Patheos answers the question:

What is the LDS Word of Wisdom?


Many religious traditions have a dietary code by which their practitioners live. In some cases, these prescribed diets are considered commandments and, in others, simply wise counsel for members to live by. In many of the world’s religions, obedience to a tradition’s dietary code is seen as a test of orthodoxy or faithfulness.

Examples of Religious Dietary Codes

Observant Jews do not consume pork, but nor will they eat shrimp, lobster, crab, or any seafood that does not have fins and scales. They are also forbidden to eat milk and meat at the same meal. They can eat some poultry, such as turkey, chicken, pheasant, or duck, but they can’t eat the meat of eagles, owls, bats, or other scavenger birds.

Hindus do not eat beef. While most practitioners of that tradition are vegetarians, eating meat (other than beef and peacock) is not strictly forbidden in Hinduism. Certain root vegetables, like garlic and onions, are often avoided as well.

Jainism forbids the consumption of any meat—and some Jains won’t eat any root vegetables (e.g., potatoes, onions, radishes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, etc.) or figs either.

Buddhist dietary rules vary from sect to sect and nation to nation. However, Buddhist monastics traditionally only east at prescribed times during the day—and most will not eat meat killed specifically for them. In parts of China, Buddhism forbids the consumption of beef.

Specific sects of Taosim do not eat meat or wine. Some Taoists abstain from all grains. And some practitioners of that tradition even limit their intake to a completely liquid diet.

Islam forbids the consumption of pork—and strongly discourages partaking of intoxicants and recreational drugs. While less discussed in Islam, animals with fangs—known as predators—are also forbidden as food (which would include bears, lions, wolves, cats and dogs), as is the meat of birds of prey, mules and horses, and the flesh of lizards, snakes, mice, monkeys, and scorpions.

While Sikhism doesn’t officially forbid the consumption of meat, practitioners of certain Sikh sects are vegetarian—and baptized Sikhs are expected to abstain from alcohol and tobacco products.

Seventh-day Adventists are strongly encouraged to be vegetarians, and they also abstain for narcotics, tobacco, alcohol, and stimulants (such as caffeinated energy drinks, coffee, and tea). Adventists who do eat meat will typically only eat “clean meats” (i.e., those deemed “kosher” in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 4).

Practitioners of the Hare Krishna (or ISKON) tradition advocate a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish, and eggs.

Thus, the combination of diet and religious practice are common in the various religions of the world and, while abstinence from meat is the most common religious dietary prescription, other consumables are also frequently perceived as taboo.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Observant members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or “Mormons,” as they are often referred to) also have a dietary code which they follow, and which is known as the “Word of Wisdom.” It is found in “Section 89” of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants—a book which contains “a collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations” considered “scripture” by the membership of the Church.

This dietary code or “word of wisdom” consists of more than just restrictions on one’s diet. It also encourages a healthy lifestyle, and the consumption of wholesome foods which “God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:10).

The Word of Wisdom counsels members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to abstain from “wine or strong drink” (V:5). It also advised against the use of tobacco (V:8), “hot drinks”—specifically tea and coffee (V:9), and the consumption of too much meat (V:12-13). In addition, the Latter-day Saint dietary code encouraged members to consume “wholesome herbs” (V:10), “fruits” (V:11) and “grains” (V:14).

It’s worth pointing out that the Latter-day Saint view of the “Word of Wisdom” is that it is no guarantee that a person will dodge cancer or other health challenges if one lives this principle. Indeed, many leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have declared that this so called “health code” is more about spiritual health and wellbeing than it is about physical health and wellbeing, as we’re all eventually going to die, whether we obey the principles in this dietary code or not. As Elder Boyd K. Packer, a member of the Church’s Council of the Twelve Apostles, explained: “I have come to know…that a fundamental purpose of the Word of Wisdom has to do with revelation. …If someone ‘under the influence’ can hardly listen to plain talk, how can they respond to spiritual promptings that touch their most delicate feelings? As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically.” This is perhaps the most important reason that “Mormons” follow this dietary code. It has spiritual benefits.

Consequences of the Word of Wisdom

Even though this “health code” primarily emphasizes spiritual health and receptivity to the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit, there are clearly benefits to one’s physical health if this principle is lived. For example, Dr. James O. Mason noted:

“The University of California at Los Angeles [published] an article with this title: ‘Strikingly Low Cancer Mortality Among Mormons.’ …This article…indicated that Latter-day Saints experienced only about 50 percent of expected deaths from all causes and from cancer of all sites. …Of particular interest, low rates occurred for cancer of the stomach, colon, breast, kidney, and other sites that have never before been clearly related to factors such as smoking… Another recent study indicates that Utah residents, about 72 percent of whom are Latter-day Saints, experience total mortality and cancer mortality rates that are the lowest in the United States… A third study…indicates that the cardiovascular disease mortality rate among Los Angeles County, California, Church members is roughly one-half of the rate for the entire Los Angeles County white population. Dr. James E. Enstrom…stated, ‘Almost all forms of cardiovascular disease are lower than expected, and the total cardiovascular disease mortality rate for Los Angeles County Mormons as a whole is about the lowest of any substantial United States population group thus far studied.’”

Similarly, Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, noted: “Studies indicate that actuarially speaking, Latter-day Saints live about 10 years longer than their peers. Who can set a price on 10 years of life? What a remarkable and wonderful blessing is this Word of Wisdom.” So, clearly there are health benefits to the way Latter-day Saints choose to life. Seventh-Day Adventists, who have a very similar “health code,” also have a longevity that outlasts those in other religious traditions, and likely for the very same reason.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like practitioners of so many other religions, recognize that part of being spiritually well is being as physically well as possible. The Apostle Paul rhetorically asked, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) The Word of Wisdom is the dietary code Latter-day Saint Christians live by. In so doing, they certainly hope for longevity here in this life but, more particularly, they seek a heightened receptivity to God’s Spirit, ideally leading to longevity in the presence of God—through Christ (in the life to come).

3/14/2023 4:27:03 PM
About Alonzo L. Gaskill
Alonzo L. Gaskill is an author, editor, theologian, lecturer, and professor of World Religions. He holds degrees in philosophy, theology/comparative religion, and biblical studies. He has authored more than two-dozen books and numerous articles on various aspects of religion; with topics ranging from world religions and interfaith dialogue, to scriptural commentaries, texts on symbolism, sacred space, and ritual, and even devotional literature.