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Nutritional Health and Wellness

by Peter Walters, PhD

Anyone who has ever ridden a seesaw quickly realizes that it is easier to be up or down than balanced in between. Balance requires patience and hard work; even so, it might be the most important principle in developing a healthy diet.

Humans need to consume the right amount of more than 40 essential nutrients. If you do not get enough vitamin C, your gums will become inflamed and start to bleed. If you take too much, fatigue, diarrhea, and nausea will follow. An excess amount of protein causes increased calcium loss and kidney stones, but too little leads to muscles’ wasting. Death can be caused not only by dehydration but also by drinking too much water. Almost every nutrient has a proper dosage, which varies depending on a person’s age, sex, size, activity level, and ethnicity.

Fortunately, God has equipped human bodies with mechanisms that do a tremendous amount of the homeostatic work. If you get out of bed in the morning and go for a 20-minute jog, your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate respond to the challenge. If you cut your finger, your blood and skin cells jump into action to stop the bleeding and restore the wounded tissue. When you lie down at night, your body instinctively moves through five stages of sleep to restore mental, emotional, and physical stability.

Although much of human physiology functions involuntarily, we play a vital role in either helping or hindering the process. We seek shelter and wear clothes to assist the thermoregulatory system maintain a core temperature of about 98 °F (37 °C). The digestive system performs most of the heavy lifting by assimilating and distributing nutrients to the cells, but we play a fundamental role by determining what food-and how much of it-to consume. These decisions have both physical and moral consequences.

The principle of moderating food intake described in practically every major nutrition textbook is also supported by scripture. When God directly and supernaturally fed the entire nation of Israel during their exodus through the Egyptian desert, he said this:

"Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent." The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed. (Exodus 16:16-18)

Taking enough to satisfy your needs is what God commanded in the Old Testament. The principle is seen again in the New Testament teachings of Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ responded to the worries of his followers by reminding them that God was committed to meeting their needs for food, clothing, and shelter (Matthew 6:25-34).

It seems that whatever standard God establishes, humans in their sinfulness can misconstrue trough ascetic rejection or selfish indulgence. Throughout history religious zealots have attempted to win the special approval of God through extreme selfdenial. These individuals believed that they would more fully realize spiritual blessings by refusing their personal needs.

During the fourth century, Saint Ascepsimas wore so many chains that he had to crawl around on his hands and knees. A monk by the name of Basarion would not give in to his body’s desire to lie down when he slept-so he slept standing for more than 40 years of his life. Simon the Stylite lived atop a narrow pillar for 34 years (Tan, 1982).

Although self-renunciation has appealed to a handful of spiritual zealots, a more common subversion has been to overindulge in what God created as good. The apostle Paul describes enemies of the cross as those who have made a "god of their stomach" by consuming food with reckless abandon (Philippians 3:18-19). Thomas Aquinas joined other spiritual leaders by placing gluttony in the list of the seven most deadly sins, alongside pride, covetousness, lust, anger, envy, and sloth (Pegis, 1997). Even though gluttony is mentioned more often than tithing in the Bible, it is not a very popular topic in most churches.

The apostle Peter illustrates how a disciple of Jesus can miss the mark of receiving God’s gifts through staunch rejection or unfettered acception: 

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." (John 13:3-10)

After being rebuked for his refusal, Peter asked for a complete bath. Neither extreme, however, was part of the Master’s plan, and the same holds true for people’s nutritional well-being. In summary, the goal is to receive every type of grain, fruit, vegetable, and meat from the Maker with thanksgiving while being careful not to squander any of his bountiful provisions.

Studies suggest eating habits change for the worse during the collegiate years, despite a student’s good intentions. One longitudinal study conducted by Tufts University (Food Service Director, 2002) found that 59 percent of college freshmen’s diets change for the worse after leaving home. One of the biggest changes is that, away from their parents, students stop eating fruits and vegetables-70 percent report not eating the recommended amounts. What replaces the quick and healthy snacks of broccoli, carrots, bananas, and apples? The top five snack foods are listed in figure 8.1 (Food Institute Report, 2002).

Fundamentally, nutrition is the science of how food affects the body. A broader definition includes the social, economic, cultural, and psychological aspects of eating (Whitney & Rolfes, 2002). It is through the science of nutrition that you will understand the digestive process, the role of macro and micro nutrients, and practical methods for ensuring nutritional balance.

This excerpt is from Christian Paths to Health and Wellness.

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