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This article is part of a series on the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Discovering the Word of Wisdom.
Whole food, plant-based (WFPB) has become an increasingly popular way of eating. Some Latter-days even believe the Word of Wisdom is promoting a WFPB diet. Recently I examined the relationship between the Word of Wisdom and WFPB nutrition using the framework of doctrines, applications, and principles introduced by Elder David A. Bednar. I concluded that while WFPB may be a superb Word of Wisdom diet, a WFPB diet is not the same thing as the Word of Wisdom. You can read my analysis in “Why Whole Food, Plant-based is Not the Word of Wisdom.”
In short: the Word of Wisdom reveals the “order and will of God” for His children in the last days (D&C 89:2). It is based on powerful gospel doctrines that are key to the entire Plan of Salvation. In contrast, a WFPB diet is at best the conclusions of intelligent, perhaps even inspired, mortals about what constitutes a healthy diet. It is powerful as far as their reasoning and evidence go, but it is limited by human wisdom. A WFPB diet can help us live longer, healthier lives, but living the Word of Wisdom helps prepare us for exaltation.
Another Look at WFPB
While I do not believe the Word of Wisdom boils down to a WFPB diet, I am convinced there is much to commend the study of WFPB nutrition. Its value goes well beyond helping us take better care of our bodies. I believe it can also shed light on various aspects of the Word of Wisdom and help us deepen our appreciation of this revelation.
Of course that does not mean we all need to agree with a WFPB point of view or adopt a WFPB diet. Each of us has the privilege of studying these topics to our own satisfaction. Equally faithful Latter-day Saints may come to very different conclusions about the type of diet they feel best fits their understanding of the Word of Wisdom. But in this article I’d like to outline the case for studying WFPB nutrition as one way we Latter-days Saints can gain insight into the Word of Wisdom and discover some of its hidden treasures.
There are three reasons why I think WFPB is a superb Word of Wisdom diet:
- The health results from adopting a WFPB diet are dramatically better than any other known diet.
- The principles of a WFPB diet are in harmony with the Word of Wisdom.
- Adopting a WFPB lifestyle supports and illuminates many other gospel principles.
The health results from adopting a WFPB diet are dramatically better than any other known diet.
A WFPB diet is the healthiest known diet on this planet. While it does not resolve every human health concern, there simply is no other diet that has a better track record for preventing, and often healing, the major chronic diseases that we suffer from today. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other illnesses that plague us are not inevitable—people who consistently follow a WFPB diet rarely suffer from the diet-related diseases which make up over 80% of the chronic conditions in our society today. This may sound a little far-fetched considering all the conflicting information we hear about what is healthy, but the evidence is compelling. I encourage everyone to do their own study into WFPB nutrition and come to their own conclusions. [See Note 1 for supporting resources.]
As just one example, consider some of the dietary treatments for heart disease, the number one cause of death in the world today. A Mediterranean diet (which is widely recognized as one of the very best) has been shown to reduce heart disease, while a WFPB diet stops this deadly disease in its tracks. By switching to a Mediterranean diet, many fewer people would die of heart disease, but some will still die because the Mediterranean diet is not powerful enough to completely arrest the disease. A WFPB diet, on the other hand, is clinically proven to not only stop, but in some cases reverse, the progression of most heart disease; this is something no medication has been proven to do. The reason diet can be so powerful is that most heart disease is a foodborne illness. Once you eliminate the foods that cause it, the disease is completely halted.
Another example is type 2 diabetes. Current standard treatment includes a range of medicines that have demonstrated only a very modest 1-10% reduction in the complications associated with diabetes over a 3–10 year time period. At the same time, these drugs cause a demonstrated increase in the risk of negative side effects of up to 18%. These medications manage some of the symptoms of diabetes but do nothing to address the root cause, which is dietary in nature. Unfortunately, the diet promoted by the American Diabetes Association and other professionals is only an incremental improvement over the Standard American Diet. It includes many of the same foods that cause the diabetic condition in the first place. It is not powerful enough to ensure a cure of this deadly disease, so diabetic patients get progressively worse. In contrast, a WFPB diet addresses the root cause of type 2 diabetes and therefore cures the disease in nearly all who fully embrace it.
Heart disease and diabetes are just two of the many health conditions where a WFPB diet is dramatically more powerful than conventional treatment and other diets. There are many other diseases that this diet not only prevents, but also largely resolves. Historically, the following diseases are very rare in populations that eat a largely whole food, plant-based diet, and people who embrace this way of eating today are finding that these diseases respond well to this diet:
Cancer (several types)
The historical, scientific, and clinical evidence all suggest that a healthy diet could reduce chronic disease by at least 80%. The best part is we don’t have to rely on external evidence. We can try it ourselves and discover the impact of this diet through our own experience. Since there are no negative health results from adopting a WFPB diet, it is very safe to try. Once we see the change in our own lives, we have a sure witness of the power of this way of eating.
The principles of a WFPB diet are in harmony with the Word of Wisdom
In the Word of Wisdom, the Lord gives us three dietary principles:
- 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)
Note the following principles of a WFPB diet. While they include more details, notice how they resonate with the dietary counsel from D&C 89:
- Whole, relatively unprocessed plants are the foundation of good health. They are the powerhouses of nutrition, beautifully designed to fuel our bodies. Processed foods should be used sparingly, if at all. (This includes avoiding oils, which, like sugar, are highly processed, empty calories.)
- Animal foods (meat, fish, dairy, and eggs) are not needed for nutritional purposes and contain harmful substances. 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 grains, such as wheat, barley, oats, rice, rye, and millet. Starch foods also include beans, pseudograins (like quinoa), tubers, and high-starch fruits and vegetables. These are the foods that have fueled large, healthy populations throughout history.
Some Mormons feel uncomfortable with the suggestion that WFPB is the correct interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. I think they are right. There are important distinctions between the two approaches. The Word of Wisdom is principle-based and leaves the applications up to us; the Lord uses relatively few examples of foods and other substances to illustrate His points. In contrast, WFPB experts are willing to elaborate on WFPB guidelines, including lists of dos and don’ts. However, this does not mean the resulting diets conflict with each other. In fact, the powerful results of a WFPB diet suggest that the study of WFPB nutrition may reveal some hidden treasures in Word of Wisdom.
I can understand why some people feel comfortable including more processed foods and/or animal foods in their Word of Wisdom diet. That is certainly their right and privilege, but the evidence is strong that their health results will not be as good. So, until we discover a diet that demonstrates even better health outcomes than a WFPB diet, perhaps we have something to learn from the WFPB experts.
How powerful do we think the Lord’s diet is? Do we believe it is at least as powerful as the results that people on a WFPB diet are experiencing? To me, it is not probable that WFPB experts have discovered essential truths about diet and nutrition that are totally absent from the Word of Wisdom. This suggests we may want to re-think how we read D&C 89. When we look objectively at the text, we see that nowhere in this revelation does the Lord endorse the use of highly processed foods, sugar, oils, fish, dairy, or eggs. At the very least, it would appear that these foods are not required in order to live the Word of Wisdom. At the same time, compelling scientific and clinical evidence demonstrates that a diet that includes these foods in appreciable amounts produces significantly worse health outcomes than a diet that focuses more exclusively on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
People who have fully embraced a WFPB diet are largely spared of most of the diseases that are common in the Western world. If a WFPB diet is in harmony with the Word of Wisdom, this suggests that the principles revealed in the Lord’s diet are much more powerful than most of us have ever imagined. If we have not yet discovered all the treasures in D&C 89, perhaps the WFPB experts can help us. We can always put this hypothesis to the test by giving a WFPB diet a try.
Adopting a WFPB lifestyle supports and illuminates many other gospel principles.
Beyond harmonizing with the dietary counsel in the Word of Wisdom and providing a diet and lifestyle that honors our body temples, a WFPB diet harmonizes with many other gospel principles scattered throughout the scriptures and the words of our Church leaders. Here is a list of some of these principles, along with relevant scriptures:
- Caring for God’s amazing animals (see Genesis 1:28; JST Gen. 9:11; Proverbs 12:10; Luke 12:6; D&C 49:21).
Beyond the obvious fact that animals are killed to provide meat for human consumption, both the dairy and egg industries cause enormous suffering to the animals involved, dramatically decreasing both the quality and length of their lives. Given that plant foods can easily supply our nutritional needs, this suffering and death are unnecessary and can be eliminated by switching to a healthier WFPB diet.
- Stewardship of the earth (see scriptures quoted in “Environmental Stewardship and Conservation” on lds.org).
Animal food production has an inordinate impact on the environment, as it requires substantially more energy, land, water, and other resources as compared to the production of plant foods. Switching to a WFPB diet is not just kind to humans and animals, it is also much gentler on the planet.
- Taking care of the poor (see Proverbs 22:9; Matthew 19:21; Matthew 25:34–36; D&C 49:20).
The agriculture industry devotes an enormous quantity of food (the majority of the grain and cereals we grow in the USA) to feed animals in order to produce a comparatively small amount of meat, dairy, and eggs. Doing so enables us to feed more of the wealthy peoples of this world with rich foods, while many others go hungry. By reducing our animal food consumption we could devote more resources to feeding the poor and those in need.
- Being wise with our money and resources (see Matthew 25:20–27; Luke 12:42–46; Luke 16:1–12).
A WFPB diet based on grains and other starch foods is less expensive than a diet based on processed foods and animal foods. Instead of spending our money on foods that harm us, we can purchase less expensive foods that are healthier for us. We can then use the savings from our food and medical bills in ways that further the work of the Lord.
- Avoiding the “evils and designs of conspiring men” (see D&C 89:4).
Studying WFPB nutrition opens our eyes to the corrupting role of money in the production of foods that impair our bodies, the animals, the earth, and our budgets. Like the producers of alcohol and tobacco, people who produce these foods may not be intentionally trying to cause bodily harm or food addiction, but that is one result of their focus on maximizing their own profits.
- Respecting the agency of others (see D&C 49:18; D&C 58:20; D&C 121:39–42; Moses 4:3).
Unlike a few militant animal rights activists, WFPB experts deeply honor and respect the agency of each individual to choose the diet they wish to follow. They generously share their understanding of WFPB nutrition (making everything we need to be successful freely available on the Internet), but they respect our right to decide whether we wish to adopt any of it. There is no implicit or explicit coercion.
As impressive as the health results of WFPB nutrition are, if this diet contradicted other important gospel principles we’d have good reason to question its ultimate value. The fact that this diet explicitly supports so many diverse gospel principles further supports the idea that it is worth our careful study and consideration.
For further insights into how a WFPB diet supports and illuminates gospel principles, consider the example of one LDS medical doctor, Ernest Severn. In his story, “In order to be the best doctor I can be, I follow a plant-based diet,” Dr. Severn addresses seven reasons why he follows a WFPB diet and encourages his patients to do the same. His reasons closely mirror the above, but he also goes into the spiritual blessings of following this way of eating and shares how adopting this diet enables him to better serve his patients.
WFPB is not the Word of Wisdom. As powerful as a WFPB diet may be, I have no doubt that the Lord’s counsel in D&C 89 can ultimately take us far beyond the results of the best WFPB diet. If your own implementation of the Lord’s counsel already equals or exceeds the results that others are seeing on a WFPB diet, it is possible that WFPB nutrition may not have much to add to your understanding. But if you have yet to realize the powerful blessings promised in D&C 89, consider whether studying WFPB nutrition could open up additional insights that may prove valuable to you.
If you are interested in learning more about WFPB nutrition, I encourage you to study the resources referenced in the Notes below. A great way to start your study is watching the documentary “Forks Over Knives.” It is available on Netflix and many other sites that stream movies, including Amazon. As you do, compare the message of this documentary with the dietary counsel and promises in D&C 89. See whether you can find any additional hidden treasure.
If you’d like to know more about how to get started on a healthy WFPB diet, see: “Getting Started on a WFPB Word of Wisdom Diet.”
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. Watch the video “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film.”
 Start with these two books, (1) 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) and (2) Michael Greger, How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease (New York: Flatiron Books, 2015). For more useful resources see, Whole Food, Plant-Based (WFPB) Resources.
 Julieanna Hever, The Vegiterranean Diet: The New and Improved Mediterranean Eating Plan–with Deliciously Satisfying Vegan Recipes for Optimal Health (Boston: Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2014).
 Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., et al., “A Way to Reverse CAD?” The Journal of Family Practice 63, no. 7 (July 2014): 356–364. See also: Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure (New York: Avery, 2007).
 Dustin Rudolph “A Lifestyle Medicine Approach to Preventing and Reversing Type-2 Diabetes,” Presentation at the McDougall Advanced Study Weekend in Santa Rosa, California (February 11, 2017). See also: John McDougall, “The Latest Scams from the Diabetic Industry,” McDougall Newsletter (January 2017) and Dustin Rudolph, The Empty Medicine Cabinet: The Pharmacist’s Guide to the Hidden Danger of Drugs and the Healing Powers of Food (Tarpon Springs, FL: Pursue A Healthy You, 2014).
 Neal Barnard, Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The Scientifically Proven System for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs (New York: Rodale, 2007). See also: Michael Greger, “What Causes Insulin Resistance,” NutritionFacts.org (January 6, 2017).
 Even diets that are less powerful than a WFPB diet can dramatically reduce chronic disease. For example, in one study 23,153 people who adhered to four healthy practices (never smoking, low BMI, regular physical activity, and a healthy diet) had a 78% lower risk of chronic disease than others who adhered to none of these healthy practices. This was true even though the “healthy diet” they consumed was not as healthy as a WFPB diet. (Earl S. Ford, Manuela M Bergmann, Janine Kröger, Anja Schienkiewitz, Cornelia Weikert, and Heiner Boeing, “Healthy Living is the Best Revenge: Findings from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam Study,” Archives of Internal Medicine 169, no. 15 (2009): 1355-62.)
 Jane Birch, “The Wholesome Herbs Ordained by God,” Meridian Magazine (October 24, 2016).
 Jane Birch, “Animal Flesh is Ordained by God,” Meridian Magazine (October 31, 2016).
 Jane Birch, “God Ordained Grain as the Staff of Life,” Meridian Magazine (November 28, 2016).
 See Note 1. See also: John A. McDougall, The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good! (New York: Rodale, 2012).
 See Notes 1 and 10.
 Ashley Capps, “10 Dairy Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know,” (July 30, 2014) and “12 Egg Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know,” (July 29, 2014) on FreeFromHarm.org.