Science Finds New Benefits of Prophetic Health Advice

Ellen White was a strong advocate of drinking water. 

In health and in sickness, pure water is one of Heaven's choicest blessings. Its proper use promotes health. It is the beverage which God provided to quench the thirst of animals and man. [Used] freely, it helps to supply the necessities of the system, and assists nature to resist disease.  Ministry of Healing, 237.

Ellen White had a great deal of advice regarding drinking with meals.  She advised against drinking with the meal but suggested that we should drink water “some little time” before sitting down to a meal:

Food should not be washed down; no drink is needed with meals. Eat slowly, and allow the saliva to mingle with the food. The more liquid there is taken into the stomach with the meals, the more difficult it is for the food to digest; for the liquid must be first absorbed.  . . . Many make a mistake in drinking cold water with their meals. Taken with meals, water diminishes the flow of the salivary glands; and the colder the water, the greater the injury to the stomach. Ice water or iced lemonade, drunk with meals, will arrest digestion until the system has imparted sufficient warmth to the stomach to enable it to take up its work again. Hot drinks are debilitating; and besides, those who indulge in their use become slaves to habit.  . . .  But if anything is needed to quench thirst, pure water, drunk some little time before or after a meal, is all that nature requires. Water is the best liquid possible to cleanse the tissues. . . . Drink some little time before or after the meal.  Review & Herald, July 29, 1884.  Healthful Living, 89. 

In this article we will examine, from the perspective of recent studies, some of Ellen White’s prophetic guidance regarding beverages and meals. 

In Ellen White’s day, when the typical American got far more exercise and ate much less processed and calorically dense foods, obesity was not the overwhelming concern it has become for Americans in the 21st Century.  Perhaps this is why she did not frame these health principles in the context of weight control.  But modern science has found that they have an important bearing on weight control, which has become the health issue of our day.


Hydration and Weight Control

Ellen White advised against drinking cold water (or any other cold beverage) with a meal, because it halts the process of digestion until the stomach can warm up to its normal temperature.  Science has confirmed that our digestive enzymes function optimally at body temperature, and that a temperature significantly above or below body temperature will reduce the rate of digestion.  We also know that excessive dilution of stomach acid will prolong the time required for digestion.  But why did Ellen White advise drinking water before the meal? 

A study published this summer in the Annals of Family Medicine[1] has found a significant association between inadequate hydration and both elevated body mass index (BMI) and obesity, suggesting that proper hydration may play a role in weight control.  (The study used urine osmolality--the concentration of solutes in the urine—as a proxy for dehydration, and considered subjects with an osmolality level of 800 mOsm/kg or greater to be inadequately hydrated.)

The study found only an association, and did not purport to find a causal mechanism.  But the most obvious hypothetical causal mechanism is that people are mistaking thirst for hunger, resulting in elevated caloric intake and obesity.  In other words, people who are not drinking enough water are eating too much food because they think they are hungry when they are actually thirsty. 

Following Ellen White’s advice to drink water a little while before a meal is therefore an important part of a weight control strategy.  If at meal time a person is properly hydrated, and hence not thirsty, the person will not confuse thirst with hunger and overeat in an attempt to meet the wrong need. 

I recommend that everyone drink between 10 and 16 ounces (depending upon body mass) of pure water about half an hour before meal time.  This should achieve proper hydration and slake any thirst that might be confused for hunger. 

We should even drink water before breakfast, so that we are properly hydrated before the first meal of the day.  This is a common practice in Japan, and it seems to work for them:  Japan has the greatest overall longevity, currently boasting more than 50,000 centenarians, people who have lived to the age of 100 years.  In the West, many people drink caffeinated coffee in the morning, which operates as a diuretic and tends to dehydrate the body, rather than hydrating it.  Greater health would be achieved if drinking water were our first task of the day.

Obviously, drinking water before meals is no panacea.  It should be combined, in any weight control program, with proper diet (eating foods that are not calorically dense) and sufficient exercise.  But, as the study authors note, drinking water before meals has already become “a strategy commonly used by clinicians to prevent overeating . . .”


Eating Slowly to Control Weight

Note that in the quoted passage from the Review article, Ellen White advises us to, “eat slowly, and allow the saliva to mingle with the food.”  Again, this is the context of optimal digestion of food, and it has been confirmed that eating slowly and thoroughly masticating (chewing) the food aids in the digestive process.  It begins the process of physically breaking down the food.  Thoroughly chewing one’s food will help avoid excessive stomach acid and the resulting stomach and upper gastro-intestinal tract pain (heartburn, acid reflux). 

But, here again, modern research has pointed out another benefit of eating slowly: you will typically consume fewer calories.  Dr. Eric Robinson and colleagues recently completed a literature review of studies relating to the speed of eating.[2]  The researchers found that a slower eating rate is associated with lower caloric intake. 

Crucially, the researchers found that subjects felt just as “full,” i.e., satiated, having taken longer to eat fewer calories as did those who consumed more calories in a shorter amount of time.  Apparently, there is something about taking time to properly chew, taste, and enjoy our food that sends a satiety message to our stomach and brain, the same feeling of satiety as if we had eaten more than we did. 

Modern society tends to rush us; misguided notions of efficiency lead to the idea that we must cram our meals in our mouths as quickly as possible in order to move on to the next task.  In the modern lunch hour, 15 minutes are allocated for eating, and 45 minutes for running errands that we think we need to do during lunch.  This is all misguided.  Slow down and chew your food.


The Importance of Regular Meal Times

Ellen White strongly emphasized regularity of meal times.  We should eat our meals at the same time each day; absolutely nothing should be eaten between meals:

Regularity in eating is of vital importance. There should be a specified time for each meal. At this time, let everyone eat what the system requires, and then take nothing more until the next meal.  Ministry of Healing, 343

In no case should the meals be irregular. If dinner is eaten an hour or two before the usual time, the stomach is unprepared for the new burden; for it has not yet disposed of the food eaten at the previous meal, and has not vital force for new work.  . . .  Neither should the meals be delayed one or two hours, to suit circumstances, or in order that a certain amount of work may be accomplished. The stomach calls for food at the time it is accustomed to receive it. If that time is delayed, the vitality of the system decreases, and finally reaches so low an ebb that the appetite is entirely gone. If food is then taken, the stomach is unable to properly care for it. The food cannot be converted into good blood.  Counsels on Diet & Foods, 179.

Regularity in eating should be carefully observed. Nothing should be eaten between meals, no confectionery, nuts, fruits, or food of any kind. Ministry of Healing, 384

In recent years, a field of research known as "chrono-nutrition" has been developed, which examines how the regularity, frequency, and clock time of meals affects the body's internal clock (circadian rhythm) and cardio-metabolic outcomes.  Here again, we find that the issue of meal regularity has a bearing on weight control.

A literature review conducted by Gerda Pot of the University of Amsterdam[3] has found an association between meal irregularity and cardio-metabolic risk factors such as a higher body mass index and high blood pressure.  The researchers found only a handful of cross-sectional studies that looked at the question, but most of those studies determined that there was an association between meal irregularity and higher body mass index.

One of the studies, involving 1,768 participants in the U.K., used a scoring system based on a 5-day food diary to determine meal irregularity. Those who ate irregularly were more likely to develop metabolic syndrome than those who ate at regular, set times.  The researchers reviewed two randomized trials of meal irregularity that found that after 2 weeks, participants who ate regularly had beneficial cardio-metabolic risk factors, lower LDL-cholesterol, and lower peak insulin.

Clearly, observing regular meal times is yet another prophetic health principle that has important implications for weight control. 


The Danger of Hot Beverages

Note that in the article quoted above, White said that, “Hot drinks are debilitating; and besides those who indulge in their use become slaves to habit.”  She stated elsewhere that, “Hot drinks are not required, except as a medicine. The stomach is greatly injured by a large quantity of hot food and hot drink. Thus the throat and digestive organs, and through them the other organs of the body, are enfeebled.”—Letter 14, 1901.

On June 15, an international working group of 23 scientists convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (of the World Health Organization) found that drinking very hot beverages probably causes cancer of the esophagus.  Esophageal cancer is the 8th most common cancer, accounting for about 400,000 cancer deaths worldwide annually, or five percent (5%) of all cancer deaths. 

“These results suggest that drinking very hot beverages is probably a cause of esophageal cancer, and that it is the temperature, rather than the drinks themselves, that appears to be responsible,” said Dr. Christopher Wild. 

Studies in places such as China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey, and South America, where tea or yerba maté (pictured with this article) is traditionally drunk very hot (at about 70 °C), found that the risk of esophageal cancer increased with the temperature at which the beverage was drunk.

The cause of the cancer is probably repeated scalding of the esophagus.  Humans do not have very good temperature sensation in the esophagus—hence we may not realize that we are burning it with hot liquid—and any chronic tissue inflammation can ultimately lead to cancer. 

The problem is made worse by the use of straws, which cause the hot liquid to bypass the lips and front of the tongue, which have many more nerve-endings and temperature receptors, and go straight to the back of the tongue and the esophagus.  For example, yerba maté is traditionally sipped from a calabash gourd through a silver straw, although nickel or stainless steel straws are also used.  The drinker does not realize how hot the liquid really is, and that it is burning his throat. 

In America, we consume an estimated 500 million plastic straws per day.  The accumulation of plastic waste is a serious environmental issue for our oceans and beaches.  Moreover, most of these plastic straws are not designed for hot liquids, and when hot liquids are consumed through them, they may give off BPA (Bisphenal A), an ingredient in many consumable plastic products that may be toxic.  In recent years, the diameter of straws has increased, and hence the volume of liquid that is consumed through them.

Thus we see, yet again, that Ellen White’s prophetic health guidance continues to be relevant, and continues to be confirmed by modern scientific studies. 




[1]      Tammy Chang, Nithin Ravi, Melissa A. Plegue, Kendrin R. Sonneville, and Matthew M. Davis, “Inadequate Hydration, BMI, and Obesity Among US Adults: NHANES 2009–2012,” Ann. Fam. Med. 2016; 14:320-324.


[2]      Robinson, Almiron-Roig, Rutters, de Graaf, Forde, Tudur Smith, Nolan, Jebb, “A systematic review and meta-analysis examining the effect of eating rate on energy intake and hunger,” Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100(1):123-51.


[3]      S. Almoosawia, S. Vingelienea, L. G. Karagounisa, and G. K. Pot, “Chrono-nutrition: a review of current evidence from observational studies on global trends in time-of-day of energy intake and its association with obesity,” Joint Winter Meeting between the Nutrition Society and the Royal Society of Medicine, London, Dec. 8-9, 2015.