If a Diet Works for Three, It Works for Everyone: Sloppy Reasoning in the Biblical Health Movement

By Chet Day
February 22, 2001

Every once in a while, a certain newsletter reader forwards me a section of a biblical health newsletter written by an advocate of a strict vegan diet. This reader apparently sends me the material because she wants to believe a Genesis 1:29 vegan diet is right for everyone, and she wants me to believe it too, even though I publicly rejected the long-term viability of such a diet in January of 1999.

I always answer the letters this lady sends, and I generally share with her my reasons for arguing that a strict vegan diet leads to deficiencies in the long term and is dangerous for expectant mothers, nursing mothers, and children, but, alas, she never replies to my explanations. Instead, she waits a few weeks and then sends me yet another section of her favorite biblical health writer's newsletter.

This past week she e-mailed me a part of his newsletter that contained what I consider a preposterous contention from which he argues that because a "pure vegetarian diet" supposedly works for him and for two elderly people he's known for quite a few years, then such a diet must be right for everyone.

In concluding this presentation, he asks "naysayers" who argue that people need some animal foods in the diet for long-term health to "explain this couple, who have been pure vegetarians for almost 80 years, or this editor, who has enjoyed incredible health and energy on a pure vegetarian diet for 25 years."

Well, I'm happy for the rare individuals who purport to live healthfully on a totally plant-based diet for more than a few years, but I'm also happy to explain the dangers in using exaggeration and flawed logic to suggest such a diet (or any other restricted diet, for that matter) is right for everyone.

The flawed logic used by the biblical health writer goes something like this…

I've lived healthfully on a pure vegetarian diet for 25 years.

I know a man and a woman who have been pure vegetarians for almost 80 years.

Therefore everyone on earth can live healthfully on a pure vegetarian diet.

Obviously, there's more sand than concrete in the mortar of this kind of reasoning. Since we don’t live with these people, we don't know what they actually eat or the real state of their health. Personal testimonies are powerfully persuasive, but when you're claiming a diet is perfect for everyone, you have a moral obligation to include objective as well as subjective information.

I mean, seriously, if the above argument convinces you to never eat animal foods again, then I also have a perfect answer for you regarding the identify of God, and here it is…

God is love.

Love is blind.

Ray Charles is blind.

Therefore Ray Charles is God.

Enough about sloppy logic.

Now I want to explain why it would be misguided to live on a Genesis 1:29 diet (or any other restrictive diet) solely on the proclamations of individuals who claim that such a diet works for them.

First off, I noted with interest that this health writer labels as "vegetarians" the elderly couple he offers as proof that his Genesis 1:29 diet works. This writer almost always labels his diet as vegan instead of vegetarian. But perhaps he chose to use the "vegetarian" label in this instance because, like most Seventh Day Adventists and many vegetarians, this elderly couple also regularly includes some eggs and dairy in their diet.

I certainly hope that's the case since, in my experience since 1993, most who call themselves "pure vegetarians" or "raw foodists" or even "strict vegans" will usually own up to eating "an egg now and then" and "maybe a little yogurt once in a while" and "some cheese at a church social" and perhaps "occasional fish in a restaurant" if you press them for the honest-to-God truth.

Unfortunately, some individuals whose identities are so intertwined with diet and health labels will also look you in the eye and lie through their teeth about what they actually eat and their real state of health. I've seen this happen too many times during the past eight years.

The late T.C. Fry, one of the major Natural Hygiene writers of the 20th century, is an excellent example of a guru who demanded strict adherence from his followers but who could not himself practice perfectly what he preached. If you'd like to read a gossipy expose that reveals the soft tissue of lies between T.C.'s version of Natural Hygiene practice and theory, click here to read it in a classic back issue of my now defunct paper newsletter, Health & Beyond.

T.C. was a guy who claimed never to eat anything but fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and yet a few people who knew him reported seeing him eating chocolate bars as well as macaroni and cheese. It's clear that he stuck to his vegan diet most of the time, but, like most people, he also had his lapses.  Sadly, occasional lapses don't protect from the deficiencies that can result from an overly restrictive diet.

In his writings, T.C. Fry bragged constantly of his perfect health and claimed that he hadn't been sick in decades. And yet while he presented himself as a superman in print, in actuality he suffered from edema and heart problems and even had ozone treatments in the Dominican Republic. An autopsy after his death revealed that he died of a coronary embolism and that he had atherosclerotic plaques in his legs.

Click here to learn more about other vegetarian gurus like Norman Walker, Lester Roloff, Paul Bragg, and Harvey Diamond, all of whom, in varying degrees, recognized the value of including some clean animal foods in the human diet.

As you'll see after reading the above article, misrepresentation abounds in the natural health movement, both by health writers and health seekers.

Do these people shade the truth because they are bad people?

No, I don't think so.

I believe they present a skewed version of the truth because they have linked their ego and their reputation to their diet. Because they chain their very identities to a health regime of their own creation, most diet gurus don't publicly admit and resolve deficiencies in their programs when they occur. And because their followers take these teachings as gospel, they fall into a dangerous trap, a snare that may cost them their health in the long term as well as the health of those who follow the followers.

You see, trouble sticks like grease to labels in the natural health movement. Once you start publicly identifying yourself as a raw foodist, a vegetarian, a Genesis 1:29-er, an ovo-lacto vegetarian, a Natural Hygienist, or even someone who has a taste for duck-billed platypus tails, you are trapped in a box from which it is increasingly difficult to extricate yourself. In short, you may limit the potential of your continued growth and health -- physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual -- because you have committed yourself to the validity of a single approach, an approach that may be excellent short-term but dangerous long-term.

I know about this insidious trap from experience, having worn and rejected multiple labels myself during my time through the looking glass in the vegan, living foods, Natural Hygiene, vegetarian, and biblical health movements.

But, you know what? I didn't like being defined solely by a label, by a word tag or two that restricted my ability to fully share with others what I was learning. So I gathered my courage to the sticking place and shed the labels. Yes, it cost me financially as well as emotionally to do what I did, but I was then, and am now, willing to pay that price to go where my understanding of the truth about diet and health leads me.

As far as I'm concerned -- and legitimate science and credible sources in both the medical and natural health fields support my position -- it's necessary to include some clean animal foods in a predominantly plant-based diet.

Indeed, for long-term health, you'd better eat some clean animal foods or eventually you're going to encounter deficiency problems -- some sooner, some later than others.

If your nails are breaking…

  • or your hair's falling out…
  • or your energy's sinking…
  • or your skin is uncomfortably dry or wrinkling…
  • or you're gaining weight from constant cheating or overeating…
  • or you're so thin people are starting to stare…
  • or you're always hungry…
  • or your hands are shaking or your spine is twitching…
  • or you're just not feeling great on a program that once had you feeling like a million bucks…

… then, hey, you don't need a Ph.D. in cellular biology to realize you're missing something in your diet.

You know, for me, one of the saddest aspects of the natural health movement is the fact that so many gurus stubbornly refuse to acknowledge they might not have the perfect diet after all. The way some of these vegan advocates, for example, shout and pound their chests you'd think moderate writers like me were advocating a diet composed of nothing but barbecued beef entrails, steamed chicken gizzards, fried hog bellies, and grilled fish tails.

In actuality, my thoroughly sensible position on diet hardly deviates more than a tire track or two from many strict vegan and vegetarian regimes:  I say it makes sense to eat a predominantly plant-based diet with lots of uncooked fruits and vegetables -- and juices if you can manage to schedule them into your routine.  I also advocate that anywhere from 5-15% of the diet be composed of clean (organic) animal foods like eggs, fish, raw milk cheese and yogurt, and occasional meat.

Why some health writers can't recognize the possibility that such a moderate approach is a sensible one is something I honestly can't understand, especially when I happily recognize and enthusiastically promote the wonderful short-term benefits of a thorough detox on a vegan diet like my own 21 Days to Health & Beyond program or a Genesis 1:29 regime.

Let me add that, at least anecdotally, people with cancer and other chronic illnesses appear to do well combating their disease on a strict vegan diet for various lengths of time. For example, on page 187 of his book A Cancer Therapy, Max Gerson, MD, forbids animal foods while detoxing, but then "After six to twelve weeks, animal proteins are added in the form of pot cheese (saltless and creamless), yoghurt made from skimmed milk, and buttermilk." Pot cheese, by the way, is cottage cheese drained of moisture. Although the Gerson Institute makes use of injectable crude liver extract and pancreatic enzymes from the beginning of their detox diet, the current regimen says some patients may have to wait up to two years before returning animal protein like fish into the diet.

Written in the late 1950s, Dr. Gerson's book documents some remarkable cures of late stage cancer in thirty years of treatment through a regimen of raw foods and juicing. But his program does not forbid abstaining for long from all animal products, and does use some enzymes and liver extract all along.

In closing, I hope and pray for the long-term health of those following and promoting a Genesis 1:29 diet that they, like the Gerson Institute, will some day also recognize the wisdom of including in the human diet prudent amounts of clean animal foods, especially for pregnant mothers, nursing mothers, and growing children.

Let's move forward with objective, substantive facts, anecdotal reports that include potential problems as well as benefits, research that doesn't compromise the truth to please those who pay for the studies, and thoughtful, unbiased commentary.

This article first appeared in Health & Beyond Weekly, a weekly ezine that until February of 2014 cut through the baloney and deception that occurs all too often in the natural health movement. Start your free subscription today in the box below.

Click here to read Part 1 of an intelligent and enlightened series of articles on Biblical nutrition.

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