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. 

Today is the final article in a series comparing the Paleo diet with the Word of Wisdom. In the previous three articles, I’ve described how the Paleo diet contradicts two of the three dietary principles in the Word of Wisdom and suggested this raises questions about how well it matches the Lord’s counsel. To see the entire Paleo series, go to Paleo Diet.

As I’ve been critical of the Paleo movement, I’d like to return to some of the positive aspects of this diet. I think it is obvious that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is so poor that most diets shine in comparison! This is certainly true of the Paleo diet. It has many positive features, and there is no doubt but that many people do much better when switching to this diet.

The Positive Points of Paleo

As I noted in the first article in this series, several positive characteristics of the Paleo diet match a whole food, plant-based approach to the Word of Wisdom. Depending on the Paleo expert, these positive characteristics can include:

  • Focusing on real foods (relatively unprocessed and unrefined)
  • Eliminating soda pop and other sugary drinks
  • Excluding all dairy
  • Recognizing the dangers of factory-farmed meats
  • Reducing high-fat foods, including fatty meats, eggs, and nuts
  • Reducing or eliminating alcoholic beverages and coffee
  • Reducing salt and eliminating sugar
  • Increasing the Omega 3 to 6 fatty acid ratio
  • Warning about environmental contamination of much of our seafood

Wow! Considering that the average American diet is filled with processed foods, sugar, soda pop, and factory-farmed meat and diary, the Paleo diet is obviously dramatically better. Just think what our health might be like if all of us switched to real foods, like the Paleo diet recommends. No wonder there are so many glowing testimonials of people seeing dramatic changes as they fully embrace a healthier diet. They lose weight. They feel better. They reduce or eliminate medications. To most people, these positive results are a sure sign that this diet works. And it does.

What I also love about people who are enthusiastic about the Paleo diet is that they are embracing their responsibility for their own diet and health. They have woken up to the fact that the typical SAD way of eating is out-of-control crazy. As President Ezra Taft Benson warned:

To a significant degree, we are an overfed and undernourished nation digging an early grave with our teeth, and lacking the energy that could be ours because we overindulge in junk foods. [1]

It is increasingly evident that if we eat what everyone around us eats, we are likely to gain the same pounds everyone else tends to gain, to develop the same chronic illnesses, and to lack the energy and vitality that many experience. Paleo enthusiasts recognize this, and they are doing something about it. They are saying, “Enough is enough,” and changing their ways. There is much we can all learn from this attitude.

I also love the fact that people on a Paleo diet are willing to make genuine sacrifices for their health. It is not easy in this out-of-control crazy food environment to make dramatic changes to one’s way of eating. It is not easy to give up junk foods and eat a cleaner diet. People around us often criticize us if we eat differently. Some even get offended when we do not want to join them in eating foods we feel are not good for our bodies. I genuinely applaud all those who are making wiser choices. They are blessings themselves and their families.

Three cheers for the Paleo diet! Would that all of us were as dedicated, determined, and successful in stopping the madness of a SAD way of life. Our world would be much better if each of us took more responsibility for our health and made the sacrifices people make when they embrace a Paleo diet.

Why Pick on Paleo?

If the Paleo diet is clearly better than what most people are eating, why have I been so hard on the Paleo diet? Given what I have written so far in this series, I doubt I need to answer that question. I’ve tried to speak plainly about my concern that the Paleo diet contradicts the Word of Wisdom in profound ways, thus suggesting that, as good as it is, there is something better the Lord is trying to communicate to us.

But I don’t want to let my reservations obscure an important point: if anyone is fully happy with how they feel on a Paleo diet and fully satisfied that what they have is the best out there, I’m genuinely happy for them and feel no need to persuade them otherwise. Now is probably not the time in their lives for considering a different diet. They are happy in what they are doing, finding success, and enjoying sharing it with others. More power to them. I hope they are successful in encouraging many others to give up their SAD way of eating and embrace a better diet. Let everyone on SAD (and every other nutritionally poor diet) learn from those who go Paleo!

“A Bible! A Bible!”

This discussion brings up some interesting questions about how we go about finding answers to our most pressing questions, including dietary questions, and what we do once we’ve embraced some truth.

It is natural when we find a better way to conclude that it is the “best way.” I am certainly as prone to this error as any. In our enthusiasm in finding a powerful answer, we want to believe it is a “final answer.” We are so sure that what we have found is right and good, and we so long to have reached the end of our journey that we are frankly not very open to dramatically different perspectives at this point. We are like the Gentiles Nephi foresaw in the Book of Mormon who cried out, “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible” (2 Ne. 29:3).

This is part of the reason why the Lord can only lead us step-by-step, “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Ne. 28:30). It is not that He is not willing to help us more, it is that this is the only way we can progress. Learning new truths can lead to a reorientation of our entire worldview, which can be thrilling but also quite disorientating. It takes us a while to adjust to new ways of seeing things and even longer to begin to see the weaknesses of the new worldview. In the meantime, it is normal in the thrill of new discovery to dismiss data that does not fit, to criticize people who think differently, and to find fault with ideas that appear contrary.

Herein lies the danger!

When we mistakenly think we are close to the end of our journey but have, in fact, a long way to go, we may falter and stop progressing. We (all of us) have so much more to learn, and the danger is we will cling so tightly to some partial truth we’ve embraced that we will fail to grasp a larger truth the Lord wishes to give us.

No One Has a Corner on the Truth

I’ve now heard the Word of Wisdom used to justify and support any number of quite contrary diets. We tend to see what we believe. We tend to justify what we think is correct. We look for support for things that seem right to us and dismiss data that appears to contradict our worldview. As the old Talmudic saying goes, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” I am as guilty as any when it comes to this. It is very hard to be objective.

And yet we desire to know the truth, to have “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). We want to have the mind of Christ, to see things as He sees. In the face our natural weakness and prejudice, what are we to do?

The key, is course, is in the scriptures:

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50:24)

As long as we continue to receive light from the Lord, He continues to give us more.

Note what the scripture does NOT say. It does not say, “He that receiveth light is as bright as the perfect day.” Even when we receive some light, we still see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12). We often focus on the principle of “line upon line” without paying attention to the corollary truth: the Lord sees fit to allow us to continue in much ignorance and confusion as we make our way slowly toward more light. It is a humbling fact and should give us much more patience with ourselves and with others!

I do not believe I know exactly what the Word of Wisdom means. I do my best to share what I believe, but the fact is, I know I have more to learn and many more miles to travel on my personal path in this and every other gospel principle. I believe this is true for all of us. We all need to be humble, open to the voice of the Lord, and willing to change as new light enters our minds. We also need to be willing to give up favorite habits when we understand it is pleasing to the Lord and better for our bodies. As we receive more light, the Lord can continue to enlighten us. Let us not close the door on that light!

Humility, Respect, and Charity

Obviously, I am widely enthusiastic about the Word of Wisdom. This enthusiasm was born when I realized what a powerful diet the Lord has given us, tailor-made for the food environment and health issues we are experiencing in the 21st century. I’m so enthusiastic about this diet that I feel compelled to share it with any who are interested.

Others on this diet, or on any other diet, may feel equally enthusiastic and feel equally compelled to share what they have learned. I assume anyone who is filled with the same joyful enthusiasm has learned some precious truth, truth the rest of us can learn from. We don’t all have to agree. The entire puzzle is much larger than any one of us, and no one of us has all the puzzle pieces or has seen the entire picture on the puzzle box.

As disciples of Christ, our love and respect for one another as brothers and sisters should obviously come before any differences of opinion we have. But I also hope we’ll continue to share the precious truths we have found with one another, to help each other grow. I certainly do not plan to stop sharing what I have found. The truths I’m sharing about the Word of Wisdom may not interest everyone, but they are of great interest to many, and those are the ones I’m trying to reach. Others, I hope, may also learn something, but they do not need to accept what I believe in order to have my love and respect.

We are all equal in the eyes of God. As long as we continue to accept the light that comes from God, all of us will grow “brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24). At that day, we will all be one, perfected in Christ, but until that day, we need not worry if we see things differently. With respect and charity, these differences can contribute to the greater whole. Let’s be grateful our knowledge and interests are diverse, that we all have something unique to offer. Together as a family we are so much more than we could ever be as individuals!

Coming Soon: “Discovering the Word of Wisdom” Short Film

I’m producing a short film about the Word of Wisdom to encourage more Mormons to take a serious look at this counsel. It will be free and on YouTube. If you’d like to be notified when the film is completed, go to Discovering the Word of Wisdom Short Film.

More on the Word of Wisdom

For more help on embracing a healthy Word of Wisdom diet, see: “Getting Started on a Whole Food, Plant-based Word of Wisdom Diet”

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.


[1] Ezra Taft Benson, “In His Steps,” BYU Devotional (1979).