This article is part of a series on Discovering the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Featured Author Jane Birch.
In the last article, I examined LDS Church history to reveal the parallels between (1) how the early Saints viewed the Word of Wisdom prohibitions before they were mandated, and (2) how the Saints today view the rest of counsel in D&C 89, which is likewise not mandated. It turns out it was not any easier for the early Saints to heed non-mandated counsel in D&C 89 than it is for us!
The Power of the Word of Wisdom
D&C 89 includes three dietary principles, which I have explored in previous Meridian articles:
1. All “wholesome” plants “in the season thereof” are ordained for our “constitution, nature, and use,” and should be used with “prudence and thanksgiving.” (D&C 89:10–11)
2. Animal flesh is ordained for human use, but it should be eaten sparingly, and it is “pleasing” to the Lord when we use it only in times of need: winter, cold, famine or “excess of hunger.” (D&C 89:12–13, 15)
3. “All grain is good” and is ordained to be the “staff of life.” (D&C 89:14, 16)
As I’ve been arguing, these recommendations match those currently recommended by whole food, plant-based (WFPB) experts who have proven the power of the Word of Wisdom through both scientific research and decades of experience working with patients. Based on this evidence, it is clear that the Word of Wisdom diet the Lord gave Joseph Smith in 1833 can eliminate up to 80% of chronic illness, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and many types of cancer.
So Why Aren’t We Told?
If it is so clear what we should and should not be eating for the best of health, why don’t all the experts make that plain? Why doesn’t the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) promote a plant-based diet? If a WFPB diet truly is such a miraculous answer to chronic disease, wouldn’t our doctors tell us?
Of course, all of us have already been told much more about good health and nutrition than most of us bother to use. We all know we should eat more fruits and vegetables, get more exercise, and cut back on soda and junk foods. Even children know Krispy Kreme doughnuts are not health foods. But how many of us do what we already know is right? Perhaps one reason we may not have heard the WFPB message is that we don’t fully embrace the health advice we’ve already been given.
But there are other reasons we don’t hear much about the benefits of a WFPB diet. The fact is it takes money to promote a message. It takes money to not only educate the common person on the street, but also to educate doctors, the government, and even PhDs in nutrition. Who has the money to fund this education? Unfortunately, the people who have the money are the very people who have a financial interest in promoting a diet that is the opposite of a WFPB diet. The people with the money are the people making a profit selling us a diet heavy in meat, dairy, and highly processed foods. Guess who is getting their message out?
Follow the Money
A critical key to understanding the confusion about good nutrition is the plain fact that there is very little money to be made in promoting a truly healthy diet. Relatively few people get rich selling whole foods. On the other hand, I can think of several multi-billion dollar food conglomerations that might go out of business if everyone ate only the “wholesome” plants recommended in the Word of Wisdom. Ironically, even the medical establishment thrives on our being sick. Certainly pharmaceutical companies do.
How many commercials do you see on TV promoting asparagus, strawberries, kidney beans, or whole wheat? Compare that to the number of commercials that promote snacks and treats, highly-processed foods and beverages, and restaurants serving the standard American diet. Even with all the scary disclaimers, the pharmaceutical companies have much more ability to get their message out then do all the fruit and vegetable farmers of the world. There are only so many fortunes to be made off of broccoli or cauliflower. Food executives know that “selling unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods will always be a fool’s game.” Marion Nestle, professor and well-cited expert in nutrition, tells us:
You can’t make any money selling plain nuts or fruit or vegetables. Therefore, companies are under pressure to add value. And adding value in America means adding sugar, salt, fat, or white flour. They’re cheap, and your product is shelf-stable.
The more you process whole foods, the more money you can make off of them. You can’t patent bananas or cucumbers, but you can patent processed foods and the drugs you can sell to people who get sick on them.
We Get What We Ask For
We consumers ultimately decide what products we will buy, and food corporations can’t exist unless they produce what we want. But what we want is often more influenced by the biology of our brains than our ability to reason. Our bodies are biologically designed to seek substances that stimulate pleasure signals in our brains. Fortunately, the most harmful drugs are illegal, but science is uncovering the unpleasant fact that foods rich in sugar and fat, though certainly not as harmful as illegal drugs, are physically addictive through precisely the same biological mechanisms.
Like drugs, we are finding that sugary sweets, high-fat foods, and even meat and cheese stimulate an increased release of dopamine, the brain’s primary pleasure-producing chemical. Not only does this mechanism produce immediate pleasure, we are biologically disposed to seek more of it. Like drugs, these foods can habituate us to the rush of dopamine and strengthen our desire to consume them, and like drugs, we may find we have to consume them in increasing quantities to compensate for the diminishing rewards we experience over time.
The processed food corporations of the world know their food science well. They know how to manipulate the fat, sugar, and salt content of foods to sell products and create repeat customers. Of course, we as consumers have a choice, and if we purchased only healthy foods, that is what we’d be offered. Fortunately, there is increasing demand for health food, and the food industry’s incredible talents have produced some amazing products that are somewhat healthier. But if we only ate what is good for us, many companies, even many health food companies, would go out of business because health is in whole foods, but the profit is in processing.
Sadly, companies producing harmful foods are in no danger of going under. We Americans, and now increasingly the rest of the world, are easily persuaded to pay for and consume a very large amount of what is not good for us.
The Lord Warned Us!
How should we feel about a food system that produces products that sabotage our health and gets us to pay for it? Could the situation really be that dire? Interestingly, the introduction to Section 89 indicates the Lord knew exactly the situation we would be in and was preparing us with these words of wisdom.We are told:
Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation. (D&C 89:4)
With so many powerful forces in our society enticing us to buy and consume products that are detrimental to our bodies, it is no wonder the Lord had to warn and forewarn us.
If we question why the field of nutrition is so rife with contradiction and confusion, we need to remember the power of money to distort truth. The same USDA that is commissioned to tell us what is best to eat is also responsible for supporting America’s meat, dairy, and refined food industries. Do you think any amount of “scientific evidence” is going to be more powerful than the tremendous lobbying might of these huge businesses whose very lifeblood depends on our consuming their unhealthy products?
It is very hard to hear the health message of the Word of Wisdom when the marketing messages are better funded, exponentially louder, and more ubiquitous. When we believe the following myths, it is because it is in someone’s financial interest that we do so:
- We need to eat meat to get adequate protein.
- Eggs are an “ideal protein.”
- Milk is good for our bones.
- Carbs are dangerous.
- Wheat is bad.
- It can’t be wrong if everyone is doing it.
- If something is labeled “natural” it is good for you.
- Junk food is fun, popular, and will make you happy.
- Eating whatever foods you find delicious is part of the good life.
- Serving people rich, scrumptious foods shows you love them.
If it were easy to see through these messages, the Lord would not have needed to warn us. But to hear His message, we have to turn off the TV and listen to the still, small voice in Section 89.
Why Don’t The Experts Tell Us?
So why don’t the mainstream experts tell us the same thing the WFPB experts are telling us? Actually, some of them are, but they are a minority. The fact is, the majority of the people who should know don’t know because it is not in enough people’s financial interests for them to know. And, if they do have an inkling of the truth, they simply don’t believe people will eat this way — they don’t believe people will really give up their pizza and hamburgers and eat vegetables and whole grains — so they don’t waste a lot of their time trying to tell us to do so. After all — they don’t want to dramatically change the way they eat either. Believe me, I know plenty of health experts who seem to enjoy eating foods with very little to no nutritional value just as much as the rest of us!
In my experience the average doctor, nutrition expert, and others in the health industry are the best of the best. They are wonderful people! And of course, I don’t think the average food scientist or food producer is evil or conspiring, just as I don’t believe the average American working for the tobacco or alcohol industry is evil or conspiring. They are all doing their jobs, earning a living for their families. We can’t blame any individual for this problem, as we are all (both producers and consumers) collectively to blame. We all (myself included!) bear some responsibility for the problem.
We are Losing Our Freedom
It is obvious the food industry has been very successful in helping us become addicted to highly processed foods. How many Mormons are willing to give up foods they know are not healthy for their bodies? We know our bodies are temples, and we know the foods we eat affect us both physically and spiritually. Then why do we knowingly eat foods that are not health promoting? We would not try to fuel our cars with mud; why do we fuel our bodies with foods they are not designed to run on?
The fact is: most of us Mormons are seriously addicted to unhealthy foods: foods filled with fat, sugar, white flour, and salt; processed foods; calorically-dense foods; foods that create a “taste sensation” in our mouths; rich meaty foods, cheese, and hundreds of ice cream combinations. We LOVE these foods!! But do we love them more than our health? More than the blessings promised in the Word of Wisdom?
I believe one of the main purposes of the Word of Wisdom is to help us be free of addictions of all kinds.  Father Lehi warned us that when we give into the “will of the flesh” it
giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom. (2 Nephi 2:29)
We love the pleasure signals in our bodies that come from eating meat, cheese, sweets, and junk foods. We don’t want to give them up, despite the harm they are doing to us physically and spiritually. This is more than mental; it is biological. Rats will choose cocaine over food, even to the point of their own starvation. They will likewise ignore healthy food when junk food is available to gorge themselves on.
As moral agents, we certainly have the ability to resist indulging in these substances, but the combination of the pleasure they produce and their ready availability makes abuse easy. It should not surprise us that substance abuse is rampant in our society and in the Church. Yes, we don’t indulge in alcohol, tobacco or harmful drugs (and what a blessing that is!), but we are addicted to much that is harmful: soda pop, donuts, cookies, cake, hamburgers, pizza, macaroni and cheese, chips, ice cream, bacon, french fries, milkshakes, candy, and the list goes on.
It is Not Easy . . . But God Will Help Us
It was not easy for the early Mormons to give up their cherished alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. It is not easy for converts today to do the same. And yes, it is not easy for us to give up the multitude of foods that are not good for us, the foods God has not “ordained” for our bodies. Satan will certainly oppose all our efforts to change, but God’s power is greater, and when we combine our agency with God’s power, we can succeed!
I encourage you to prayerfully study D&C 89. Ask God what the “next step” for you should be. Then take that step, no matter how difficult it may seem. Give yourself some time to master than step. Then pray about what the next step should be and take it.Each step you take, the farther you are moving away from bondage and the closer to freedom.
Next Time in Discovering the Word of Wisdom
If you have spent any time studying nutrition, you know how confusing it can be to discover how much of the advice is contradictory. There are so many diets and so many experts who claim they have “the truth,” and none of them seem to agree. With all the confusion, how can we trust that a whole food, plant-based diet is better than the rest? Next week I explore this interesting topic.
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.
 One of the best books on this topic is T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II, The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health (Dallas: Benbella, 2006). See also the DVD documentary Fork Over Knives.
 Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin Books), 96.
 “Hijacked: How the Food Industry Turns Diet Advice Into Profit,” Nutrition Action Healthletter(October 6, 2014): 5.
 Douglas J. Lisle and Alan Goldhamer, The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force That Undermines Health & Happiness (Summertown, TN: Healthy Living, 2003), 22. See also the entire book (The Pleasure Trap), along with Neal D. Barnard, Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons behind Food Cravings—And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003).
 “Food & Addiction: Can Some Foods Hijack the Brain?” Nutrition Action Healthletter (May 2012): 3–7.
 Michael Moss, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (New York: Random House, 2013) & David A. Kessler, Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt (New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2012).
 For an excellent discussion of the impact of big money on the nutritional advice to which Americans are exposed, see T. Colin Campbell, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition (New York: BenBella Books, 2013), 254.
 Jane Birch, “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Food Addiction,” Meridian Magazine, July 2, 2014.
 See The Pleasure Trap in footnote 4.