It's a radical statement: Catholics should eat plant-based. But in many ways the Catholic way of life is radical. So it only makes sense that a Catholic diet would be just as radical.
There are a lot of reasons Catholics should be plant-based.
I find this to be the simplest argument to explain why Catholics should eat plant-based. 1 Corinthians 6:20 states: "Therefore honor God with your body."
Okay. Great. But what does that actually mean?
Our lives are meant to glorify God. A basic principle of Catholic theology is the fact that we were created for relationship with our Creator. And while we are on this earth we should be living to glorify God.
Every person's life is meant to reflect God's perfection. And we should be acting (and therefore eating) in a way that shows that we are children of God.
But what does that mean?
To act in a way that shows you are a child of God means loving Him and striving to be the people He created us to be. He doesn't expect perfection, but He does allow us to reflect His perfection.
One way, of many, to do this is by treating ourselves, our neighbors, and creation with the upmost love, care, and respect.
We honor and respect the dignity of every human life because it was created by God for a purpose. And to a similar but lesser extent we should honor and respect the creation that God gave us. I'm going to talk more about honoring God through respecting others and creation in a bit, but for now let's circle back to Honor God with Your Body.
To Honor God with Your Body is to respect the fact that God gave you a body and to take care of it. God is literally in us. We should take care of the vessel (our body) that He gave us to live in.
There is a lot of scientific research that points us in a billion directions in terms of what is the healthiest thing to do. And I know that there's a lot of debate about this (which I'll get into later), but as a whole, we should be treating our bodies in a way that gives glory to God. We should be:
Because if we actively choose to eat foods that are harmful to our bodies, we are disrespecting the gift of a body that God gave us.
Of course, God does not expect perfection, but he does expect participation. It's okay to eat an 'unhealthy' food from time to time, but in our daily life we should be actively respecting and honoring the bodies that God gave us, the bodies that God lives in.
So, honor God with your body. Eat foods to nourish your body and take care of the body that God gave you -- you only get one.
Want to dive deeper into this concept? I have a whole post about Honoring God with Your Body.
I said I would come back to the concept of honoring God through respecting others and respecting creation. We're going to get there. But let's go through some backstory about the Garden of Eden in Genesis.
Now, whether you take the story of Genesis to be factual or just a story, the truth of this story as revealed in the Bible (a divinely inspired text) is still truth.
I take a deep dive into this in my post about the environment but it's important to understand that we were created for relationship. Specifically, God intended four types of relationships:
In Genesis, God formed the earth and all the people, animals, and vegetation on it. He created the earth in a pattern. On Day 1 He said “Let there be light” and on Day 4 He created the sun, moon, and stars to reflect that light. On Day 2 He created the sand and the sea and on Day 5 He put the birds and fish on the earth to live on the sand and in the sea. Finally, on Day 6 he created the animals and humans to fill the space of vegetation He created on Day 3.
On the 7th day, God formed a covenant. In Hebrew, "seven" is the word for covenant. Through this covenant, God turned His earth into a family with relationships.
God created these relationships to be in harmony.
You didn't know it at the time, but this is exactly what we just outlined when we talked about Honoring God with our Bodies. God created us first for relationship with Him and second for relationship with ourselves.
How do we live out these two relationships? By honoring God with our bodies.
In the beginning of Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve instruction. "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat." - Genesis 1:29
Notice that God gave Adam and Eve plants for food. Not animals.
In a perfect, unfallen world, man did not eat meat.
And then they fell. Yes, we live in a fallen world, and therefore we live in a world full of sin. But as I talked about earlier, we are striving to reflect God's perfection. And this means we should be striving to live as Adam and Eve would have in the most perfect version of the world there ever was: Eden before the fall.
Well, to put it bluntly, eating meat requires slaughter.
As we just discovered, God created the earth to be in harmony, in relationship. This means no killing.
"Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it." - Genesis 2:15
Man’s first ever job was to care for creation! If that doesn’t convince us to care about the environment, I don’t know what will.
Note: There is a hierarchy of relationships. Our relationship with creation is the lowest on the hierarchy. We should not prioritize taking care of creation when there are issues in the other three relationships BUT when the issues in the relationship with creation are causing problems in the relationships with God, ourselves, and others, we need to pay attention.
Adam failed at his job, though. The serpent got in and Adam did not protect Eve from the serpent’s evil.
But Jesus, the savior, came to do what Adam, a sinner, did not. Soon before His death, Jesus spoke to God saying “not my will, but Yours be done” while in a garden. He was then buried in a garden. He rose in a garden and was then mistaken as a gardener. Since God calls us to live like Jesus, He calls us to garden.
Further, as Catholics we believe that our resurrected bodies will remain the same. Jesus’ body looked the same after He died. This implies that creation will also remain the same after Jesus comes again. Hence, what we are doing now to destroy the environment will not magically be wiped away when Jesus comes.
This is the third relationship in the hierarchy, but I saved this for last because our individual relationships with the earth affect how others get to interact with the earth.
What you do to save or destroy the earth has a direct impact on how your neighbor gets to interact with the earth. And your choices don't just affect the people living today. The way you treat the environment now will affect your children and generations to come.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Your food choices not only affect the environment, but the availability of food for the poorest of people. We could feed everyone in the world with the amount of food we grow right now - we are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people! But we choose to give it to animals who require much more food than us instead of just eating the plants.
Okay so I've talked all about why it makes sense for us to not eat meat, to respect ourselves, to reflect God's perfection, to take care of the environment but why does all of this mean that Catholics should eat plant-based?
Here's where we get into the science.
Diet is the number one cause of premature death. In fact, it is behind the top 15 causes of death in the United States.
It turns out that eating nutrient-dense foods with vitamins and minerals can prevent or even reverse problems like heart disease, lung disease, brain diseases, digestive cancers... you get the idea. This isn't a foreign concept to most people - we all know that we should eat our vegetables.
But what's more is that animal-based and processed foods are not only not optimal for our health, they are actually harming us.
Animal products, especially dairy - milk, ice cream, cheese, etc. all stimulate Insulin-Like Growth Factor - 1 (IGF-1) production.
IGF-1 is actually not bad for you in small doses. When you are a kid you need lots of IGF-1. It help you develop and grow properly. But as you reach adulthood your IGF-1 levels start to decrease, telling your body that you are done growing. If your IGF-1 levels don't decrease, your body will grow and multiply new cells, dramatically increasing your risk of cancer.*
How to avoid stimulating IGF-1? Adopt a plant-based diet, of course. Even vegetarians who don't eat meat have significant IGF-1 production. The only people shown to be able to significantly drop their IGF-1 levels are those who adopt a completely vegan diet.*
According to the American Cancer Society consumption of processed meat is a Group 1 Carcinogen, meaning that it is causes cancer in humans. Processed meat is in the same carcinogenic class as cigarette smoking.
Red meat is a Group 2A Carcinogen, a class of substances that have been found to be "probably carcinogenic to humans".
That's crazy! Meat consumption is grouped with cigarette smoking, lead, chloroform and tons of other substances that we know are toxic.
And that's just cancer risk.
Cows and chickens are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to make them grow larger and leaner. They eat feed contaminated with toxins. Those antibiotics don't just magically disappear when you pick up a pack of chicken at the grocery store. Nope, you actually ingest them, filling your body with tons of toxic hormones.*
Milk does a body good. Or does it? Cows today are milked throughout their pregnancies when their hormones are particularly high. When we drink milk, we ingest all these hormones which have been linked to conditions like acne, premature puberty, and increased growth rate of cancer cells.*
And all that calcium that milk has? Well it's not actually strengthening your bones. Milk contains a sugar called galactose, which is toxic to humans. Many people are able to detoxify the galactose in milk, but studies have shown that we aren't fully effective at it. Leading to hurt bones and premature aging.*
We all know that egg yokes contain a lot of cholesterol. Many will claim that having a few eggs each day isn't actually that bad. After all, you can keep your cholesterol at a 'normal' level and still eat eggs. But what is normal?
According to Dr. William Roberts, editor in chief of the American Journal of Cardiology the optimal level of LDL cholesterol is 50 or 70 mg/dL.* What's average for Americans? 200 mg/dL. Your doctor might tell you: you're fine! Your cholesterol is normal. But normal isn't good enough!
Any cholesterol reading above 70 mg/dL puts you at risk for heart attack. Cholesterol filled foods like eggs and other animal products are just skyrocketing your risk for heart disease - the number 1 leading cause of death in the U.S.
What about the whites? Well egg whites still have the hormones and toxins that many animal products have. Eggs contain high levels of industrial byproducts that have been shown to increase the risk of colon, prostate, and breast cancer by 2-3 times, for just 1/2 an egg per day.
Talk about toxins. Fish, because they live in the water where chemicals drain towards, are absolutely filled with toxins like mercury and DDT.
Even fish oil has been found to be contaminated with PCBs and other pollutants, and if taken regularly would exceed the tolerable daily intake of toxicity.*
So, sugar isn't an animal product, but it's just as terrible. High sugar diets are associated with all sorts of health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes, fatty liver disease, the list goes on...
Much of the issue with sugar is that it has been so processed that it contains nothing else. Sugars from whole foods, like fruit or sweet potatoes, also come with a host of nutrients and fiber, to help your body properly process the sugars and avoid a huge spike in your blood sugar.
Much like sugar, oil is a highly processed food. Made by taking a vegetable and stripping it of almost all nutrients, leaving just the fat and very little else. All the fiber and nutrients that were once in, say, an olive, are now almost completely gone.
And, all oil is high in fat. Healthy fats aren't bad for you, but when you are eating tablespoons of oil in the form of fried foods, you are increasing the caloric density of the food without even knowing it. You'll eat more calories without the fiber to keep you feeling full.
A little olive oil here and there is not going to kill you, but other oils, especially those with trans fats are linked to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
So what does all of this mean? A lot of these foods aren't as healthy for us as we once thought. In fact, the foods above can be quite harmful.
As Catholics we should take care to avoid foods that will be harmful to our bodies. Not only because we want to be healthy but because we should respect the body that God gave us AND strive to live long lives where we can do His work on earth.
At a basic level, this is pretty self explanatory. When we eat plants we don't eat animals. And therefore we don't kill them. The animals win.
But I'm talking about more than just not killing animals. There are plenty of animal-based foods that don't involve killing animals. Unfortunately, the chickens that we get eggs from and the cows that we get milk from are treated terribly.
Of course, there are free range farms where animals are raised and treated with compassion, but the eggs and milk that the vast majority of people eat on a daily basis come from chickens and cows that are raised in inhumane, unlivable, torturous conditions. So, eating plant-based is not only good for the animals that we save from being slaughtered but also good for the animals whose lives we can make easier by not torturing.
I have to say, even if for some reason you don't care about your own health and it doesn't bother you to harm animals, the environmental impact of a plant-based diet is huge. And it's probably one of the most important things we can do at an individual level to preserve the environment.
The animal agriculture industry is responsible for so much of the environmental impact that humans have on the planet. From water consumption, to CO2 production, to pollution and more.
Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption, between 34-76 trillion gallons per year. It takes crazy amounts of water to produce milk or cheese or beef. In fact, only 5% of water consumed in the U.S. is by private homes whereas 55% of water consumed in the U.S. is for animal agriculture.
Animal agriculture, cows in particular, is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the transportation industry at 13%. Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
My point here is not to bombard you with stats, but if you're interested in a quick rundown of all the staggering facts related to the animal agriculture industry and the impact on the environment I highly suggest you check out this page of facts and studies.
Notice how these three prongs: health, animals, and environment fit nicely into the structure of relationships that we talked about earlier.
Relationship with Ourselves: by respecting our health we honor God with our bodies
Relationship with Others: by taking care of the environment we are better able to care for other people, especially the poor
Relationship with Creation: by avoiding causing harm to animals and preventing destruction of the environment we respect the creation we were entrusted
Relationship with God: We honor God by caring for our health and the animals and environment in the ways mentioned in the above three sentences
Yep, He did.
If you are familiar with Catholic apologetics you might recognize the response that we often give to those who question why God would allow slavery in the Old Testament. We say that God does not agree that slavery should be legal, but God had to meet the people where they were at. If God had told the Old Testament people that they couldn't have slaves at all, they wouldn't have listened to Him. Instead, He met them where they were at. He treated them with rules and regulations to make the slavery as humane as He could without rebellion from the people. Then, as time went on He revealed to them that slavery is extremely wrong.
What does this have to do with veganism?
The same argument that we use to explain why God allowed slavery in the Bible can be applied here. God "allowed" Jesus to eat fish during His time on earth to meet the people where they were at.
He didn't come to earth to turn everyone vegan. That wasn't the purpose of His mission. And if He had tried to convince everyone that eating a plant-based diet was necessary He would have lost so many followers. So instead, He met people where they were at. He ate fish with them.
But just like God later revealed to His people that slavery is wrong He is now revealing to us through modern science that eating meat is wrong.
Not convinced? Consider this:
When Jesus was on earth fish was significantly heathier for humans and had much less negative impact on the environment than it does now.
Two thousand years ago fish weren't farmed and pumped with chemicals like they are today. And Jesus was not eating fish in the quantities that we humans do in the 21st century.
In fact, it might have been completely fine and not harmful to humans or the environment at all for Jesus and the disciples to eat animals like fish. That isn't the case today.
Plus, the argument for animals - as in, we are to take care of the creation and not harm animals or eat them as food - does still apply. As we already discussed, the pre-fall state of creation was a world in which animals were not killed and consumed as food. But Jesus didn't enter a pre-fallen world. He entered the world after the fall. He met the disciples where they were at.
Why don't you care? Because you don't have to worry about a health condition for another 50 years? Because you've been healthy your whole life?
That's amazing! I'm so glad that you are healthy. But most people who are sick started out healthy.
I'm not saying we need to become worriers and prep for some health emergency doomsday scenario. BUT if you don't take care of yourself now, in a preventative way, the inevitable will occur.
God desires for you to live an amazing life. And you can only do that if you're alive. What if you are destined to change the world when you're 75 years old, but you don't make it to that age?
You can avoid the ailments that millions of people are suffering today by taking care of yourself now and preventing a future condition.
Okay, so, now that we've covered the basic reasons why Catholics should eat plant-based, what do you do next?
It's time to start transitioning to a plant-based diet.
Head over to my post about Living Plant-Based where I address some common misconceptions about a plant-based diet, as well as outline where to get micro and macro nutrients that you need.
Not sure what to cook? Head over to my recipes section for tons of plant-based recipes.
Or, check out my 7-day whole food plant-based meal plan.
Please let me know what you thought of this post in the comments section below. You can also stay in touch with me on social media by following me on Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok or by subscribing to my newsletter.
*I gathered many of the stats in this post from a book called How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger.
**While I do follow the advice that I give in this post, I am not a doctor or a nutritionist, nor am I a religious counselor or expert. Please contact a doctor, religious counselor, or priest for professional advice.
a daughter of the Lord who eats lots of plants. I’m glad you’re here! On The Plant-Based Catholic I bring you nutritious, plant-based (vegan) recipes, explore the relationship between food and faith, and share my unique lifestyle.
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