The Word of Wisdom diet is the Church of Latter-Day Saints’ official position on what its members should eat. LDS members, commonly known as Mormons, refer to a scriptural canon called Doctrine and Covenants, or D&C. Section 89 of this scripture contains advice for eating a healthy diet and is known by church members as The Word of Wisdom.
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According to the D&C, “Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.” Mormons interpret “herbs” as all fruits and vegetables. The part about using fruits in their season allows a little leeway for canning and preserving vegetables for use year-round. During the 1800s, many people suffered from vitamin deficiencies, especially scurvy. Eating fruits and vegetables protects against diseases caused by deficiencies.
The Word of Wisdom stance on meat especially lends itself to conflicting interpretations. One part of the D&C says, “And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” While this passage seems to condone vegetarianism, another part of the scripture says that the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air are “ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.” While most Mormons interpret these passages as calling for moderation, some have embraced vegetarianism. Mormon vegetarian author Joyce Kinmont wrote, “Verse 15 tells us that we may eat animals in times of famine and excess hunger. For me, that condition does not now exist. I do not partake at this time.” She points out that early church leader Brigham Young’s teachings called for kindness to animals as a condition for increasing peace in the world.
The Staff of Life
Grain is considered “the staff of life,” as it provides nourishment to everything from insects to humans. The D&C mentions, “wheat for man, and corn for ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and swine,” among other recommendations. Lora Beth Larson, an instructor in Brigham Young University’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition, writes that sometimes people focus too much on “wheat for man” and forget to eat other grains. She recommends varying your grain intake for a full array of nutrients.
Things to Avoid
In addition to all the good things to eat, the Word of Wisdom proscribes alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and other drugs. As the late Hugh Nibley, a professor of scripture at BYU, explained it, stimulants and intoxicants are a form of indulgence that early members of the church learned to do without. Running out of supplies while enduring harsh frontier conditions forced them to adopt a more disciplined way of life. Nibley suggested balancing work and rest so that you don’t get tired enough to require stimulants such as caffeine.