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OTHER ITA SITES:
News Flash: 4,000-Year-Old Dietary Guidelines Are the Best Yet (Part 1)
Many people these days are health and diet conscious—and well they should be, as it is an undisputed fact that health and diet are major determining factors in both length and quality of life. As far as the particulars are concerned, there is a much lesser degree of agreement. Advice and opinions abound, much of it conflicting. And those looking for the latest fad diet based on shaky medical concepts will never be disappointed!
Yet the Bible sets forth some deceptively simple rules, and Bible readers and non-Bible readers alike can benefit from this timeless advice. Just think: these dietary guidelines are thousands of years old, and the societies that have followed them are among the healthiest and longest-lived on the planet.
The Essence of the Healthful Old Testament Diet
Correct diet formed the basis of Mosaic Law, and no other ancient writing is so strict regarding what to eat and what not to eat. Modern knowledge of healthful eating is strikingly corroborative of this ancient wisdom.
The Israelites thrived on an almost exclusively vegetarian diet. The use of meat may not have been forbidden per se, yet it was not considered necessary for health, and was generally reserved for special occasions.
Protein sources were mainly grains, including wheat, barley, and millet; and legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils. The latter group, which comprise the seeds of pod-bearing plants, are referred to as pulse.
Bread, the main part of everyone’s diet, is mentioned frequently in both Testaments. This was whole-grain, unrefined bread; whole grain contains the germ, a rich source of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutrients. Bread could be made from other grains besides wheat; grains could also be roasted rather than made into bread. Barley provided fiber and high-density lipoproteins, which help control cholesterol. The Israelites so depended on their hand mills for making bread that the law stated a hand mill could not be taken as a pledge against a debt.
Nuts, especially almonds and pistachios, were additional sources of protein.
Foods were flavored with onions and garlic (not coincidentally, now both found on most “10 best foods” lists), as well as mint, dill, and mustard, and other herbs and spices. The manna referred to in Numbers was probably coriander seed (see Numbers 11:6-8).
Food was cooked in olive oil, which was also used as a condiment. Olive oil, unlike animal fats and tropical oils, guards against arteriosclerosis. Sugar as we know it did not exist; honey, a natural sugar, pre-digested by bees, was used for sweetening.
Fruits release digestive enzymes to help metabolize food. Apricots, figs, dates, pomegranates, and grapes were among those available to Old Testament people.
What about dairy products? The Bible makes few references to any dairy product as part of a meal. Occasionally butter and cheese are mentioned, and these were usually made from the milk of sheep and goats.
Besides water, wine is the drink most often found accompanying food in the Bible. It was less likely than water or milk to be contaminated because the alcohol content killed germs. Often the wine probably was not fermented, but actually more like grape juice, and enjoyed by people of all ages.
If and when people did eat meat…
God specified that only mammals that chew their cud and have cloven hooves—such as cattle, sheep, and goats—are fit for human consumption. Wild game that could be hunted would have included deer and wild sheep and goats.
One possible interpretation of Deuteronomy chapter 14 suggests that milk and meat were not to be eaten together. Modern understanding of the digestive system concurs. Dairy products require mild enzymes for metabolism; meat, by contrast, requires much stronger digestive acids. If the two food groups are eaten together, the weak acids dilute the strong ones, and the meat is not digested properly. The result is heartburn and digestive upset.
God’s laws further specify that seafood must have fins and scales. Scales protect the fish from disease, and fins enable the fish to control its direction. Shellfish merely drift with the current; they cannot avoid polluted waters and are therefore vulnerable to infection.
As far as edible fowl are concerned, those considered acceptable are chickens, turkeys, geese, and ducks—those that eat grain and not dead flesh or other garbage.
The Israelites were forbidden even to touch the carcass of an animal already dead—even of a clean animal. And if a rodent or some small creature was to fall into a vessel of food, the food would be discarded and the vessel, depending upon the material, was either destroyed or scoured clean.
In addition, creeping things such as lizards and snails were not to be eaten or even touched. This is fascinating in light of modern cases of babies and young children who have become infected with salmonella, in which the infection has been traced to parents who did not wash their hands after handling the family’s pet reptile. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” may not be Scriptural, but whoever first said it probably knew his Bible.
Some meat for sale had been slaughtered in pagan religious ceremonies, and therefore was spiritually as well as physically unhealthful.
…He even told us how to prepare it
Within God’s guidelines for the eating of appropriate animal flesh, He directed the manner of slaughter. The method was designed to be painless for the animal, and in turn was more healthful for the humans who subsequently ate it, because humane slaughtering precludes the accumulation of toxins in the carcass of an animal that suffers a slow and stressful death. (Besides, it was more kindly toward God’s creatures.)
The modern-day meat industry is anything but painless—for the humans who work there, as well as the animals that die there. More accidental amputations occur in the meatpacking industry than in any other, and injuries from falls are common because…well, imagine what the floors of these places must look like. Human civilization has digressed a long, long way from God’s instructions.
Daniel and the three other captive Israelites requested vegetables and water in place of the rich meats and wine offered by the Babylonian king (Daniel chapter 1). The king was concerned that they would become malnourished, but at the end of a ten-day trial period, they were healthier than the others who had taken the traditional rations. In the story of Daniel, he (along with his companions—and they were probably mere teenagers at the time) took a stand for God and was rewarded for his faithfulness.
Why did God make these rules?
God wanted His people to be separate from other people; He wanted them to survive and thrive in order to serve Him better.
Pagan peoples during Old Testament times routinely ate virtually any type of animal, with the result of frequent plagues and epidemics. In the ancient civilizations that consumed animal fats to excess, there was a higher incidence of illness and lower life expectancy. Thousands of people died needlessly, and God handed down, through Moses, a set of dietary guidelines.
What difference do cud chewing and cloven hooves make? Cloven hooves are less susceptible to disease, because of better air circulation. It is an observable fact that feet are a critical point of entry for infection. This is not surprising considering the amount of stress to which feet are subject. Consider the importance of foot care for humans. We are all taught as children how to cut our toenails in order to avoid ingrown toenails, and I have heard more than one story about someone whose heel blister or stubbed toe was not properly treated and led to the risk of foot or leg amputation.
Additionally, cud-chewing animals have better digestion, resulting in overall better health. Pork, expressly forbidden to God’s people, is a notorious disease-bearer in hot regions. Note that animals with closed hooves include horses.
Animals with paws were forbidden for the same reasons, and for the additional reason that most animals with paws (especially lions) are hunters (carnivores), and the possibility existed that such an animal had previously eaten a human.
The people may not have known the reasons behind the rules—but God did.
Please continue to Part 2
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