This article is part of a series on Discovering the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Discovering the Word of Wisdom in Meridian Magazine.
In this series of articles, I’ve been sharing my joy at discovering that in a world filled with confusing advice about diet and nutrition, the Lord has already provided some answers. As a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I had assumed I understood the Word of Wisdom, so I never bothered to study it carefully enough to fully benefit from the Lord’s counsel. It was not until I was introduced to a “heart-attack proof diet” that I realized what a goldmine we have in D&C 89.
When I understood that eating a “whole food, plant-based diet” can prevent up to 80% of the chronic diseases we experience and realized that this diet matches beautifully the Lord’s counsel in D&C 89, I happily changed my dietary ways. For me, nothing tastes as good as feeling good feels. Fortunately, the new healthy food turned out to be just as delicious as the old unhealthy food. Plus, I could eat huge volumes of food and still reach my ideal weight and enjoy optimal health. This has certainly added to my testimony that we have nothing to fear from fully embracing the Lord’s counsel!
Plant Foods are Ordained for the Constitution of God’s Children
In the last two articles, I’ve been examining the “flesh of beasts,” including the Lord’s advice in D&C 89 that we eat meat sparingly and only in times of need. Of course, the counsel about animal flesh is just one part of the Word of Wisdom. The other injunctions are equally interesting:
And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man— Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving. (D&C 89:10–11)
We typically think of herbs as plants with specific culinary or medicinal purposes, but the D&C footnote to these verses states that the word herbs means simply plants. According to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary, “The word herb comprehends all the grasses, and numerous plants used for culinary purposes.” Webster’s defines fruit generally as “whatever the earth produces for the nourishment of animals,” including “all cultivated plants,” and more narrowly as
the produce of a tree or other plant; the last production for the propagation or multiplication of its kind; the seed of plants, or the part that contains the seeds; as wheat, rye, oats, apples, quinces, pears, cherries, acorns, melons, [etc.].
The phrasing of this Word of Wisdom injunction echoes the admonition given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden:
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)
The Hebrew word for herb in this verse is ê·śeb, meaning plants. In fact, many Bible translators use the word plants in their translation of this verse:
Then God said, Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you. (New American Standard Bible, 1995)
The Word of Wisdom specifies we are to eat all “wholesome” plants. The word wholesome means “tending to promote health; favoring health” (1828 Webster’s Dictionary). In other words, all health-promoting plants are ordained “for the constitution, nature, and use of man” (emphasis added). As noted previously, this wording contrasts with verse 12 in which the flesh of beasts is ordained for “the use of man” without mention of it being ordained either for our constitution or nature, as are plants.
Indeed, plants do form the very constitution or nature of our bodies as the molecules, cells, proteins, and enzymes that make up our bodies come from the plants of this earth. What a sacred role plants were given to become the very tabernacles of God’s children! The power of the sun, the moon, and the stars, along with the vitality of earth, water, air, and fire all come together in our bodies via plants.
Plants are the Optimal Food for Human Beings
We know that not just Adam and Eve, but also every beast, fowl, and creeping thing were given plants to eat in the Garden of Eden, and because death had not yet come into the world, all living things were vegetarian, just as they will apparently be in the Millennium when
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord. (Isaiah 65:25)
I have no idea how this works in terms of the physiology of carnivorous animals, but it seems clear that the meat-eating ways of human beings will one day come to an end. That works well for humans since science confirms what the Word of Wisdom suggests: plants are the optimal food for human beings. History provides supporting evidence: as a youth, the prophet Daniel and his Hebrew friends in captivity refused the rich meaty food of the King and asked to be served pulse and water (that is, a vegetarian diet), resulting in their visibly greater health (see Daniel 1).
Whole plants are the goldmines of nutrition. They transform the power of the sun, the soil, water, and air to produce the macro and micronutrients required by the human body, indeed for all animal life. It’s not just the vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, protein, and fiber—it is also a wide range of phytochemicals: alkaloids, carotenoids, flavonoids, isoflavones, organosulfides, phenolic acids, phytosterols, saponins, and many more that have and have not yet been discovered.
Plant foods are so packed with nutrients that promote health and guard against disease that scientists have barely begun to uncover the power they contain and the beautifully complex and symbiotic ways they work together at every level in our bodies. But while we do not know everything, we do know a diet rich in plants is one of the most important things we can do to protect ourselves from chronic illness and promote vibrant health.
If right now you are thinking, “Yawn, I know all this!” you may be missing the point. Yes, we all “know all this,” and yet study after study confirms that very few Americans consume even the modest amount of fruits and vegetables recommended by the USDA, much less the optimal amounts. As our Savior said, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (John 13:17)
What about Processed Plant Foods?
While the Word of Wisdom does not explicitly state that plants should only be eaten in their whole, unrefined forms, the word wholesome arguably points in this direction, and common sense confirms this is optimal. If God packaged plant foods with such a large number and variety of powerful nutrients and phytochemicals that modern scientists are only beginning to understand what they are and how they work together to keep our bodies strong and healthy, why would it make sense to consume foods that are largely stripped of these nutrients?
Likewise, why would it be better to isolate and concentrate nutrients into supplements in place of consuming them in the infinitely more complex, balanced combinations that naturally occur in whole foods? Science confirms that the original state of plants and nutrients is best for our bodies. Nothing in the Word of Wisdom promotes the use of highly processed foods; instead, we are admonished to eat “wholesome” plants “with prudence” (v. 11). I’m not sure turning strawberries into Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers quite meets that standard.
Confining our diet to “plant foods” is not enough for good health. After all, many junk foods are wholly, or nearly wholly, derived from plants. Even if they are “vegetarian,” we all know human bodies are not made to thrive on Pringles, Ritz Crackers, or Pop-Tarts. When plants are heavily processed, so many nutrients are taken out that the so-called “food” product is often mere empty calories (supplying energy to the body without any of the needed micronutrients). Worse, because these refined foods are so different in composition from what our bodies thrive on, they can actually do us harm. Think about the difference between beets and beet sugar, between corn and corn oil, between asparagus (with 33 percent of its calories from protein) and asparagus protein powder (I’m making this one up, but you get the idea!).
What Does it Mean to Eat with Prudence?
We are admonished to eat “wholesome” plants with “prudence.” The 1828 Webster’s definition of prudence is “wisdom applied to practice.” Further, Webster’s explains:
Prudence implies caution in deliberating and consulting on the most suitable means to accomplish valuable purposes, and the exercise of sagacity in discerning and selecting them.
To use wholesome plants with “prudence” implies exercising great judgment and wisdom in carefully deciding how to use that which the Lord has provided for our health. If any adjective more soundly contradicts the way most of us Americans choose to eat, I can’t think of one. I wonder how it can ever be “prudent” to strip plant foods of their vital nutrients so we can indulge our love for yummy-tasting processed food at the expense of our health? And yet I have to confess this was largely my pattern of eating for most of my life.
In the Season Thereof
Another clue to the wisdom of not using heavily processed foods is found in the phrase that admonishes us to eat plants “in the season thereof” (D&C 89:11). An important purpose for processing and refining food is so that the food will have a long shelf life for cost-efficiency and so we can eat them out of season. But as Michael Pollan points out, “Real food is alive— and therefore it should eventually die.” Processing can add months, even years to the shelf life of foods, but it does so at the expense of many of their shelf-unstable nutrients. Processing often includes the addition of food additives, fats, salts, and sugars that can be harmful to our bodies, as well as preservatives that allow us to eat them well past “the season thereof” but which are not beneficial for health.
Some processing of food is inevitable and doesn’t necessarily do harm; chopping up vegetables is a form of processing them. Some processing can even be beneficial (e.g., some vitamins are more accessible when food is cooked). Certainly canning, freezing, and preserving whole ripe plants “in the season thereof” is an excellent option and prudent for helping us prepare for times of need. But a diet of highly processed or refined foods is not healthy, and, for the most part, unnecessary. In this land of abundance, we don’t need to eat less then ideal food when we are not in a time of need.
A whole food, plant-based diet encourages us to make whole plant foods the bulk of our diet. Picture the produce in your local grocery store: the apples, asparagus, corn, carrots, peas, pears, potatoes, beans, and other plant foods of every type. These are the “wholesome herbs” God ordained for our constitution, nature, and use. Let us eat them with “prudence and thanksgiving” (D&C 89:11).
For ways to prepare these foods, check out: Links to whole food, plant-based recipes
Next Time in Discovering the Word of Wisdom
In a continued discussion on “wholesome herbs and every fruit,” the next article will examine the relationship between the processing of foods and the important subject of food addiction.
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective (2013) and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom.
 See “Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary” on Daniel 1:12, (accessed June 21, 2014).
 Kim O’Neill and Byron Murray, Power Plants: New Evidence That Natures Phytofighters Are Your Best Medicine (Pleasant Grove, UT: Woodland, 2002).
 To better understand the amazing complexity and power of plants, I recommend T. Colin Campbell, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition (New York: BenBella Books, 2013) and Joel Fuhrman, Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2003).
 National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables 2013,” Advances in Nutrition, November 2013, 4(6): 665–666.
 See Campbell, Whole and John A. McDougall, The Starch Solution (New York: Rodale, 2012).
 Michael Pollan, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (New York: Penguin Books), 29.
 Fuhrman, Eat to Live, chapter 2.