“Vegetarianism and Diabetes” from Adventist World

This past week one of the group members posted, “Did anyone read ‘Vegetarianism and Diabetes: What’s the Connection?’ by Peter N. Landless and Zeno L. Charles-Marcel in the April 2017 issue of Adventist World (NAD Edition) magazine?” The article begins with a question: “Much is written about diabetes and its management. I have family members who have type 2 diabetes who have been told that eating protein and fats (including meat), with low carbohydrates (starches), is helpful in prevention. Should I follow this advice?”

My initial reaction is that this “question” is contrived and biased. Whoever wrote this question really does not demonstrate an accurate understanding of low-carbohydrate diets, which accommodate a spectrum of lifestyles, from meat-eating to lacto-ovo vegetarian to vegan. Finally, why would someone who already has type 2 diabetes be interested in something that would be “helpful in prevention”? That doesn’t make sense to me.

With that beginning, the authors launch into a brief overview of the diabetes epidemic, the prognosis, and possible causes. Then, as expected, they bring in the work of Loma Linda University’s Adventist Health Studies which, of course, are all slanted toward proving that vegetarians and vegans are healthier than everybody else. I have no doubt that Loma Linda Adventists, in one of the famous “Blue Zones” identified for longevity, live longer than the average American who is eating the SAD (Standard American Diet) of McDonald’s hamburgers, French fries, Cokes, and doughnuts. But I have to believe there are other factors, as well. For instance, the Loma Linda population are most likely non-smokers and non-drinkers who may walk more than other people and who take one day a week (Sabbath) to have a respite from their everyday work and stress. Another factor is that meat eaters typically eat bread and potatoes with their steak and chicken, adding more carbohydrates than people who eat a lot of salads and other high-fiber vegetables.

The authors actually spend more time reviewing a study by an organization called PLOS, which I attempted to research using the link given in the article. Their website gave absolutely no clue as to who they are and what they do. I had to go to a Wikipedia article (written by the CEO of PLOS) to learn that it “is a peer-reviewed weekly medical journal covering the full spectrum of the medical sciences. It began operation on October 19, 2004, as the second journal of the Public Library of Science (PLOS), a non-profit open-access publisher. To fund the journal, the publication’s business model requires in most cases that authors pay publication fees. The journal does not publish advertisements for pharmaceutical products or medical devices and the journal’s open-access license means that it cannot benefit from exclusive reprint sales.”

The PLOS study referred to [“Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies,” published June 14, 2016] did go into more detail about the types of foods investigated and divided them into healthful plant-based foods, unhealthful plant-based foods, and animal-based foods (which, of course, they considered to be unhealthful). One characteristic of both the Adventist Health Studies and PLOS is that the information obtained was primarily anecdotal, relying solely on the memory of the subjects involved, as to what they ate, how much, and how often. Because diet was self-reported, measurement errors are inevitable. Most of these studies took place during the 1970s to early 2010s.

I would certainly expect an Adventist publication to lean toward vegetarianism in support of the “health message” of the Adventist Church, which is stated as, “a well-balanced vegetarian diet that avoids the consumption of meat coupled with intake of legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, along with a source of vitamin B12.” This, of course, does not take into consideration individuals who are allergic to specific foods, who have celiac disease, or who are sensitive to nightshades—or diabetics who cannot tolerate the high-carbohydrate content of grains, legumes, fruits, and starchy vegetables. For that reason, while I have no criticism of this article, or even with its Adventist rhetoric, I feel it is rather sketchy and incomplete and one-sided. Even Adventist health institutions that offer health seminars and programs for diabetics, will admit to some basic fine tuning for diabetics, such as omitting dried fruit, juices, and flours.

What I find even more disturbing, however (and I suspect the member who posted did, too), was the rather cryptic last paragraph, which reads, “Science again confirms that if we believe His prophets we will prosper [apparently an attempt to reiterate 2 Chronicles 20:20]. Sadly, we become accustomed to the echoes we have heard over the years, to our detriment.” Say what?!? What “prophets” are the authors referring to? The Old Testament prophets? Do they mean the researchers at Loma Linda’s Adventist Health Studies? Or is it a thinly veiled reference specifically to the writings of Ellen G. White? If the latter, please note that The Ellen G. White Estate says there are no occurrences of the words “diabetic” or “diabetes” in the database of Mrs. White’s published writings. So to “believe His prophets” is really a moot point in this discussion.

And “accustomed to the echoes we have heard over the years”? That sounds uncannily like the premise on which I raised and educated my children, “to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought” (Education, p. 17). The irony is that we have “become accustomed to the echoes we have heard” since the 1970s about (a) the alleged dangers of saturated fat as a cause of heart disease and (b) promotion of a diet high in carbohydrates (sugars and starches). Ironically, the incidence of diabetes has exploded in the past 40 years during which we were indoctrinated that we should eat a low-fat high-carb diet. From 1980 through 2014, the number of Americans with diagnosed diabetes has increased fourfold (from 5.5 million to 22.0 million), according to the Centers for Disease Control. Now current scientific research (which I identify as “present truth“) shows no link between saturated fats and a greater risk of death, stroke, and heart disease. Current evidence does not support high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats. There is a link to trans fats, because trans fats increase your bad cholesterol and decrease your good cholesterol which then increases your risk of heart disease. However, many earlier studies lumped all fats together without making that distinction. Trans fats occur in polyunsaturated vegetable and seed oils, margarine, and vegetable shortening. Healthy fats include both saturated and unsaturated, such as avocados, olives/olive oil, nuts, butter, and heavy cream with no additives.

The epidemic of obesity and diabetes in the United States began in the late 1970s coincident with the government’s National Dietary Guidelines in 1977 that low-fat diets were “heart healthy.” There was no good scientific evidence that this was true. The worst part about manufactured low-fat foods is that frequently sugar is added to make them taste better which, of course, increases the glucose content and contributes to the onset of diabetes. The prevalence of low-fat high-carbohydrate foods and trans fats in cooking oils and processed foods, especially grain products—”the echoes we have heard over the years”—has certainly been “to our detriment”!

To be clear, I have no problem with eating a vegetarian diet in the management of diabetes. What I do have a problem with is the implication (in the initial “question”) that a low-carbohydrate diet necessarily contains meat.

Related:

Approaches to Diabetes Management

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