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One day in North Africa, a wireless message sounded from the vast regions of the Sahara desert. Over and over, the signal rattled radio receivers in every police headquarters for miles around. And each time the message was just one word: “Water.” “Water.” “WATER.”

French authorities suspected it might have originated from three aviators who’d been missing for several days. Everyone believed they were dead, swallowed whole by the endless expanse. Now, hope was renewed.

A search was quickly organized. Men and machines fanned out across the sands. Aircraft soared into the air. Communication links were established, and soon a steady stream of information flowed back and forth between headquarters and personnel both on the ground and in the air.

After scouring thousands of miles of dry, barren land, searchers spotted the missing plane. Once safely rescued, the thankful flyers told how, after much time and agonizing effort, they’d managed to get their radio to work. By then, they were suffering from such a delirious thirst that all they could signal was that one repeated word— water, water, water.

What do three flyers lost in a desert have to do with healthful eating? Everything! What they needed most was water—one of the things that every one of us requires every day. Without it, we’d die.

The human body is an amazing factory. We take in raw materials, process them, generate waste, and from that never-ending sequence create a valuable product called “life.” As a matter of fact, life ends when that sequence is interrupted or damaged beyond repair. So, it would benefit us greatly to keep that factory working at peak efficiency. Anywhere along that assembly line— the acquisition of raw materials, the materials themselves, our ability to utilize them, our system for discarding waste—we can alter the outcome. Each process has a direct effect on both the quality and length of the “life product” we manufacture.

Unfortunately, it’s beyond obvious that something is terribly wrong in our world. We’ve turned our factories into crumbling storage barns. Most civilizations have become collections of overweight, sick, tired, and drug-dependent individuals suffering from a host of chronic ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Cancer stalks our assembly lines, and endless illnesses impede our ability to produce that all-important end product: life.

Why is this happening? What are we doing wrong? The answer is simple. We’re ignoring the processes that keep us alive and healthy. We’re misusing our equipment. We’re overlooking the objective of our body factories. As a result, we are, as one health expert put it, “living short and dying long.”

But, there’s good news. It doesn’t have to stay that way.

Delivery system

Every function in the body, clear down to the cellular level, takes place in a bed of water. Digestion, growth, healing, even thinking, all utilize H2O as the medium of choice in which to operate. Our water-based blood circulates to every nook and cranny of our being, delivering nutrients that have been filtered from our food as well as the high-octane carbohydrates needed to fuel the many functions. Blood also delivers something else that’s essential to life: oxygen. Without oxygen to spark the flame, nothing else would happen.

When water and oxygen supplies diminish, digestive systems become sluggish, growth slows, immune systems lose their power to fight disease, healing sputters to a stop, and even thinking becomes difficult. Just ask the three flyers lost in the desert.

So it would benefit us greatly to make sure that both water and oxygen are kept in good supply throughout our bodies. Our blood needs to be rich in both, able to transport the nutrients and sugars needed.

After our blood offloads its supply of life-giving resources, it transforms itself from a delivery van to a garbage truck, carrying away the waste materials that have been created as a result of all that digesting, growing, disease fighting, healing, and thinking.

Then, as soon as it has dumped its load of waste into the landfill of our kidneys, the blood hurries back to the heart, lungs, and other organs for a brand-new consignment of water, oxygen, sugars, and nutrients to deliver throughout the body. With each beat of the heart, the delivery van/garbage truck moves along the miles and miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries in our bodies, faithfully keeping every cell and system supplied with those all-important raw materials and then removing the waste.

Perfect plan

That’s why God, when He outlined the perfect plan for healthful eating to Adam and Eve—and us—specified a very specific source for those raw materials. Pointing to the verdant fields surrounding them, God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food” (Genesis 1:29, 30).

Did you notice what was missing from that directive? Where’s the milk? Where’s the cheese? Where’s the beef?

Our Creator God knew something that scientists are just beginning to discover. Plants are an incredibly rich source of proteins, complex carbohydrates, and a seemingly endless list of other nutrients. Animal products, on the other hand, aren’t. As a matter of fact, animals—and the products they create, including milk and eggs—lack so much of what we need to stay alive that God didn’t call them food. He called them friends, instructing Adam to give each one a name and to care for all of them in a loving, gentle way (Genesis 2:19).

Years later, after the Flood, God allowed humankind to include animal products in their diet (Genesis 9:3). However, what happened next has gone down in history as the world’s first study on the length of life. When we compare the life spans of people who lived before the Flood (Genesis 5) with those who lived after the Flood (Genesis 11), we find an incredible decrease in longevity. The only thing that had changed was what people ate.

So, why did our ancestors start dying hundreds of years sooner after animals moved from pasture to plate? The answer lies in the raw materials they were introducing into human factories. Unfortunately, that situation continues to this day, and we’re paying a terrible price to maintain that destructive tradition.

Fat and cholesterol

Animal products, from hamburgers to milk, contain copious amounts of both fat and cholesterol. Cholesterol, derived from the Greek words for “bile” and “stiff,” serves a wonderful purpose in the creature that produces it. Cholesterol builds and maintains cell membranes, is essential for the production of hormones, converts sunshine to vitamin D, and insulates nerve fibers. In correct amounts, it’s essential for our well-being. But the level of cholesterol in our bodies rises as we consume animal products, and the excess cholesterol goes from friend to foe, clogging our arteries and sending the risks of heart disease and stroke through the roof. This level also has a direct bearing on how much oxygen and water the blood contains.

When fat—which is oily in nature— enters the blood stream, something very bad happens. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that oil and water don’t mix. So when they are combined in our veins and arteries, the blood becomes oil rich and water poor. Without water, that oil-saturated blood can’t deliver its usual load of oxygen or take out its usual load of waste. This happens within minutes of eating an animal product—any animal product.

So now we have blood with greatly reduced levels of water and oxygen circulating throughout our bodies. Not only that, the body, being smart enough to know a bad thing when it sees it, works hard to take that thick, sticky, oily mess and store it. Where? Along artery walls. Mixing cholesterol with calcium and other fatty materials, the body plasters the surface of our arteries in an effort to minimize the problem and make way for the better blood it hopes will be coming soon. In time, this buildup can thicken to the point that it closes off the blood flow through the arteries completely. If this happens on or near the heart or brain, the results can be deadly. Is it any wonder that countries boasting the highest meat consumption also suffer from the highest rates of heart disease and stroke?

Then there’s the matter of diminished capacity. Without water and oxygen, everything having to do with our wellbeing suffers. Every function slows. Every process along the assembly line falters. We become overweight, sick, tired, and dull-minded.

Knowing this, what can we do? The answer is as simple as the cause. We can change our blood! We can put it to work clearing out the damage that exists while restoring power and vitality to our overburdened factories. That takes time, commitment, and a whole food, plant-exclusive diet.

That transforming process begins with a decision. We must say, “I’m going to be healthy. I’m going to do what’s right for my body factory. I’m going to follow God’s original health plan.” From that point on, eating healthfully becomes effortless and empowering, which is what our Creator intended when He made us.

Guide to Healthy Eating

by Charles Mills
From the March 2014 Signs