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.
Last week, I addressed the “Refrigeration Theory” which aims to explain verse 13 of the Word of Wisdom:
And it is pleasing unto me that they [the flesh of animals] should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. (D&C 89:13)
According to this theory, before the era of mechanical refrigeration, meat spoiled easily so it was prudent to abstain from eating meat except in times of winter or cold. The assumption is that now that we all have refrigerators the Lord is just as pleased if we eat meat year-round. I think it is obvious why this interpretation is so popular! Sadly, there is no reason beyond our desire to consume meat to suggest it has any validity, and, as I presented last week, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate it should not be taken seriously. The Lord has ordained meat for our use, and there is no commandment to forbid it. At the same time, He is pleased if we not only use it sparingly, but if we only use it in times of winter, cold, or famine. How do we know this? He have His word!
What is a Word of Wisdom Diet?
Beginning with the first article in this series, I’ve been explaining that the Word of Wisdom contains three invaluable dietary principles, each of which is equally important:
- 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)
- Animal flesh is ordained for human use with thanksgiving, but it should be eaten sparingly, and it is pleasing to the Lord if it is not used, except in times of need: “times of winter . . . cold, or famine” and “excess of hunger.” (D&C 89:12–13, 15)
- “All grain is good” and is ordained to be the “staff of life.” (D&C 89:14, 16)
I’ve also been demonstrating that these three principles match the three main principles of what dietary experts call a “whole food, plant-based” (WFPB) diet:
- Whole, relatively non-processed plants are the foundation of good health. They are the powerhouses of nutrition, beautifully designed to fuel our bodies.
- Animal foods are not needed for nutritional purposes and unavoidably contain substances that can be harmful. They should be kept to a minimum, if eaten at all, for optimal health.
- The bulk of our calories should come from starchy plants, which are primarily the grains, such as wheat, barley, oats, rice, and millet. These are the foods that have fueled large, healthy populations throughout history.
Is this a Radical Diet?
Some keen readers have observed that a WFPB diet is not a diet of “moderation in all things.” It emphasizes eating whole, unrefined plant foods: vegetables, fruits, and grains. Animal foods (meat, dairy, and eggs) are not recommended, except in times of genuine need. Oils, refined sugars, and other highly processed foods are not wholesome or prudent. While I think there are other legitimate interpretations of the counsel in the Word of Wisdom, this is the only diet that has been clinically proven to eliminate heart disease, and the same diet that is good for eliminating heart disease is good for preventing the other major chronic illnesses. Therefore, I believe the WFPB diet gives us the best insight into how to interpret the Word of Wisdom and understand the optimal diet for human beings.
Is it true that a WFPB diet is radical? Consider which is more radical:
- The Standard American Diet (SAD) which has proven harmful to the human body and that guarantees most individuals will have a lower quality of life because they will suffer various chronic illnesses during their lifetimes?
- The WFPB diet eaten by the majority of humans throughout recorded history that provides good nutrition and allows us to avoid most chronic illnesses?
One out of every two men and one out of every three women in America will suffer from heart disease, a disease that is almost 100% preventable through eating an ostensibly radical WFPB diet. One in every three European-American children born in America today will develop diabetes during his or her lifetime. One out of every two Hispanic and African-American children face the same fate. Type 2 diabetes is, again, almost 100% preventable by eating the same radical diet. Add to that the many preventable strokes and cancers that members of our society will suffer. Why don’t we consider the disease-inducing Standard American Diet the radical one?
From the perspective of history, is not our modern diet extreme? We can eat Fruit Loops for breakfast, hot dogs and soda for lunch, and chicken nuggets with fries for dinner. I hope your diet is better, but I’m sure we all know people whose diets are not! Our American diets are filled with processed foods, lots of meat and nutritionally poor carbohydrates, and loaded with added fat, sugar, and salt. There are not many Americans who could disagree: our national diet is quite radical in the context of history!
I believe 50 years from now, we’ll look back on this time and ask ourselves why we ever allowed our diet to evolve in such an unhealthy way to such disastrous results. We’ll recognize then that our current SAD diet, in the context of history, is, without question, radical. As Dr. John McDougall puts it, “Open-heart surgery is radical. Eating oatmeal and potatoes is not radical.”
What about Moderation in All Things?
It makes sense to be moderate when all the choices are relatively good ones, but when some of the choices cause death and disease, it does not make sense to include these choices, even in moderate amounts. What if we smoked or drank or did drugs in moderate amounts? How well would that work? “Moderation in all things” is not found anywhere in the scriptures, for good reason.
While it is true that if we only consumed small amounts of animal and junk foods (5 percent or less of our diet), chances are it would not have a significant impact on our health, the same is true of consuming small amounts of alcohol, tobacco, coffee or tea. Why was that not the Lord’s counsel? Perhaps it is because if it were easy to keep these substances to a minimum, we would not need the Word of Wisdom!
Instead of aiming for “moderation,” let’s stick with “prudence” (D&C 89:11).
But It Seems Too Hard!
Is this way of eating too difficult for the average mortal? That is a matter of perspective. Yes, it is hard to give up foods we are addicted to! On the other hand, is it really any easier to suffer a heart attack or stroke or to live with cancer or diabetes? Is it really that much easier to be constantly fighting with your weight, feeling drained of energy, or living with mental fog in your brain?
Are the yummy foods we are addicted to really worth the extra suffering and pain they inevitably cause our bodies and our lives? If your honest answer is, “Yes, I’m willing to suffer the physical and mental pain and disease and ask my family to suffer with me rather than give up foods I love,” then you are in good luck! No one will force you to switch to a Word of Wisdom diet. It is purely a personal decision!
But if you are like me, you’ll agree that no amount of food on earth is more important than experiencing daily good health, no matter how devilishly delightful it tastes! Nothing tastes as good as feeling good feels! Isn’t life hard enough without feeling crummy all the time? Don’t we have enough worries without dealing with an endless struggle over our weight? Wouldn’t our lives be lighter if we knew we were doing all in our power to prevent chronic disease and look and feel our best?
A Grand Secret
And here is the grand secret: once you switch to a whole food, plant-based diet, you master new cooking skills and your taste buds change, and all of a sudden you discover: the new food is every bit as satisfying as the old. In fact, more so because after you eat it, you feel GREAT!
Dear reader: Please consider that this life is not the end of delicious foods. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that we continue to eat food in the next life, and (no surprise!) the food there is even better! Yes, it may feel like a sacrifice now to give up foods you enjoy and are used to, but like everything else in the gospel, once you make the sacrifice, you’ll discover it really is not a sacrifice at all. The avalanche of blessings more than makes up for what you’ve given up! (See: D&C 89:18–21)
Join me in a Word of Wisdom Health Challenge Beginning January 1, 2015
If you are willing to give the Word of Wisdom a try, plan to join me in a health challenge beginning the first day of the New Year! You can sign up on Facebook: Word of Wisdom Health Challenge. To prepare, start now to find some recipes that you like: WFPB Recipes.
But most of all, pray for help from our Heavenly Father. Making this switch is not necessarily easy. Why? Because Satan will not stand idly on the sidelines watching you succeed. He has a vested interest in our crummy diets because he knows our food affects not just our physical health, but also our mental and spiritual well-being. Satan does not want you to succeed. But our Father does! And He will help you as you put your trust in Him!
Real Mormons • Real Stories
This section features Latter-day Saints who have adopted a Word of Wisdom diet. (If you have a story to share, please contact me.)
Elna Clark was eating a healthy diet. She had given up most meat and dairy and didn’t see any reason to be more extreme. Then she encountered digestion problems and horrible arthritis-like symptoms. Her sister recommended she try a 100% whole food, plant-based diet. Elna was doubtful whether she needed such a radical approach, but she was suffering enough to try anything. Within weeks of changing her diet, she was able to get off the medication and was “no longer in any pain.” Now, she says, “I would not switch back even if I had no arthritis to deal with.” Read the full story here: “I definitely see the Word of Wisdom differently now.”
Next Time in “Discovering the Word of Wisdom”
In this season of gifts, I’m thinking about gifts from our Heavenly Father and how we show our Father our appreciation for those gifts. How do we, for example, show our Father our appreciation for the gift of our physical bodies? Can our Father tell, by the way we treat our bodies, how we value this priceless gift we have been given? Next week, I’ll explore this topic in the spirit of the Christmas season!
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.
 There are many excellent books that describe a whole food, plant-based diet. Here is one (though Dr. McDougall labels it a “starch-based diet”): John A. McDougall, The Starch Solution (New York: Rodale, 2012). See other authors, books, and free resources under WFPB Resources.
 Two of the best books documenting the health benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet are: (1) Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (New York: Avery, 2007) and (2) 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). Find more evidence by exploring WFPB websites: WFPB Resources.