Nutritional Concerns About Fasting
It’s been said that a fast without prayer is just a diet. However, plenty of people wonder if the traditional fast is a healthy diet for the body, whether or not it is accompanied by prayer.The traditional fast is part of a healthy and nutritious diet, which is eclipsed by the fast’s effects of the soul. If you want to read medical studies which talk about the health benefits of traditional fasting, these are a good starting place:

If you just want the nutshell version, here it is: our bodies need 21 amino acids to survive. We make 13 and have to eat food which includes the other 8 essential amino acids. Animal products like meat and eggs include all 8 essential amino acids. Quinoa, soy, hemp, spirulina, and buckwheat are said to also include all 8 (depending on source, see Complete Proteins for more). But how many people eat those vegetarian superfoods? It might appear that the only choice is a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich or a soy, hemp, and spirulina green smoothie, but there are many tasty and healthy choices in between!

The key is that you don’t need all 8 essential amino acids in the same food, the same meal, or at the same time. If you combine different plant foods over the course of the day, it gives you all of the 8 essential amino acids you need and you stay healthy while maintaining the fast. The most common way of getting the full spectrum of amino acids is to eat a legume and a grain or a legume and a nut/seed.

Some protein-rich ingredients you might find helpful during the fast:

  • Superfoods (quinoa, amaranth, soy, hemp, spirulina, buckwheat)
  • Legumes and Beans (peanuts, black beans/black turtle beans, garbanzo beans/chick peas, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans/butter beans, navy beans/white beans, peas, pinto beans/mottled beans, soybeans)
  • Grains (rice, wheat, corn, oats, barley, buckwheat, rye, triticale)
  • Nuts (macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, chestnuts, beechnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts–pignoli or pinon, gingko nuts, hickory nuts, and coconuts)
  • Seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, flax/linseed, chia)

Humans need about 5% of their food to be protein. Rice is 8% protein, corn 11%, oatmeal 15%, and beans 27% protein. It’s almost impossible to not get enough protein in first world countries like the United States unless the person lives on sugar and refined flours alone. The slightly higher need for protein required by athletes, those who perform physical labor, and bodybuilders can easily be met by a vegetarian diet.

Those under 2 can receive all the nutrition they need from their mother’s milk, but if they wean early they will need a more varied source of proteins than an adult would in order to get all 8 amino acids if they weren’t eating one of the “superfoods” which contain them all.

Most Americans equate calcium with milk. Green leafy vegetables like collards, bok choy, kale, and turnip greens are very high in calcium. Brussel sprouts, tofu, almonds, tahini, and broccoli are other calcium choices.

One of the essential vitamins our bodies need is Vitamin B-12. While other B vitamins can be found in plants, Vitamin B-12 is only found in animal products like dairy, eggs, and meat. The body is able to keep reusing B-12 for up to 30 years. While it is recommended that strict vegans take a B-12 supplement, the temporary fasts we use do not come close to the time frame that would deplete Vitamin B-12 stores.

Sources of iron in a vegan or vegetarian diet include watermelon, collards, lentils, kale, oatmeal, broccoli, dried apricots, and iron-fortified foods. Iron absorption increases when consumed at the same time as Vitamin C, so many vegetarians combine the two.

The purpose of this material is to be descriptive in respective to the issues it addresses. While the material is accurate, it is not definitive. Neither is it legalistic in its intent not does it pretend to be normative. It is shared in response to the queries posed to the author in regards to the church’s ancient traditions. All people should seek out and defer in humility to the guidance of their priest, bishop, and Church.