivation and a cautionary note about the need to address potential nutritional gaps.

more than just a trend

The study’s findings are particularly relevant in today’s health-conscious society, where diet plays a pivotal role in preventive health care. As more people look to dietary changes to improve their health outcomes, the insights from this trial provide a valuable guide. The emphasis on a well-planned vegan diet, rich in nutrients and balanced in calories, offers a roadmap for those seeking to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease and other health issues.

Intriguingly, Netflix has since launched a docu-series titled You Are What You Eat, spotlighting this very study. While I’ve yet to view it, lacking a Netflix subscription, its existence signifies the study’s impact and the growing public interest in the nexus between diet and health. It’s a testament to the power of diet to shape personal health outcomes and a broader societal understanding.

The Stanford twin study scientifically substantiates the health advantages of a vegan diet, yet for me, it embodies more. It affirms a chosen path, not solely for physical wellbeing but for spiritual fulfilment and divine connectivity. It strengthens the notion that our dietary selections can mirror our innermost values, marrying physical health with spiritual wellness.

As we each tread our paths—whether drawn to veganism for health, ethical, environmental or spiritual motives—it’s vital to remember that our choices wield the power to not only shape our existence but also the world at large. By adopting a plant-based lifestyle, we align with a divine ethos of compassion and guardianship, honouring the sanctity of all life. After all, it was in Genesis 1:29 where God said He had given humanity every fruit and herb that yields seed to eat, hinting that this is the way we were meant to eat all along.

If you’re not already practising a plant-based lifestyle, I hope that you will consider these studies and move closer towards a lifestyle that is in line with Eden’s original diet. As we each individually navigate these decisions, may we do so with mindfulness and compassion, guided by ancient wisdom that both our bodies and the earth are sacred, gifted to us by God to both cherish and protect.

Sisi Toro is a Hawaiian-based health educator and speaker who promotes a plant-based life. She enjoys creating recipes, hiking mountains and going to the beach.

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